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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Gut Level

All photos courtesy of Gut Level

Gut Level is a community space focusing on dance music, club culture and platforming local artists and grassroots promoters who are underrepresented in the music industry, specifically LGBTQIA+ and marginalised genders. In just four years, since launching in 2019, Gut Level has become a remarkably successful and beloved creative hub, running workshops and community gardening sessions, as well as daytime events and late night parties.

In September 2022, Gut Level were evicted from their original home on Snow Lane. The team responded promptly by organising a sold-out t-shirt campaign with the slogan QUEER HEDONISM IS ALIVE IN THE NORTH to fund the future of the organisation, as well as grassroots, queer and DIY activities within Sheffield. A few months later, Gut Level have now settled into their new temporary space on Eyre Street. There, they’ve expanded their calendar to focus more on socials – exhibitions, communal meals, co-working, and more.

Frazer, member of the organising Gut Level team, spoke to us about what makes the collective special.

What makes Gut Level unique?
One of the things we tried to do with Gut Level was take the spirit and setup of DIY/punk venues and apply it to dance music. Sheffield has an amazing collection of small DIY gig venues but we found that in the city’s electronic music scene, there wasn’t a space that operated like that. Somewhere community-run, cheap (or free) to use, small enough to have an intimate feel, and prioritising the experiences of queer people and women. There was a gap there that, hopefully, we’ve managed to fill nicely.

We’ve benefited massively from having a mixed organising team. Lots of music venues are run by blokes and you end up with dark, barren rooms to party in. Our spaces have tried to be more inviting than a typical club – like dancing in your living room. That's mostly down to the creative direction of (co-founders) Katie and Hannah. We pay equal attention to the spaces around the dancefloor, so there's somewhere away from the music to relax, socialise and flirt (hehe). When we closed the old space, loads of people commented that they'd made really good friends at our parties. As a collective, we all love dance music and have had some amazing underground DJs at our events, but it’s not just about the music or sound system – it’s equally about the setting and the people who come down. The mix of our team has meant that we instinctively pay attention to the experience of people who typically don’t have the best time in straight clubs, due to harassment or because they're not comfortable enough to be themselves and properly let loose. We want those people to feel like they have a home at Gut.

Behind the scenes, we’ve tried to tackle some of the shittier aspects of the industry by paying a flat fee to all artists/DJs regardless of their status or followership. This means that the ace emerging artists we have in the city are paid fairly, and keeps our focus on DJs who get what we’re about.

Finally, and most importantly, we run the space as a members’ club. People have to check the website out and read about the ethos before coming down. It’s really helped to create a welcoming environment of like-minded party people. Once you’re a member you can become a part of the conversation around our space and activity, by getting involved in meetings or workshops. Being transparent about what we’re doing and inviting people to contribute has helped us to grow together as a community.

What are your plans for the future?
Our current space is temporary; we imagine being here for another 6–12 months. For our next space, we’re prioritising finding somewhere central that can open regularly, instead of a nightclub with activities on the side. Hopefully running a fully licenced bar and gig space so that the scruffy weirdos and queers of Sheffield have somewhere to go on a Friday night that’s specifically for them. The nature of the buildings we’ve occupied so far has meant that we’ve never been accessible to wheelchair users, so that's a priority. In the meantime, we’ve been awarded funding to programme workshops and events between May and August, so should have some exciting stuff coming very soon. There are a couple of interesting collaborative projects in the summer that we’re hyped to be involved in.

Who, what or where do you think should be better known in Sheffield?
DINA, Hatch and Delicious Clam all do great things. Our good friends Love & Lust are promoters who’ve put on nights at Gut Level. One member of the collective has started Leather Dyke, whose two parties so far have been ace. Another place that I used to love that’s just reopened in Kelham Island as a licensed members’ club is The Lughole. I’d also have to shout out Groundwork, who throw monthly techno parties at Shakespeare’s pub and have gone from strength to strength.

Queer Sex Symposium workshop

What would you change about the city?
I wish there was more local investment in cultural spaces and fewer restrictions on where and when events can happen. When you look at places like Salford, whose council are actively working to enable a vibrant cultural environment, it’s hard not to feel slightly short-changed. Especially since Sheffield has such an amazing musical history. If we want to regenerate an area like Fargate, we need to bring in exciting independent small businesses. That means removing barriers for local people who want to do interesting creative stuff. Rather than selling it off to developers who don’t have a stake in how fun the city is for the people who live in it, or approving more student accommodation.

Specifically, this means lowering business rates for central locations. It’d be great to see funding for sound insulation, to combat issues that could arise from being close to residentials, most of which appeared since music venues already existed there. A few noise complaints can lead to spaces being restricted out of existence. That's why you now almost always have to travel to industrial estates in the middle of nowhere to enjoy a night of proper dance music.

Update June 2023: Gut Level have planning permission to turn a former cafe into their new permanent home on Chapel Walk in Sheffield city centre. To turn the dream into the reality, they're now turning to the wider community to help them raise funds to refurbish and soundproof the space and install a PA system. Donate to Gut Level's new space fundraiser.

Wet Patch community garden, in Gut Level's former Snow Lane venue

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