York recording studio Young Thugs is punching above its weight in the music industry, reports Maxine Gordon

SOUTH Bank Social Club, a short distance from the trendy Bishopthorpe Road area of York, seems like a relic from a lost time.

With its ripped red leatherette bar, wooden cafe chairs and nicotine-stained walls, it's the old fashioned and unpretentious face of an area where today you’re more likely to find a flat white than a flat cap.

Popular with the older generation of South Bank locals, the social club has been a place to call in to see old friends, have a drink and listen to live entertainers. Well certainly before Covid struck.

But not all is as it seems.

York Press: Inside Young Thugs's recording studio. Photo: Olivia BrabbsInside Young Thugs's recording studio. Photo: Olivia Brabbs

The upper floor of this Victorian building is home to the Young Thugs recording studio and record label, run by York business partners Jonny Hooker and Dave Greenbrown since 2016.

Musicians from York, the north and further afield have been flocking to the studio to make demos, cut their albums and enlist the music production skills of Jonny and Dave.

Like so many businesses, the thriving studio had to close during the first lockdown. But since then, Covid-secure measures have been introduced and the studio has re-opened.

While so much of the arts industry has been shut down by the pandemic, Young Thugs is a welcome success story.

"During the first lockdown we had to close for three months," says Jonny. "It was alarming and worrying - but it was the same for everyone.

"We received some support from City of York Council which went quite a long way and we've put a robust Covid policy in place and sent it to everyone before they come so we can continue now."

While the pandemic put paid to live shows which has impacted on venues, Jonny said musicians have switched to being creative and putting their time and energy into making new music - which has been great for the recording studio.

"We are really busy just now. People can't go out and gig but are being creative." And, he added, the nature of the recording studio - with separate rooms for performing and producing - lends itself to natural social distancing. "Also many bands are in a bubble or live together," says Jonny.

And there's been other good news for Young Thugs since lockdown. It became a Community Interest Company, which allowed it to apply for funding to establish a community studio which would allow them to give further support to talented artists.

In 2020, they won their first grant: cash from Youth Music’s Incubator Fund for LEVEL, a project to encourage more women into music production. This is now underway, with Yssi Wombwell taking the lead and three female music producers recruited to the programme.

Jonny says: "Music production is still a male-dominated industry. Research shows there is less than three per cent of women in the industry. We need to break down that barrier and try to promote them somehow. The Youth Music grant puts us in a position to do that."

Anna Reed is one of the women on the nine-month scheme. She said: "I'm so excited to be offered this opportunity. Young Thugs are playing an important role in balancing out the music industry which is something that I feel really passionate about."

York Press: The recording studio is based in the South Bank Social Club in YorkThe recording studio is based in the South Bank Social Club in York

Out Of The Blocks is a second community initiative tasked with developing upcoming talent. It is funded from music royalties from the industry through the Performance Rights Society.

Jonny says: "It will allow us to find high-potential talent in the north of England and put a professional recording together for them as well as help them take that to market and help with things like press releases and PR."

Another success has been Young Thugs' deal with leading label EMI to help nurture new talent. Their first project hit the jackpot - co-signing York band Bull with EMI, in a deal that thrust the four-piece into the limelight and led to extended coverage of their music across national radio.

York Press: Anna Reed - learning all about music production at Young Thugs in YorkAnna Reed - learning all about music production at Young Thugs in York

Collaboration, says Jonny, is one of the things Young Thugs does best – indeed, is one of the things the York music scene is known for.

When Young Thugs began four years ago, it was little more than one room – "we called it the hovel", says Jonny – where local musicians could meet, hangout, and jam. "It was our kind of networking," adds Jonny.

Today, that one room has expanded to take in the entire upper floor of the social club and plans are afoot to modernise the studios.

Jonny gave up a career in recruitment to follow his first love – music. As a drummer, he played in several bands, toured the world, and discovered he preferred working in a recording studio.

Despite the pandemic, the future is looking bright. "Lockdown gave us time to think strategically which you don't always get to do in business," said Jonny. "It was during this time that we came up with ideas for our community organisation and get the funding in place to do great community work."