Icon of the Week: Nick Gladwin, Founder of Simple Events
by Anya Athwal | January 20, 2024
When I pick up the phone to my undergraduate friends, the first question they often ask me is ‘how you coping?’ Not with the workload. Not with the master’s degree. No – they ask a far more serious question: how are you coping with the Oxford nightlife?
And in response to that, I direct them to Simple. In conversation, founder Nick Gladwin told me that the idea for an Oxford-run events company came about 25 years ago, after one ‘mad night in Manchester’ at iconic venue Sankey’s. He jokes, ‘I’m showing my age now, but that 90s rave scene was something that I wanted to recreate in Oxford’. Nick’s role in establishing that scene within Oxford is undeniable. He is humble about the acts that he has brought into the city – only when I note that he’s platformed names including Sherelle, Ben UFO and Yung Singh does he acknowledge it himself: ‘We’ve always tried to feature talented artists before they come up, and I like to think they remember us for that, hence why they return to Oxford later in their careers.
Nick is familiar with the surprise people feel when realising what Oxford has to offer. He recalls LCY confessing after one night in Cowley: ‘Nick, I wasn’t sure what to expect from playing in Oxford, but this is one of the best crowds I’ve played for’. The emphasis on the crowd speaks to one of the strengths of Simple. The venue, The Bullingdon, is an intimate space. Yet, this enables a diverse group of people from the city and the universities to come together. Their Instagram emphasises a commitment to ‘no-frills’ entertainment. Nick puts it perfectly when he says that Simple isn’t about the lights or the decorations, ‘it’s about getting the community together under one roof.’. This affection for community is what makes playing for the Oxford crowd so enjoyable.
In Simple, community has remained at the core of what it does. From the early stages of the event, local acts in Oxford were involved. Later, talent was attracted from further afar due to its success, but the beginnings of the event were firmly rooted in the locality.
At a local level, Nick’s move to establish an electronic music scene in Oxford had a community impact well beyond Simple. ‘When we started out twenty-five years ago, there wasn’t much going on in, that’s why it was so important to us to start something’. In my mind, it is notable that two years later, in 2001, future Academy Award winner Riz Ahmed started the event HIT&RUN in Oxford. Subsequently, it relocated to Manchester and has persisted as one of the most successful events in the north, still running today. Even though he would never say it, Nick was a pioneer in laying out the foundations in Oxford for future electronic music evens, like HIT&RUN. This testifies to Simple’s vital place within the city’s cultural landscape.
My exploration of Riz Ahmed’s involvement in events sparked some questions for Nick. The narrative I initially encountered suggested that Ahmed, like Nick, became engaged in city events with a shared goal of advancing the electronic music scene. However, delving deeper, I discovered that Ahmed’s motivation also stemmed from a quest for a sense of belonging after facing instances of classism at the University of Oxford. In light of Nick’s consistent platforming of DJs from diverse backgrounds of race, sexuality, and class, I inquired if this was a deliberate effort on his part. His response was, ‘to be honest with you, no. I think I’ve just always valued talent.’ Considering the 90s context when Simple was emerging, this underscores a genuine forward-thinking approach. During that era, the British mainstream was largely dominated by male DJs, and numerous genres exhibited a prevailing whiteness. Nick’s emphasis on talent reflects his longstanding support for left-of-centre artists, transcending cultural trends and moments.
The promotion of excellence still shines through. This is exemplified by the current Simple resident, Ebitda, also recognised by the name Yash Mundhra. The up-and-coming talent, originally from Kolkata, is fast developing a name for himself as audiences familiarise themselves with his seamless fusion of breaks and more acidic basslines. The collaboration between Nick and Yash has proven a great success, with the former noting that the talented resident has infused ‘a breath of fresh air’ into the scene, attracting a whole new audience into the community.
As Simple approaches its 25th birthday, I ask what Nick intends to do in celebration. He shares, ‘We want it to be low-key, but one thing that we do want to do is to bring in DJ’s who played when we first started. For example, Joy Orbison playing in February will be special because when he last played for us it was the old-timers listening, and now there’s going to be a generational mix as new people get through the doors for the first time. Sharing that altogether as a community throughout the year, with more acts returning, will be a celebration.’.
Nick finishes by denying the title of Icon of the Week. For him, he says ‘I just see myself as being lucky enough to bring like-minded people together on the dance floor’.∎
Our Icon of The Week, Nick. Show him some love @simple_events_ . Tickets for Joy Orbison 03/02/24 available on RA.
Words by Anya Athwal. Photo courtesy of Nick Gladwin.