No Bounds is a festival that captures the duality of Sheffield’s past and present. Centrally located in the Hope Works nightclub, a former first world war gun-barrel factory on the outskirts of town, as well as at Kelham Island Museum, the city’s industrial past is never far from sight. Never more so than when you feel crumbling concrete flake from the walls as the merciless thumping techno of Helena Hauff rings in 4am on Sunday morning. The bass reverberates so intensely that the toilet seats rattle like chattering teeth in winter.
Maar, with the festival spread out further than ever this year, it also captures the essence of contemporary Sheffield, with music performed in DIY venues, canalside bars, and even in the bus station, where experimental electronic artist Mark Fell takes over to present Interchange. A three-hour performance by the Maltby Miners Welfare Band takes place throughout the hub, with gently thundering brass instruments booming around the slightly ghostly, echo-laden station. There is a quiet melancholy and a profound emotional resonance to the performance – which slightly resembles Terry Riley’s In C – as it marries huge engulfing sounds with the strange backdrop of a fully functional and bewildered-passenger-filled city centre interchange.
The bulk of No Bounds takes place more in the pitch dark than in the bright white light of a bus station, wel. Minsky Rock – a collaboration between producer Ross Orton and Working Men’s Club frontman Sydney Minsky-Sargeant – kicks off Friday evening at Hope Works, with a set of squelchy yet punchy acid electro. The Hyperdub label showcase, featuring a triple whammy of Loraine James, Kode9 and RP Boo is as exquisite as it is unpredictable, bouncing from hip-hop to jungle to clattering breaks, glistening techno and discombobulating levels of mangled and fractured beats.
Space Afrika bring Saturday to life with some potent dark ambient backed by a subtle yet stirring groove, while Aurora Halal gives a masterclass in slow-build-release DJing, at one point pausing for what feels like minutes, allowing a sustained drone to grind through the speakers with everyone in the room connected by the throat-clenching vibration. Batu, followed by Helena Hauff, is enough to loosen the fillings in your teeth, driven by unrelenting sets of pummelling techno that also feels nuanced and divergent.
Listening to such wildly innovative, futuristic and often pulverising music inside a giant concrete block in deep industrial Sheffield – which outside resembles the Berlin Wall, as you’re surrounded by 12-foot towering grey walls wrapped in barbed wire – it’s difficult not to think of the recently departed Richard H Kirk (especially when Hauff plays a snippet of Cabaret Voltaire’s Just Fascination in her set). Well over 40 jare terug, Kirk and co redefined the city’s declining industry and transformed a former cutlery works into a music studio that forged some of the most pioneering and influential sounds the city ever produced. No Bounds is proudly carrying on that tradition of utilising the city, its history, and its former industry, to create new spaces of creative interaction while placing Sheffield front and centre of mind-spinning electronic music.