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watch now — the city talking: tech in leeds

watch now — the city talking: tech in leeds


Our feature-length documentary, The City Talking: Tech in Leeds, can now be watched in full online.

Underground movements aren’t supposed to happen within imposing, technologically advanced office buildings. But some of the most innovative and exciting digital work in the country is happening in Leeds, above ground level, under the radar.

It’s not something that’s new to the city. Leeds was the birthplace of Freeserve, and today AQL manage some of the most important infrastructure in the UK from their base in a converted chapel. Rockstar games made Grand Theft Auto in Leeds; Opta and Prozone made it an international centre for sports data analysis, now joined by Catapult Sports; William Hill and Sky Bet have developed online and mobile gaming here. A strong financial sector has for years had strong back of house support, from which independent companies have started up to explore new ideas in fintech; medtech has had similar development, as innovative startups spring up to support big healthcare data analysis work at HSCIC and the NHS.

What is new is that the tech scene in Leeds is moving out of the curtain walled offices, as if leaving the towers and deliberately going underground. Underground is where the action is, and Leeds has a strong history of nurturing and supporting independent, do it yourself music, food, retail and art. An artist once told The City Talking that they worked in Leeds because it was the only place they’d found that matched the value they place on creativity something that digital workers are discovering.

Following the success of Leeds’ homegrown music and the explosion of street food, now converted into bricks and mortar dining, tech in Leeds is the next big creative community making itself felt. Meetups are driving not only technological change but a change in atmosphere, where venues like Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen have 65daysofstatic onstage one night, then a presentation about using Ember the next — and the same people show up for both.

While Sky are taking up residence in bespoke designed offices at Leeds Dock and Sky Bet await completion of their gleaming new building at Wellington Place, tech incubator TechForge are converting an old Art Deco former police HQ into a co-working hub, continuing the support given to startups over the last five years by Duke Studios. In the coffee shops and bars, novelists and songwriters have been joined in their frantic notebook scribbles by coders equally anxious to get their ideas down.

And the real story yet to be told is of the companies working off the Leeds city radar, because their work is focused elsewhere. VR and kids’ game specialists Dubit work worldwide from Disney to Real Madrid; the LA electronic dance music scene led by Deadmau5 relies on Leeds companies Rising Digital and Rabbit Hole for the execution and design of its vital and beautiful online presence. These businesses aren’t household names in Leeds, but Leeds is where they work and play.

2016 is the year when those names become better known. The Live at Leeds music festival, a weekend of live music when one wristband gives you access to dozens of venues and hundreds of performances, is celebrating its tenth birthday by combining with Leeds Digital Festival for a week of events and workshops celebrating the actual and the potential of tech in Leeds. It’s avowedly an emulation of the direction SXSW has taken in Austin, Texas, led by people who believe that the music and tech stories in Leeds deserve it, and deserve the volume that a combined festival will achieve.

Collaboration is what is driving this strength. The move from offices to music venues, from cubicles to coffee shops, is driving meetups, triggering ideas, starting new businesses and building new technologies. Again and again we’re hearing that Leeds is where it’s at if you want to work in the digital industry — digital workers earn £3k pa more in Leeds than anywhere else in the north, and advertised salaries are growing at more than double the national average rate — often followed by, “But I would say that, I live here.”

Well, exactly. It’s only by living here that you can really know what’s happening in tech in Leeds; but by talking about it, we can hope to give you the idea. That’s why we made a film, The City Talking: Tech in Leeds, about the people here who had ideas, who made things happen, and who keep having ideas and making things happen here today.

And we made it as a call to action, with a question; if all this can already be happening here, then who are the people who will have the next ideas, and what will happen now? We might make a very different Tech in Leeds film in ten years time. And that’s what excited and motivated us to make the first.

The City Talking: Tech in Leeds is a Hebe Works production, made in association with Sky, Plusnet, Sky Bet, HSCIC, LEP, Leeds Dock and Leeds City Council. It was first show at Dock 29 at Leeds Dock on Monday April 25th 2016, at the start of Live at Leeds Music & Digital Festival 2016.


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