In the 2013 film The Wolf Of Wall Street, Jonah Hill’s character, Donnie Azoff, meets Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort in a diner. Donnie sees Jordan’s convertible yellow Jaguar, and asks him how he earns his living. Donnie tells Jordan that if he can show him a month’s pay-cheque for $72,000, he’ll quit his job and work for Jordan, right there and then. It’s a scene that plays in DJ and producer PAWSA’s — real name David Esekhile — head when he thinks about how he co-founded Solid Grooves Records, and became one of the biggest names in tech-house.
Between the late ’00s and 2013, a new kind of tech-house was bubbling in the UK. Shunned by old school house and techno heads for being seemingly uncool or unoriginal, this scene splintered off to become its own, shuffling ecosystem, with artists like Darius Syrossian, Jamie Jones and Steve Lawler spearheading labels and parties like Do Not Sleep, Hot Creations and Viva Warriors. Raves at London’s 93 Feet East and Cargo, and Leeds’s Mint Warehouse, were packed with young crowds, who drank in the wonky basslines, off-kilter rhythms and weird samples, and fuelled wide-eyed, smoking area chatter of after- parties and secret sets.
It was backstage at one of these events, a Solid Grooves party at Sidings Warehouse in 2013, that quiet newcomer PAWSA met established scene figurehead Michael Bibi for the first time, and their roles as Donnie Azoff and Jordan Belfort were cast. “Michael was successful, he had such a mature vision of the scene and where he wanted it to go,” Esekhile says. “I didn’t have a job, and I knew that I didn’t want to work for someone else, I wanted to work alongside them. He and I were on the exact same wavelength on the day we met.”
By 2013, Bibi had been relentlessly DJing, producing and running the Solid Grooves party brand for two years. He and Esekhile started spending time together, bonding over tracks they’d produced in their bedrooms at home. After a few Solid Grooves parties, Bibi asked the then 22-year-old Esekhile to DJ alongside him at a gig in Berlin. A successful show, no sleep and a pile of in-flight napkins scrawled with inky plans later, Esekhile was investing all of his savings — £8,000, from a season spent DJing in Spain — into a new project with Bibi, launching Solid Grooves Records in 2015.
Unlike their Wall Street counterparts, Michael Bibi and PAWSA didn’t crash and burn. By the time they launched the label, this bubbling new tech-house scene was boiling over, and Solid Grooves began to take over the UK’s mega-raves, supernova-style. They were hosting parties at London clubs like Electric Brixton and Fire, playing throughout the summer season at Sankeys Ibiza and, independently, the Solid Grooves artists were establishing themselves as a permanent fixture in the landscape, becoming some of the fast-growing scene’s most in-demand bookings.
Today, the label describes itself as a tight-knit family of artists: Dennis Cruz, Eddy M, Reelow, ANOTR, Bassel Darwish, Blackchild and Ramin make up the current roster, which frequently plays sold-out shows at large-scale venues like London’s Printworks and Studio 338. In recent years, these parties have hosted Cassy, Apollonia’s Dan Ghenacia, Chicago legend DJ Deeon and Paul Woolford, and the label has released EPs and singles from Skream, Prok & Fitch, Endor and Josh Butler.
While plenty of tech-house parties and labels have faded into the background, Solid Grooves has developed its brand, fronting as its own agent, booking team and management. Whether you love it or hate it, this style of tech-house continues to be consumed at an astronomical rate, and the groovers are delivering the goods.