Behind the scenes at Young Thugs recording studio in York
York Young Thugs recording studio punches above its weight in the music industry, reports Maxine Gordon
The SOUTH Bank Social Club, a short distance from York’s trendy Bishopthorpe Road, seems like a relic of a bygone era.
With its torn red leatherette bar, wooden cafe chairs and nicotine-stained walls, it’s the old-fashioned, unassuming face of a neighborhood where today you’re more likely to find flat white than a flat cap.
Popular with the older generation of South Bank locals, the social club is a place to call in to see old friends, grab a drink and listen to live performers. Well certainly before Covid hits.
But all is not as it seems.
The upper floor of this Victorian building is home to the Young Thugs recording studio and label, run by York business partners Jonny Hooker and Dave Greenbrown since 2016.
Musicians from York, the North and beyond flocked to the studio to make demos, cut their albums and call on the music production skills of Jonny and Dave.
Like so many businesses, the thriving studio had to shut down during the first lockdown. But since then Covid safety measures have been introduced and the studio has reopened.
While much of the arts industry has been shut down by the pandemic, Young Thugs is a welcome achievement.
“During the first confinement, we had to close for three months,” says Jonny. “It was alarming and worrying – but it was the same for everyone.
“We’ve had support from York City Council which has gone a long way and we’ve put a robust Covid policy in place and sent it to everyone before they arrive so we can continue now.”
As the pandemic has paid for live shows that have had an impact on venues, Jonny said musicians have moved on to being creative and pouring their time and energy into creating new music – which has been great for the recording studio.
“We’re very busy right now. People can’t go out and play shows, but they’re getting creative.” And, he added, the nature of the recording studio — with separate rooms for performance and production — lends itself to natural social distancing. “Also, many groups are in a bubble or live together,” says Jonny.
And there’s been more good news for Young Thugs since the lockdown. It became a community benefit corporation, which allowed it to apply for funding to create a community studio that would allow them to further support talented artists.
In 2020, they won their first grant: money from the Youth Music’s Incubator Fund for LEVEL, a project to encourage more women to get into music production. It’s now underway, with Yssi Wombwell in the lead and three female music producers recruited for the program.
Jonny says, “Music production is still a male-dominated industry. Research shows that there are less than three percent women in the industry. We have to break down that barrier and try to promote them somehow. a position to do so.”
Anna Reed is one of the women in the nine-month program. She said, “I’m thrilled to be given this opportunity. Young hoodlums play a big role in keeping the music industry balanced, which I’m really excited about.”
Out Of The Blocks is a second community initiative tasked with developing upcoming talent. It is funded by music industry royalties through the Performance Rights Society.
Jonny said: “It will allow us to find high potential talent in the North of England and create a professional record for them, as well as help them market it and help them with things like the releases of press and public relations.
Another hit was Young Thugs’ deal with label leader EMI to help nurture new talent. Their first project hit the jackpot – co-signing the band York Bull with EMI, in a deal that thrust the quartet into the limelight and led to extensive coverage of their music on national radio.
Collaborating, says Jonny, is one of the things Young Thugs do best – in fact, it’s one of the things the York music scene is known for.
When Young Thugs started four years ago, there was little more than one room — “we called it the dump,” says Jonny — where local musicians could meet, hang out and jam. “It was our kind of networking,” adds Jonny.
Today this room has grown to take up the entire top floor of the social club and plans are underway to upgrade the studios.
Jonny gave up a career in recruiting to follow his first love, music. As a drummer, he played in several bands, toured the world and found he preferred working in a recording studio.
Despite the pandemic, the future looks bright. “The lockdown gave us time to think strategically, which is something you don’t always do in business,” Jonny said. “It was during this time that we came up with ideas for our community organization and secured the funding to do great community work.”