INTERVIEW: Ben Hiard @ Pop Bubble Rock! (30/09/2016)

It’s not often that a club night – and an independently run one at that – can manage to not only survive, but thrive when they’re ten years down the line. Not ones to stick the social norms, trends, and what all the cool kids are up to, Manchester’s Pop Bubble Rock! has managed to hit the decade milestone by just being themselves: a club night dedicated to catchy tunes, party times, and some pizza and cake to go with it too.

Set up by director Ben Hiard back in 2006 as a means of just wanting to “organise a club night which played the music that my friends and I wanted to hear”, the manifesto for Pop Bubble Rock! started as something very simple, and evidently the manifesto hasn’t changed a bit. Despite a few workarounds over the ten years since its inception, seeing Pop Bubble Rock! take to places like Cardiff, Newcastle, Sheffield, London, and Bristol, and at one point hosting the odd gig pre-club night, PBR!‘s home has been and remains as only in Manchester today – and that’s precisely where they’re holding the 10th anniversary celebration this Saturday (October 1st 2016).

To talk this milestone over and truly look back, we caught up and had a few moments with Ben to talk about why he wanted to start Pop Bubble Rock!, some of the highlights of the lifetime of the club night, what he feels has made the night last as long as it has, what we can expect from the big birthday bash, and a lot more.

DP!: So, you’ve finally made it – ten whole years of Pop Bubble Rock! under your belt. How does it feel spending a decade under the influence of partying?
B: It’s a great feeling. I can’t believe I’m still getting to do this a decade later, but I’ve got no plans to stop.

DP!: PBR! hosts quite an eclectic range of music, from pop-punk and pop-rock, to hip-hop, slightly heavier punk rock, and even to some super cheesy pop hits. Has it ever been difficult to mix all these styles and build the presence that the club night now has?
B: To be honest, I play that mix because it’s my taste in music, haha. It’s just a bonus that other people seem to like it as well! I think people like a catchy song no matter what genre it is, and that’s what we play.

DP!: Let’s go back to where it all began. What made you want to begin PBR! in the first place, and how did you get the wheels in motion for that very first night?
B: PBR! came about because I quite simply wanted to organise a club night which played the music that my friends and I wanted to hear, in an atmosphere that we’d enjoy. I loved pop-punk and punk rock, but I also loved hip-hop and had (and still have) an unashamedly massive love of pop music. There was nowhere that played that mix, and even the alternative places were just playing it safe with the obvious hits. The alternative scene then, and unfortunately still to this day, was quite cliquey and judgemental, which bothered me because the music was anti that. I got a summer job, saved up some money and bought some decks, had some flyers printed, and hired out a venue for one night. I didn’t think anyone would come. It sold out. That’s where it all started.

DP!: If you were to go back to that Ben of ten years ago, just after you’d wrapped up that first night, and told him you’d be celebrating a 10 year anniversary, how do you think he’d react?
B: He wouldn’t believe it, but then I couldn’t believe the first night sold out. There was never any plan with PBR!, it just didn’t make sense to stop throwing parties whilst people were having fun.

DP!: You also used to host gigs pre-club night back in the earlier days of PBR!, including The 1975’s first ever gig back when they weren’t even called The 1975 yet. What other great bands have you hosted, and what’s made you sway away from doing that less and less?
B: To be honest, it’s hard work putting on gigs and massive respect to anyone who does it, and that’s why I’ve focused on the pure club night side of things. We’ve put some great bands on, but particular highlights were Polar Bear Club, Hundred Reasons, and Tellison, who we’re actually put on in November along with a very, very special guest.

DP!: There are an awful lot of club nights out there, what do you think has made you last for so long?
B: I think it’s the personal touches. I spend more time walking around the place playing host, making sure that everyone is having fun than I do actually DJing. We’re 100% independent. We don’t care about the bar take. I care about people coming to my night and having fun, and that seems to resonate.

DP!: Club nights do come and go, no matter whether they’re catered solely to pop music, urban music, rock, etc. What do you think is the biggest and most common pitfall that sees these nights come and go so quickly?
B: I think people chase the money rather than doing it for the fun, and that’ll never last. You have to love what you do.

DP!: What kind of mistakes and potholes have you faced across the history of PBR! that you’ve grown and learnt from?
B: They say that imitation is the biggest form of flattery, but it really isn’t. It’s a dick move. My ‘bad egg detector’ has been finely tuned over the past decade. You have to surround yourself with good people, and I’ve been very lucky to have the best buddies working with me. I’ve got stuff wrong though, it’s just about dusting yourself down and cracking on.

DP!: Alongside running PBR!, you also lecture at the BIMM (British and Irish Modern Music Institute) in Manchester as an Events Management tutor. Do a lot of potential PBR! ideas come to life in the classroom?
B: Teaching at BIMM brings me immense joy. Standing in front of a class of 25 students is the same as DJing in front of 400 to me. I’d like to think that they get a lot from my anecdotes of where it’s gone wrong as well as the positive stuff, and it’s great for me to be around the next generation of promoters. I’m so old!

DP!: Let’s fast-forward back to the PBR! of today. You’ve boldly said that this 10 year party is going to be the party of a decade. How are you going to top a whole 10 years of PBR! madness?
B: That would be telling! Let’s just say we’ve gone a bit overboard with the balloons and confetti… and booze

DP!: What would you say have been the biggest highlights of PBR! in its lifetime?
B: It’s really hard to pinpoint a few, but I’d probably say being asked to DJ the Blink-182 aftershow party at the O2 Arena, Frank Turner crowd surfing out of the DJ booth after requesting and getting B*Witched played, and the insane New Years Eve party that we threw last year. This year’s will be bigger and better, mind you.

DP!: You’re also coming back to the new and improved Joshua Brooks after it had a bit of downtime for renovations. Have you got any new tricks coming out of your sleeves for the future of PBR!?
B: The venue looks fantastic but still retains the charm of the old style. The basement club is still party central. I don’t know about tricks, but the fact that there’s ten giant screens which can potentially live streaming us DJing is both cool and terrifying in equal measure.

DP!: Do you think PBR! has another 10 years left in it? If so, what do you plan and hope to have accomplished by then?
B: I can’t see it stopping. I got married this year and can see life changing a fair bit, but I love doing it as much as I did a decade ago, so why not!? I’ll just be happy with other people being happy.

DP!: What advice would you give to anyone who hopes to create their own club night?
B: Do it because you want to, not because you feel that you need to. Try and add something fresh to the scene, and be careful not to dilute it. Have fun!

DP!: Any final words for our readers?
B: See you on the dance floor!

Pop Bubble Rock! will be hosting their 10th birthday party at Joshua Brooks, Manchester on October 1st 2016. Tickets for the night are still available, priced at £6 (adv) each, and can be purchased online now from Skiddle (here). The night also has an official Facebook event page (here).

You can keep up to date with Pob Bubble Rock! online by following them on Facebook (here), Twitter (here), and Instagram (here).

Interview by Zach Redrup (@zachredrup)