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Community at its core: Warm Up is a London rave staple that might change your life

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What started out as a pop-up party, Warm Up has now evolved into a string of clubs shows and an annual four-day festival. We chatted to the team behind the community-focused events

  • Words: Gemma Ross | Photos: Jake Davis & Sienna Lorraine Gray
  • 8 December 2022

Functions is Mixmag’s interview series profiling parties from across the world. This week: London’s Warm Up.

Aidan Doherty and Amy Moffat are the brains behind Warm Up, a colourful series of events occurring regularly in and around London. Starting as a pop-up event in the forests and off-the-beaten-track areas of the city, Warm Up made a name for itself amongst a community of rave-hungry fans who just fancied something a little different to London’s typical club scene.

Since its inception in 2013, Warm Up has expanded beyond the perameters of a pop-up party, breaking into local clubland territory. With regular shows across London’s warehouses and clubs, Aidan and Amy saw the opportunity to open that gate even wider, taking the plunge on a four-day annual event with the title Warm Up Festival slapped to the mast. With the introduction of a yearly festival – and a 4,000-capacity one at that – came an even bigger desire for the folksy offerings of Warm Up. “We’ve had people tell us the festival has changed their lives, which seems unbelievable, but it’s a recurring thing we hear,” Aidan and Amy tell us.

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And the main thing that pulls Warm Up together is its crowd. Hardcore fans return to each regular event, no matter its destination, and have even grown a Facebook community around the party series fostering fans new and old. Photos capturing hugs at the crack of dawn, gaudy outfits, and sunset-to-sunrise sets taking place in the scenic location of a fairy light-lit forest line the walls of that page, celebrating the Warm Up alliance over the years.

We chatted to the founders of Warm Up about their journey so far, how they’ve built a community around their event series, and their brand new four-dayer, Warm Up Festival. Read on below.

Warm Up started as a regular party in the woods – how did that concept come about?

Warm Up started with Aidan, he’d been learning how to DJ and was itching to play beyond the walls of his bedroom. At the time, there wasn’t much melodic techno being represented at parties we were going to in London and he felt there was a space for this sound on the scene. We started out running official parties in various small venues across London, plus the odd ‘pop-up’ party on London Fields and in the Wick woodlands when you could still get away with that.

In the summer of 2015, there was a pull to do something outdoors in an area of woodland in London where park wardens wouldn’t get pissed off. It was only ever intended to be a gathering for friends. A Facebook event page was set up and within 24 hours tens of thousands of people clicked ‘attending’. This was the age before algorithms got in the way of brands and artists actually reaching their audience! We realised there was an appetite for our kind of music to be enjoyed outdoors in city woodland spaces. The rest is history.

How would you describe Warm Up to someone who doesn’t know what you do?

Warm Up is an ever-evolving party, from the sound that defines us, the people who join us, and the ambitions we have. Right now, the best way to describe us is as a community brand hosting regular club shows and an annual festival, plus a few underground parties for those in the know. Resident DJs have always been at the core of what we do – we genuinely believe in platforming the residents, creating space for us all to develop our sound, hone our craft and connect with the ravers who join us party after party. There’s a real bond between the resident behind the decks and the people on the dancefloor.

In terms of music, we really started out as a melodic techno brand, but we never feel pinned into any one genre. Depending on the party and the venue, Aidan’s known for mixing up the genres and representing anything from full-throttle industrial techno to deep electronica, but generally plays under the progressive style and always delivers on the more emotive end of the spectrum. Jorge is known for his deep and progressive grooves, but again depending on the environment, dips into the bigger techno sounds. Amy (aka Muther) tends to play more leftfield house but mixes things up with breaks and dub influences, acid house and techno. As residents, we all have the ability to play more chilled opening sets and bring up the energy for peak-time sets, so versatility is key.

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The soul of the party comes from the community we’ve fostered. Ultimately, we all want to have a great time and for everyone on the dancefloor to have fun, this comes with respecting one another and allowing everyone to be themselves. The dancefloor is about expression, freedom, and release, and we always try our best to create a space where this can happen. Community is a word that gets bandied about a lot and it’s always really difficult to explain just how much of a community this really is to people who have never been and experienced it for themselves. People look out for one another, share with one another, and connect on the dancefloor in a way that isn’t really possible in the day-to-day lives we tend to lead.

Tell us about the concept for Warm Up Festival and how you’ve evolved from club shows and raves to an annual four-day event?

The festival grew out of the special community vibe that we managed to create because we felt there was an opportunity to take that into a space where we could all be together for four days and nights in a beautiful location, rather than just a few hours on the dancefloor. We were wondering, what would it feel like if we could all go on holiday together?! The temptation of bringing the community together, combined with our love of electronic dance music, and our desire to create something special together as residents, and supercharge it all with a level of production that we could fine-tune and custom-select for ourselves, was a temptation we couldn’t deny.

What are some of your favourite memories from Warm Up over the years?

Building the Warm Up Festival site over 10 days in the first year is a memory we’ll all take to the grave. As residents, we’re very hands-on, we literally landscaped the festival site with our own hands and a team of friends and specialists in the festival world who we admire greatly, and who have become part of our community. We had a hand in designing the stages, selecting the visual artists who build incredible structures in the woodlands and working closely with the trader management team to select food and stores we think will look great, taste great, and add value to what we do. We also plan the layout of the site and how people navigate around, and of course curate the line-up.

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Opening the gates in our first year – right after the pandemic when a lot of us hadn’t seen each other for months – and watching people stream in and set up their tents and engage with our vision, was a life-affirming moment. We’ve made special friendships during the festival process and cemented old ones. Spending four days and nights together in those woods while soaking up the music we all love really bonded the community together even more and confirmed to us all what a special thing we have going. It also helped us focus on the things we truly value and where to shed the things we really don’t.

Do you often see the same crowd coming back over and over?

Yeah, that’s the great thing about fostering a community around music. We see faces who have been with us for the (almost!) 10 years we’ve been doing this. People often call us their home, a place they know is going to be here when they need it and where they’ll be welcomed back and connect with familiar faces, as well as meet new like-minded people.

How do you go about curating the line-ups for each event? What do you look for?

For club shows, we’re more and more inclined to keep platforming the residents. We’ve been on this scene for a long time now and the value of fostering resident DJs is beyond simply hosting big-name headline acts in our opinion, that’s what’s been at the core of building an authentic community and where we set ourselves apart from other similar brands. It aligns more with our personal values. For this reason, we generally only book one headline act these days so we can offer artists the chance to play longer sets, rather than playing alongside two or three other big names. It also means the residents who do the work in building the community, the vibe and the reputation of the parties also have the opportunity to play, so it becomes more about the residents inviting an act to come and play with Warm Up, inviting an artist into our ‘home’ in a way. When we do invite artists, it’s all about how we feel they would align with our brand musically. We follow artists for some time, watch how they captivate their audiences when they play, and listen out for fresh sounds, while also seeing consistency and, importantly for us, gauging if their ethos is in line with ours.

At the festival, we have a special opportunity to curate line-ups that represent the full spectrum of sounds that the three of us play. We have a long list of acts a year before the event who we want to approach, some artists have really understood what we’re about as a brand and fully immerse themselves. We’ve got some funny stories of DJs coming to play their set who end up staying the whole weekend and becoming part of the rave community. That’s super special for the artists, and also for the ravers who get to party with their heroes! It’s not always easy though, just because you want an artist to play at your party doesn’t mean they will – generally, it’s tougher with the bigger name acts and those on the verge of breaking through. It can get really political at times and it can be super frustrating, especially when we know as DJs ourselves what an incredible crowd we have to play for. However, when the artists do come and join us and have a great time playing on our festival stages with the level of production we put in and the incredible crowd, they’re eager to come back, which is a testament to what we do.

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Warm Up Festival has absolutely skyrocketed since you launched – what has the reaction been like to a larger scale event like this?

People have loved it, and the feedback is incredible. We’ve had people tell us the festival has changed their lives, which seems unbelievable, but it’s a recurring thing we hear. From what we’ve heard, the people really make the difference between what we do and what other festivals do. The crowd is late twenties/early thirties for the most part, and we have a big contingency of forty-plus ravers, too. I think this brings with it a level of maturity and respect for one another, and for themselves. Many people have commented that the festival is like a big house party in the woods – there’s a level of connection between people who have never met before. The other thing that’s been nice to hear is the appreciation of the high standard of art and production we put in. Initially, people were dubious a rave brand could put on something like this. Sometimes we’d have an hour to put a rave together, but with the festival, we have a whole year to plan, and it’s an opportunity to create the optimal place to play as DJs, but also to party as ravers. We love being on both sides of the decks!

We want to hear the best quality sound, be immersed in creative light sculptures, and have magical places to chill out in the woods, a space to reset with wellness activities, good food and service to nourish us. We think of every aspect we would need to have a great time and put that into the festival. We’ve been to a lot of festivals ourselves, as partygoers and as DJs, and we’ve pulled together a team of people who have built a lot of festivals. We’ve all observed where things have gone well and things have dived and we’ve been able to bring all this experience into what we do and create a really special, quality space for people to party. We’re really proud of the level of production we deliver, especially considering we’re a small independent festival. It’s something we’re always looking to develop and improve upon, and we’ll never compromise on it.

How has the introduction of the festival affected the events that you run? Have they become less regular?

We’ve been doing fewer club shows, but that’s not necessarily because of the festival, the competition in the scene is fierce at the moment. There’s a saturation of promoters trying to do the same thing and fewer people seem to be partying since the pandemic, plus the cost of living crisis. Because of these factors, it’s making us reflect on what we truly value as a brand and asking ourselves what it is that we do that genuinely means something to us and to the wider community – what can we offer that’s different to what everyone else is doing?

At the moment, we feel our value lies in the more intimate parties we host with the residents, but that’s not to say we won’t continue doing larger shows, we’re just becoming more selective about where we do them and who we do them with.

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What’s next for Warm Up?

We’ve got Gidge playing live with us on March 4 at Islington Assembly Hall. They’re an act who have been with us from the early days, we invited them to play when we’d been around for just over a year, in a tiny basement in Dalston. Now they’re smashing it all over Europe on their tour – they also joined us at the festival in August and people absolutely loved them, the boys really engage with our audience and understand us as a brand.

Aidan’s been invited by Night Tales to do one of his all-night-long sessions on March 24, something he takes great pride in and offers the opportunity to unleash total creativity as an artist.

On Easter Sunday, we welcome back our good friend Hernan Cattaneo at Studio 338 for another day and night party in partnership with record label Selador. He’s a legend of the scene and a real inspiration as an artist and as a person, in our experience, he’s a respectful, humble guy and these are the kinds of people we want to be working with. If you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary Connected about his Argentinian live show, you should check it out!

We hit the big 10-year anniversary next year and we’ll be planning some celebratory events to mark the occasion. And as always, we’re very much looking forward to next summer as we love throwing our series of outdoor day parties, it’s the most fun time of the year for us and the vibe at those parties is always exceptional. Dancing throughout the day, through sunset and into darkness allows us to dig into a varied spectrum of music vibes. And of course, the festival takes a lot of planning which really kicks off in the new year, and we’re excited to say we’re almost ready to announce our line-up for 2023!

Gemma Ross is Mixmag’s Editorial Assistant, follow her on Twitter

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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