Host Spotlight: Paddy Hooley (Watt Hz?)

Host Spotlight: an opportunity to shine a light on our wonderful radio hosts and wider community, be it a new music release, a brand new music residency or simply to champion them as an individual. We’re delighted to sit down with Watt Hz? co-founder, DJ and radio host, Paddy Hooley! We talk about the importance of mental health, what makes a rich music scene and Scouse cabbies… 

Hey Paddy! We’re excited for your brand new residency ‘Watt Hz? Invites’. Can you tell us more about the ideas behind it?

Hey, thanks so much for the invite! Wow, that’s a massive question so we’ll try to leave some things to the imagination!

We started Watt Hz? in 2017 as a means to create techno-focused dance music experiences in Liverpool. Essentially, we curate event spaces that unite good music, sound technology and visual art concepts. What goes on in those spaces is constantly changing and pretty much just a release and reflection of what happens in the outside world! The radio show is an extension of that and we’re excited to explore further into the depths of artistic talent that is erupting from Liverpool and the North West.

Entering into 6 years of Watt Hz? (congrats!), what are the main ethos of the collective? Would you say that the platform has evolved much since then and if so, how?

Thanks! It’s flown by and has been some of the best years of our lives. As a collective, the ethos is something that has been raised and refined over the years. It’s definitely evolved and adapted, but is still focussed around positivity and inclusion and trying to find democratic solutions to these fundamentals.

We started out by throwing parties in the Kazimier’s Rat Alley. Back then, we were a group of friends focussing on building a platform to promote grassroots music, and to create a refuge to incubate the surrounding ideas and creative concepts. Since then, things have snowballed to a position where we can not only support our friends and aspiring artists, but also collaborate with artists and brands from around the world.

The audience that we accommodate for has grown in number and age. The repercussions of politics and society on the surrounding community has led to various expansions in our ethos. Watt Hz? has never been about financial success or competitive status, we just want people to have a good time. Whilst we are bringing people together, we hope to use the opportunity to support causes that are close to people’s hearts and that benefit our community. We have always used our events to raise money for various charities, but this year we’re changing the model to donate all of our profits to charities and community projects. We want to form a strategy where people’s enjoyment and recreation enables funding for oppressed or underfunded communities.

Music and arts are very important agents of change in the world, so it’s important for us to challenge ideals and provoke questions and reformations.

The ethos is something that we reevaluate all the time, not just within Watt Hz? but amongst the wider community and media outlets too. It’s something that has great power to instigate reform; be it gatherings at Stonehenge, Welsh mining choirs, Nina Simone, Hendrix and the Summer of Love, Punk Rock, Paradise Garage, the Underground Resistance or the dawn of UK’s rave scene in the early 90’s… A lot of good revelations have happened through music and I have hope in people coming together at future events.

Also a talented DJ, how did you first get into music?

Ah you’re triggering me with these questions haha! Thanks… I’m only just getting over the imposter syndrome of being a ‘DJ’ (yuck!).

I guess like most, music’s always been a part of my life and how I’ve interacted with that has changed over time. Special shouts to my Granny who saved up to buy GTA and TimeSplitters 2 for me at 8 years old, completely oblivious to the age rating. I spent a lot of time rinsing those games, driving around Vice City to Luther VanDross, or jumping through time portals to weird sci-fi breaks.

In school, I landed myself in trouble for being the frontman of a band that covered ‘Killing In The Name Of’ by Rage Against The Machine – we smashed it, but singing “f*** you i wont do what you tell me” to the headmaster probably wasn’t the best move in hindsight. There too I met my great friend Sam; we used to host some pretty lively house parties as we were growing up, soundtracked by UKF dubstep. These were all sorts of means of expression and ways to find something I could resonate with aside from pop music.

It wasn’t really until my mid-to-late teens, when I met Max Carton (MaxQuerade), where I first properly started to fall in love with dance music. Max and I used to sit in the car and blast tunes at full volume on the daily and it completely melted my brain and restructured everything for me. He showed me tracks like Kadoc’s ‘Nighttrain’ and Justin Martin’s Remix of ‘Mushrooms’ by Marshall Jefferson, which sparked the fire. The competitive nature between us led me to dig and dig and dig, to try and find anything on that level. Eventually, I started to decipher the patterns and recognise the sounds that I liked. Max and Sam were probably my biggest influences over such a large period of my life. Seeing Max then go on to turn crowds upside down at nights like Switch and Simple in Oxford and the Brixton O2, really inspired me to pick up a pair of headphones and introduced me to a community of people that would change my life.

My last profound influence and turning point in music happened at ADE in 2015. I was still very much into big room events with all the endless queueing and tokens and, much to my disgust, my mate Devin was refusing to go to Richie Hawtin presents Enter. I’m reluctant to admit the following statement, but he said to me something like “Paddy, we went to the Gashouderlast night and you’re now looking at going to Enter… we could see that anywhere in the UK and we’ve come all the way to Amsterdam, I am not going to another night like that again”. Dev was always bang on the money, from music, to fashion, to life choices… so, I trusted his judgement and having reviewed the line up of names I’d never heard of, I touted my Hawtin ticket and stepped into an abandoned film studio on the outskirts of Amsterdam. What happened in that building blew my mind – I fell into a whole new world and immediately knew this was where it was at. The music sounded like elements. It was raw and low. It explained all these feelings I was familiar with from other forms of music, but with so little context or effort. It was pure techno and still today I hold the artists played on that night closest to my heart. Names like Phase, Planetary Assault Systems, Karenn & Oscar Mulero.

What brought you to Liverpool? Would you say the musical landscape has changed much since then and if so, how?

Sam and Dev studied physics and maths at university in Liverpool and I used to come back and forth to visit them and go to nights like Waxx, MuMu & Selective Hearing. Through these initial adventures I met the most amazing community of people and fell head over heels for the city. I felt at home here from the first moment I stepped off a train at Lime Street.

At the time I was living near Oxford. I was young, I hadn’t studied anything and didn’t have a clue what my future was, all I knew was that I was pretty unhappy with where I was at that stage of life. On getting home one weekend after Len Faki and Randomer in Blade Factory (above Camp & Furnace), I had an epiphany and just followed my heart. I saved up enough willpower and money to rejoiceful quit the job that I hated and applied for an audio engineering degree at a college in Liverpool. It’s funny, it was really an ‘against the grain decision’ that I made. I grew up in David Cameron’s constituency but from the other side of the fence, and a lot of people shunned the idea of moving, with preconceived and warped ideas of Liverpool being like the wild west (haha). I’ve never got my head around how wrong people can be sometimes, but there are definitely prejudices of how people view the city from the south of England. Be it a joke or not, I’m happy that those people don’t get to see what it’s really like, but, to complete the turn around on the day of moving to Liverpool and apologising for my accent; I got into a taxi to Smithdown Road and the driver said to me “you see the thing is about Liverpool mate, we don’t just fix the leccy, we fix the leccy and then then we teach our mates how to do it”. That’s something that stuck with me. I’ve not met one person with a dodgy meter, but I’ve definitely been looked after by the Scouse community.

So yeah anyway, I quit my job, got accepted into college and moved in with my friends! I’d seen and heard of this night called 303 which was making waves in The Williamson Tunnels through their events with Robert Hood, Dave Clarke and Daniel Avery. I messaged the promoter Kenny Muir almost every day asking for work, until eventually he gave in and created a job for me scanning tickets on the door. The crowd at 303 took my experience in being on dance floors to new places. I’m lucky enough and old enough now, to have been to quite a few big ones, but nowhere will come close to one of those nights in the tunnels. I was probably the youngest person there at the time, it was mostly made up of people who had experienced the highs of legendary venues like Cream, Quadrant Park and Le Bateau; people who knew how to have a great time, to look out for one another and it was just full of love. Going there seemed like you were in a continual uplifting conversation with every single person in attendance.

Since then, the physical music landscape in Liverpool has changed quite considerably. A lot of great venues like Constellations, New Bird Street, Nation, The Kazimier, Blade Factory, The Reeds, Underground (the list goes on) are either no longer used or have been redeveloped. Creative areas have been displaced from the Baltic Triangle toward the North Docks and the Fabric District, and there’s still more pressure on venues like 24 Kitchen Street to continue to operate. The challenging reality of regeneration and development, in my opinion, has been largely neglected by the council. Sheer resilience and determination has forged exciting creative spaces like Meraki, Quarry and Invisible Wind Factory, who are doing good things to progress the city’s music and venue offerings. But there are still limitations to infrastructure, such as transport to those parts of the city. This places them under increasing pressure and lack of protection from developers continues to pose the same threats.

It would be great to see more mid-size clubs in the city in replacement to the ones that were lost, and also to see more support for music and arts spaces in a post-lockdown environment.
That being said, the music has not stopped and through the confines, people are developing incredible new ideas to adapt to the contemporary landscape. It’s really exciting to see new ventures coming from all forms of music, from the amazing community hub you have put together at MDR, to new event concepts like 4×4 Deviation, Hidden Poets, P.L.U.S.H. and Yeno Tha! One potential benefit to the limited space has led to an abundant wealth in musicians, producers and DJs. We’re currently experiencing an influx of artists that are breaking boundaries with their music – people like ARCTEK, Lupini, Dowd, Charlie Power, All Trades, the AERO4DMC crew, NINETED, Gullyteen, Girls Don’t Sync, P3LZ, Malady and Bop Kabala are all slaying it at the moment, and represent just a handful of names from a community of artists that are driving things far beyond the reaches of the River Mersey.

What elements do you believe are needed for a rich musical scene?

I think the recipe for a rich musical scene changes from place to place, and it’s so unique to each city or area. But I think some key ingredients would be:
– Diversity
– Access to equipment and education
– Performance platforms of all sizes, from grassroots to large warehouses
– Support and understanding from the council
– Honest representation of the people, the surroundings and their provocative feelings
– Centres and liaison hubs for community (like Melodic Distraction!)
– Clear communication between promoters and venues to avoid clashes

Liverpool’s not had it easy in comparison to other parts of the country, but you can rest assured that there’s a lot more soul, energy and enthusiasm to have a good time amongst the amazing people who live here.

When we booked Hector Oaks a few years back, I had a similar conversation. We were praising the then-new wave of Scandinavian producers and I was asking about the parties there. Hector agreed with the music standard, but thought the parties were a little less cathartic. He went on to suggest that the gatherings in places subjected to intense socioeconomic and political conflict were the best atmospheres he had ever experienced, such as events in Colombia, Tbilisi and Berlin. Because of the pressure and limitation the places were under, it meant so much more to the people. I guess what I mean is that pressure can make diamonds, and in order to unite people from all walks of life, we need to represent their opinions and ask questions to challenge certain circumstances.

Raising funds for mental health, why do you think it’s important to open up discussion around mental health?

I’m pleased that you asked this. It can be as simple an answer as to say that mental health affects every single person on this planet, so as a base cause we start there.

On a personal level, I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for music – it’s one thing that’s provided solace for my own mental health and expressed so many subconscious feelings. I lost my dad to suicide when I was 13 and my brother then tragically killed himself 6 months later. Growing up around that was rough and it took the best part of 15 years to overcome and be able to look positively at the future. Experiencing that throughout the best part of my life made me a lot more compassionate and determined to help people. I never thought therapy would work for me, I thought that “there’s some things in life you can’t get over or just have to live with”; but after a breakthrough in therapy last autumn, I can now look you in the eye and admit I was wrong.

It’s quite an extreme example, but no matter what your worries are, there is always someone who is there to listen or provide you with guidance on how to process what you’re going through.
The last few years have been tough for so many people and my heart genuinely goes out to everyone. It’s natural to experience negative feelings, but through communication we can overcome anything! We all agree on that as a collective and I’m so proud of the crew for supporting this motive. If just one person benefits from this, then job done.

Moving forward, we are also supporting other causes like the RCN Strike Fund for NHS workers and will be incorporating other charities into future events and fundraisers.

If you’re having a particularly bad day, what do you usually do to make yourself feel better?

I love nature. David Attenborough once said that every animal on this planet faces the same core challenges of survival (albeit far tougher for some than others!), but homosapiens hold sublime powers of love, empathy and logic, which are phenomena we often take for granted. I’ll never get over how special Sefton Park is, so that’s always a good shout. I’m really lucky to have an amazing circle of close friends, and I think either talking to them or writing my feelings down to compartmentalise them really helps me.

Sensual enrichment is good to take your mind off things; a good cup of tea, incense, house plants, heavy scrans and some form of escapism like a good movie, book or album. I recently watched Pretty Woman for the first time, to fight off the January blues… that unexpectedly put me in the best mood ever.

What was the last record you bought?

After our first ‘WattHz? Invites…’ show in December with Becket and J Hadley, I spent the day showing them a few spots around Liverpool. It was running up to Christmas, so we’d gone into the city centre to have a browse for last minute presents… but with them both being massive wax enthusiasts, it wasn’t long before we ended up trawling through the record shops. They dropped most of their festive budgets on vinyl and it’s always infectious when you’re browsing through the catalogues. I picked up this 7” and it completely blew my head off; it’s a cover of The Rolling Stones’ ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ by a punk/ noise band called The Residents. Switching it to 33RPM, it sounded as if the Star Wars title theme was performed by the fella with the plastic mic on Church Street. In total honesty, I’m more of a digital collector unless the release is only available physically or it’s sentimental, but I cannot wait to pull that one out of the bag as an intro in future! I do have quite a nice collection though and before that, it was Devilfish – ‘The First Eargasm’.

What do you have planned for 2023?

We’ve got a lot coming up for this year! First up, we have a wicked bill of artists headlined by Ceephax Acid Crew at Substation on 25th March!

We celebrate our 6th Birthday in May and have a few more things to announce in the coming months. Lots more radio! One In The Woods Festival (which has been a calendar highlight for the last few years), there may or may not be Watt Hz? going on outside of Liverpool too. We’re all really looking forward to individually developing our own independent sounds throughout the collective and joining some really cool line ups from other promoters!

Join Watt Hz? at the IWF Substation for Ceephax Acid Crew on Saturday 25th March – tickets here. In the meantime, sign up for their newsletter here for all things Watt Hz!