From Local Bars to 5K Capacity Festivals – Meet Groovebox

Articles // Mon 1 May 2023 - 17:00pm

Whilst Nottingham is primarily a student-based city with standard nightclubs like Pryzm, Ocean and Pom-Pom, there is a whole movement of like-minded ravers within some of the coolest clubs; Brickworks, Stealth, Hidden Warehouse, and the newest addition to the city, Tunnel Club. 

With the clubs comes brands and promoters such as Wigflex, Sanctury, and of course Groovebox; one of the leading, if not the biggest, event hosts in Nottingham and the East Midlands to date. With every brand comes a story, so we met with founder and director, Nick Howdle, to delve into his exciting journey so far. 

Born from humble beginnings

Howdle founded Groovebox in 2018, after a twenty-year long history of seasons in Ibiza, filled with partying, sunshine and world-class DJs. The founder’s inspiration for Groovebox emanates from his passion for house music, and his time attending events all over the world; visiting global dance music hotspots such as Miami, Mexico and Brazil, where he had the opportunity to witness incredible scenes in party culture and masterclass DJ sets from the likes of Sacha, Carl Cox and The Chemical Brothers. This dancefloor experience first encouraged Nick to take up DJing progressive house after his first trip to Ibiza in 1997, where he saw John Digweed and Sacha play B2B at Pacha, which shaped his early aspirations and changed everything for him – little did Nick know he would be throwing parties of his own like this in 20 years’ time! 

“We threw the first parties in multiple venues in Nottingham, just trying to make a name for ourselves as promoters and a brand” says Nick. “We were fortunate enough to have connections with Defected records at the time, so for a while we were solely house music focused. That was when Groovebox was born.” 

With the early musical direction that Groovebox followed at the time, they booked many of the acts under Defected’s belt, such as Low Steppa, Sam Divine, The Shape Shifters and even Defected’s founder, Simon Dunmore. The first events to take place were between 400-500 capacity in various venues such as Saltbox, Trade and the Bowery. 

Finding a home

The brand grew expeditiously; events were selling out at maximum capacity, and the rapid growth of the brand meant Groovebox had to relocate to a bigger, more permanent venue. 

NG1 became Groovebox’s new home, which holds up to 1,000 people. Moving away from Defected, the brand took its first steps to working alongside other huge brands, and the first Groovebox event at NG1 was a Toolroom records showcase event, with Leftwing & Kody, Max Chapman and Martin Ikin.

A very large covid-shaped spanner was thrown into the works, as shortly after the first event at NG1, the UK went into lockdown, so of course all events planned had to be put on hold. 

“We’ve never been ones to throw in the towel here at Groovebox” Nick says. “So we began doing socially distanced events in a car park as soon as we could when restrictions began to ease, with the likes of Darius Syrossian and Low Steppa.” 

Howdle developed a taste for outdoor events, even coming out of lockdown. After toying with the idea of a festival, they threw an outdoor party at the Cattle Market with East End Dubs, Archie Hamilton and Fleur Shore; this was one of the first tasters of an outdoor Groovebox show with an established infrastructure and stage production. 

The team threw an after party for the event at NG1, where Nick told us: “We flew Denis Cruz in from Madrid to play the after party, I turned up to NG1 with Archie after the daytime event, who was gobsmacked and said, ‘is that Denis Cruz?’ and asked to go b2b with him, which they did for 3 hours”.  

Racing towards success

Nick then began planning another outdoor event after the success of the Cattle Market; after scoping out various venues across the city, Nick went down to Nottingham racecourse. Flash forwards a few months later to September 2021, Groovebox in the park finally took place. The line up consisted of Alan Fitzpatrick, Rebuke, Eats Everything, and many more amazing artists in dance music. The capacity was up to 3,000, which was the real first step up to doing a festival. Groovebox returned to NG1 in the Autumn and hosted the Nottingham leg of Patrick Topping’s all night long UK tour (where he played a phenomenal seven hour open to close), a sold out Halloween special with Hannah Wants, and then Jackmaster on New Year’s Eve to bring the year to a close. As well as these incredible DJs, there were also the likes of Hot Since 82, Sasha, Richy Ahmed, Fleur Shore and Danny Howard over various nights within the season. 

In 2022, Groovebox started with a bang as they famously brought Idris Elba to NG1. It was a massive statement for Nottingham to bring someone of his calibre in, and a massive shock to the operations manager at Tollerton Airport when he arrived for the first Groovebox festival in July 2022, “Idris very glamorously landed in a jet at the local privately owned airport which is tiny. When he got off the plane, the manager sat in his jeep on the runway and went on his radio, ‘you won’t believe this, Idris Elba has just landed with his entourage’” Nick told me during our meeting. 

“We already wanted to do Groovebox for five thousand people with Idris in mind as the headliner for the first festival, it was a great way to build a relationship between him and Groovebox.” 

On the day of the festival, Idris made Central News with ITV who interviewed him on the day. Alongside Idris Elba, there was Solardo and Bad Boy Chiller Crew on the line up. 

“[Bad Boy Chiller Crew] are absolute nutters, they came in steaming from the off, they’re completely bonkers but a great set of lads, however there was a point where their manager and I had to confiscate their alcohol so they could play their set while they still could” Nick revealed to me during our meeting. 

There were also multiple arenas, including an Ibiza themed arena hosted by Lovely Laura, David Penn and Judge Jules. The day was a huge learning curve as the infrastructure was so much bigger than before, but it clearly paid off as they had great luck with the weather and fantastic reviews after. 

Making moves

After the 2022 festival, Groovebox collaborated with Ibiza brand Café Mambo (who will be returning for the 2023 festival), which was a monumental move in their years of running, as Café Mambo won’t work with just anyone. They held a bank holiday event at the Water Front with Roger Sanchez and Second City to name a few, which sold out 1,500 capacity. 

“It was a day of pure uplifting house vibes, and it was our first time working with Mambo who were incredible guests” Nick says. 

Groovebox then went back to the racecourse and tried a different event, Groovebox Open Air, a student and freshers event to welcome newcomers to Nottingham who were unfamiliar of the brand with open arms. This event had more of a commercial running with artists like Nathan Dawe, Sigala and several others. Groovebox have hosted many events for students, including collaborations with Paraiso, who do events in Nottingham every Wednesday night. 

The back end of 2022 was a continued success for Groovebox, they hosted another Halloween special, this time with Alan Fitzpatrick, and then closed the year off with a few more intimate shows at Tunnel with Ammara and Maur. 

So, what is in store for the rest of the year for Groovebox?

After the success Groovebox have already had, they are planning so much more for the 2023 edition of the festival, which will be held on the 27th of May at the racecourse again; but with a capacity that has shot up to 6,000 people. It will see the return of Café Mambo—who will be hosting one of the many arenas—, and a diverse line up of genres including drum & bass, house, bassline, and tech house, with Sigma, Macky Gee, Window Kid, Richy Ahmed and Luuk Van Dijk being several of the headliners across stages hosted by the best and most respected brands in the East Midlands such as Taste, The Bunker, Groovin, Bassline Takeover, Submerged and an Arabian nights themed VIP area hosted by Breathe. Groovebox are bringing in all different, local brands, giving them equal opportunities for growth and recognition as well as Groovebox itself. 

Here are some dates for their exciting upcoming events…

27th May – Groovebox Festival at Nottingham Racecourse 

29th July – Nottingham Pride event at Bink’s Yard with Horse Meat Disco, Howard Donald (Take That), ESSEL and a drag cabaret with queens such as Danny Beard, Tayce & Sminty Drop. 

19th August – Groovebox terrace party at Bink’s Yard with Hannah Laing, Matt Guy and Hannah Wants

28th October – Halloween All Dayer at The Level

31st December – New Year’s Eve Special TBC

More exciting news…

The team have launched an event for the 23rd of September called Electric Garden; it will have a minimum of 4 arenas, and they are hoping to take it up a notch with up to a 7,000 person capacity. 

The future vision is to scale up to 10,000 person capacity events, to expand to genres outside of just house and bass, and to look towards collaborating with huge global brands—and there are even conversations around starting a record label to release productions made by local acts and residents. Howdle’s aspirations extend further than the East Midlands, with hopes to host events abroad in hotspots such as Croatia, Budapest and Ibiza. 

The Groovebox team are also doing their part for charity; when Idris Elba played at NG1, artist Craig James created a huge portrait of Idris, who signed this on the night. They are hoping to sell the painting at auction and raise between 5-10k pounds for The Rainbow Children’s Hospice in Leicester.

“Groovebox has gone from being a hobby to a great night out, with many funny memories from the early years as we were all out to party, and now we are one of the biggest brands in the East Midlands, and are being recognised on a national scale with the ability to book massive acts like Idris Elba and Solardo”, states Nick. 

Groovebox was born on a dancefloor, not in a boardroom. All the work, time, and dedication comes from the heart, and the ethos continues throughout all of the events, from which has gained a loyal following which is referred to as the Groovebox Family. 

Groovebox will return this year with lessons learned, ready to do it all over again!