Monday, 11 August 2014

Nostalgia, bulldozers, and Humberto Velez’s ‘The Storming’

Early next year, Cornerhouse relocates and is reborn as HOME on First Street. As I sat down to continue my research for Humberto Velez’s project ‘The Storming’ – the immersive large-scale installation that will be the final staged event at Cornerhouse in April –­ I saw a story tweeted from the Manchester Evening News revealing that the two Cornerhouse buildings (the main building and Screen 1 over the road) are likely to be torn down by the Council at some point in the future when the site is ‘redeveloped’. I’d already heard a rumour two years ago that Oxford Road station would one day be expanded to encompass this entire site, but my hopes of a reprieve had been quietly raised by the lovely Scandinavian-style bike park that’s since been erected outside Java coffee shop. I don’t want to lose that lovely bike park. I don’t want to lose Java either, or the magnificently squalid ‘Exorcist’ steps that barrel down towards Caley Street. And while it would be impossible to justify the existence of a stand-alone cinema screen with no managing body, it will be sad to see Screen 1 vanish too (there’s been a cinema there in one form or another for 103 years), but why the ‘corner house’ building itself, the old Shaw’s furniture store which has become so iconic?

From my frustrated doldrums I tweeted this:

…and this:

The ‘pain’ in question actually referred to my clavicle surgery, but fellow tweeters seemed to sense something like the pain of alienation, and a hearty discussion ensued. Investigations were made into the mysteriously disappeared Grade II listed status of the two Cornerhouse buildings (I know I didn’t dream it, they were listed) and passionate back-and-forths were had about City Council building projects and neglected bits of Manchester architecture. A few hours later one of the tweeters started a petition which at the time of writing has 700 signatures.

Reading back over the original Evening News story it was the word ‘hotel’ that was my main trigger. It’s safe to say that word is my red rag. I lived on Whitworth Street for six years and every day I would pass the abandoned development at the corner of Whitworth and Princess Streets with its contrived yuppie imagery and condescending tone of entitlement and its empty useless scar across the only gay neighbourhood in the city. The hotel and apartments intended to go there have never materialised. Why not build something on it? Legends, the place I partied endlessly in my Whitworth Street years, was bulldozed with meagre resistance in order to build a hotel that has yet to appear (as if its presence could salve the wound anyway). Clubbing in the city hasn’t recovered. London Road Fire Station continues to frustrate and upset anyone who passes by and gives a damn about architecture. Why not do something with that? The old BBC site is a permanent open car park and an uglier space than even the reviled Piccadilly Gardens. Why not build your office/h*t*l complex there?

Let’s be clear. This is not about nostalgia for times past; it’s about demanding an interesting and beautiful future without the need for a scorched earth policy. Nostalgia is a pejorative if it consists only of the endless romanticisation of a thing. When Legends was set for demolition I published a zine named after my clubnight ‘Drunk At Vogue’, featuring articles and artwork protesting the closure. I took a classic Mancunian Situationist approach and wrote, somewhat hysterically:

‘LEGENDS is the mental labyrinth of your DESIRE….!
LEGENDS is one of the ONLY gay/queer spaces that survives outside the GATED COMMUNITY OF GAY PRIDE….!
Mainstream media vouch for the Twisted Wheel as A HISTORICAL MONUMENT and we DOFF OUR CAPS to the dance floor pioneers and the faithful who still believe… But what about ME AND YOU…!
Every inch of queer Mancunian dance floor is a monument to NOW…!

This is what ‘nostalgia’ ought to be; a kind of anger, and an insistence in a future worth living in. Be ‘nostalgic’ for what you did yesterday, last week, this morning, so that you can keep on living and improving.

You may have heard about ‘The Storming’ already, again in the Manchester Evening News, where it was loosely conceived of as a ‘rave’ style event. This is only one part of the final picture. As we piece together the myriad components of ‘The Storming’, we actively draw on Manchester’s numerous identities, the complexity and diversity of its cultural past and present – clubs and music venues included – in order to celebrate, pay homage and energise the future; and yes, to party hard like Mancunians. As Sarah Perks from Cornerhouse says in the Evening News article:

Of course we all feel nostalgic about Cornerhouse closing its doors, but nostalgia only deals with the past and never with the future.’

‘The Storming’ will do things differently. The inspiration point for Humberto’s piece is ‘The Storming Of The Winter Palace’, a choreographed mass action that was staged in Petrograd in 1920 as a piece of ritual theatre which re-played the 1917 revolution in order to sanctify and celebrate its achievements. It wasn’t nostalgia, but a celebratory re-enactment of the recent victorious past that would invigorate a brilliant future for Russia; and the Council didn’t bulldoze the Winter Palace afterwards.

Friday, 8 August 2014

(Noise) Trouble at The Mill

After being lucky enough to be able to report nothing but good news so far, I didn't enjoy writing this statement for Islington MIll yesterday. Our cities are only going to get more developed and congested and loud. Art and music and innovation cannot be the fall guy in this situation. What is the solution?  

"Just as Islington Mill has taken a giant step forward with our successful Arts Council bid, we are simultaneously being restrained by a complaint about patron noise which has resulted in the Statutory Noise Nuisance notice under a 7 day deferral from Salford City Council. The suddenness of this development seems to negate the efforts we have previously made to work with the Council and residents at monitoring the impact of sound from our courtyard and main entrance. These efforts appear to have not made any tangible difference, hence our current urgent circumstances.
Our case is under review and any further complaints during the assessment period would seriously threaten our license, hence Dopplereffekt (Fri 8 August) will now take place at Antwerp Mansion and Cowbell presents Daniel Avery / A Love From Outer Space / Craig Bratley (Sat 9 August) will also be at Antwerp Mansion. Events like these feature the creators of some of our favourite music and we were proud to be able to host them in the City of Salford. However, the short term actions necessary to stage the events without jeopardising our license would mean we would not able to host them to the best of our ability. Artist and audience experience is something we value extremely highly and we don’t want to compromise it for any reason.
There is a high possibility that the outcome of our review will include some kind of revision to our 24-hour license. We are sensitive to the needs of our neighbours and keen to avoid animosity and upset, and to that end we have submitted an extensive proposal of short-term and longer-term methods to limit the impact of sound and outdoor activity on our neighbours. These include additional soundproof doors, on-site sound-monitoring engineers, exterior and interior structural alterations, new taxi arrangements, and many other suggestions. In short, in terms of what we are willing to do to keep our current license, we have shown ourselves willing to consider every possible avenue, and we hope the Council and residents will appreciate this.
However, with all of the discussions around regeneration and increased footfall to the Chapel Street area – which centres around the Mill and which underpinned our successful expansion bid – we are left in a state of some confusion as to how an independent arts venue with a 24-hour license is meant to operate under an ethos of experimentation and spontaneity with a series of caveats and compromises that effectively curtails our ability to operate the way that we do. Islington Mill is not just a bar or a club or a gig venue (but is a unique and dynamic mixed use space within which artists are encouraged to develop and expand their work and present new and stimulating and inspiring work to a wide public, demonstrating on a daily basis that people can do great things, that things are possible in Salford. The recognition from Arts Council England and Salford City Council, investment in our long-term future consistently acknowledges this.
We are working hard to find appropriate and workable solutions to these problems in the immediate as well as the long term and we will keep you all informed of developments. If any of our friends or followers have experience in this area or technical knowledge they would like to share with us, our doors are open, and our doors will remain open to all, so please continue to check out our programme of events that are still happening. Thank you."

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Manchester Pride: Pick of the best from the Fringe and beyond the Village

That’s right, there’s enough good stuff going on over this year’s Pride that it warrants a guide to the ‘best of’, and here it is. Between Pride’s Official Fringe, the Queer Alt Manchester collective and the Queer We Are takeover of Bangkok on Princess Street, here's everything amazing you want from this year’s Pride happening outside the Village enclave. This is how Pride should always be, and here’s where you need to be…

Hercules and Geryon by Maurice Vellekoop.

14 August–13 September...
Cockadoodle: The Erogenous Art of Maurice Vellekoop … 2022NQ hosts a delightfully titled exhibition of this eclectic Canadian illustrator of fantasy, humour and (homo)eroticism.; a coup for Manchester; it’s his first solo European show …

15 August–22 August...
Love: Music Exhibition … Men capture men as four Manchester photographers display images of musicians and dancers …

15 August...
Naked Boys Reading: does what it says on the tin, an array of body-positive not-at-all-shy gentlemen read from selected texts before an assembled audience willing to have their self-consciousness challenged …

16 August...
Got Lead: Drawing Sex, Arousal and Desire with Maurice Vellekoop ... get up close with the visiting artist as he shares his tips, methods and inspirations ...

19 August...
Coming Out: From Script to Screen … Legendary Corrie creator Tony Warren is joined by Jonathan Harvey and writers and actors from the soap to discuss the portrayal of gay characters on primetime telly …

22 August...
LGBT History Tour … A queer perspective on the People’s History Museum …

Pride, the Film: Cast Q&A … Meet the cast of a new movie chronicling the relationship between gay activists and striking miners in Thatcher’s crumbling Britain …

Mother’s Ruin: Roadhouse Rehab … Mother never brings a less than stellar line-up, and this Roadhouse bonanza follows suit with David Hoyle, Grace ‘The Face’ Oni Smith, Sheela Blige, The Niallist and more, all under JonJo’s watchful eye …

Bollox Is The New Black: Just guess the theme of this years’ Bollox Pride party at the Star & Garter …?

Grace Oni Smith by Lee Baxter.

23 August … 
Drunk At Vogue: The Boat Party / The Love Party … Two parties, one love, as Drunk At Vogue sail the Princess Katherine boat in the afternoon and disco hard at Kraak in the evening …

Rapture vs Black Angel:  Manchester’s premier women’s clubnight meets the original gay girls RnB party at an epic session for Queer We Are …

24 August … 
BANG! Yard Party Social: All-day full-on backstreet Northern Quarter party with local DJs and party people, all for FREE, outside Kraak …

Madonna Aid: 1984 Loft Party … Wall-to-wall Queen of Pop on the speakers and in the dress up box, all night long at Kraak …

HomoElectric owns (Paradise) Factory once again for three floors of intense partying, with special guests Little Boots and the Crazy P Soundsystem …

25 August … 
Queerchester Film Screenings showcases a diverse selection of DIY films from Manchester’s alt queer scene plus a slection of queer shorts …

The Queer Forum: Like the TED talks but for LGBTQI people, seven fascinating talks from all walks of queer life, plus music, short films and a chance to mingle…

Candlelit Vigil … Sackville Park is the setting for candlelit reflection for those lost to HIV/AIDS and those living with the diseases worldwide …

Related: Gay Icons

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

What's on that's good; or, Art, violence and the North

It seemed like hardly any of the usual crowd headed to Glastonbury this year so instead we reclaimed the weekend and took off for the Yorkshire Dales for cakes and ale and swing ball and lovely Scandinavian-style lodges to stay in. I shouldn’t admit it as a Lancashire boy, but the Dales has some of the loveliest countryside I’ve ever seen. I highly recommend Natural Retreats in Richmond, and the little town of Richmond itself. We visited Aysgarth Falls too, where Robin Hood and Little John have their fight in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, and took in a lovely pub lunch at Skipton on the way back to Manchester. Put that in your chemical toilet and flush it, Glasto.

It was down to earth (Manchester), with a cruel bump on Sunday as I hit the shadowy streets of Ancoats for the late night closing performance of ANU ProductionsAngel Meadow, the first production brought to the city by HOME. I am new to immersive theatre, having always enjoyed my traditional place in the audience, safely behind a fourth wall and preferably mid-row in case of audience participation. I’d only been inside the dilapidated shell of the old Edinburgh Castle pub for a few moments before a screaming, bloodied girl dragged me downstairs and onto the street where a tough-looking Irishman was waiting to walk me slowly around the block in the dark, boasting into my face of having killed a man and asking why I’d trusted a stranger enough to follow him into the night (good question)...

Needless to say my heart was in my mouth and stayed there for the gruelling hour that followed. Separated from my friends, it seemed like the bottom of my psyche had been scraped as one by one some of my oldest fears manifested – extreme poverty, specifically Irish poverty, aggressively sexual women, men with loud voices, rooms and people that stink, football hooligans, abattoirs. It was horrible, and also horribly sad – at one point I am in a gent’s toilet putting make-up on a drunk and abandoned woman who tells her sad tales through a fug of wine –  and very, very frightening. The panic responses of my body paired with my constant self-reminders that I wasn’t going to come to harm caused a dissonance I had no precedent for. And yet if you want to find out where your comfort zone is, how will you know if nobody ever takes you there? Would I recommend it? No.  Am I glad I went? Absolutely yes. HOME have set the bar good and high with this debut staging for Manchester and I may never forgive them. See you at Romeo and Juliet in September.

Luckily, Tune-Yards the following night at Gorilla injected some sorely-needed positivity back into me with seriously uplifting and tribal and powerful music, the new album is immense and she is such a warm and beautiful character and supremely talented. ‘I love Glastonbury,’ she tells us, but Manchester is just better.’ Cheers Merrill, I needed that.

Tonight (Wednesday 2 July) is the launch of a major new Ryan Gander exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. It’s a touring exhibition but one which has a specifically attuned set-up for its Manchester stay. Intriguing. The exhibition is free and runs until mid-September. After the launch is the all-important after-party at Gorilla where I am DJing the opening slot from 8pm, followed by PINS, Lulu Le Vay, Mike Joyce from The Smiths and Miranda Sawyer. It’s a free event and runs till midnight. Art, wine and music. And I get to meet Mike Joyce!

Tomorrow I am off to lovely Liverpool for the Biennial press junket, checking out art previews and of course stopping by at The Black-E where Islington Mill are currently in residence, celebrating and mulling over their terrific funding outcome. As well as my writer-in-residence duties for the Mill I have two exciting Liverpool assignments which I might have time to start researching. I love Liverpool, I’m very excited and grateful that this stuff now counts as work.

Back in Manchester, on Friday 4 July – Independence Day fittingly enough – James Travis and his cohorts from Dots and Loops celebrate eight years in the business of off-kilter clubbing, playing kraut, psychedelic, electronica, shoegaze, and other unclassifiable weirdness. It’s a special line-up of course featuring Dead Sea Apes, The Oscillation, and the one and only Bob Stanley of the magical St Etienne who will be DJing from around midnight. Tickets are available here.

I should try and engineer a day off, or maybe just an afternoon, before we go on holiday next week or else I am going to spend five days sleeping. Come on, keep up….

Friday, 27 June 2014

‘Manchester: In Residents’ ... #30 James

'It's crazy how a small city like this can have so many promoters and artists out there putting on their own stuff and making a really good go of it, and there's a real togetherness between most of them too...'

What’s your name?

James Victor Travis, or JVT... Or just James if you prefer. Never Jamie or J, though.

What do you do?

I work in Social Media for a popular hotel booking site in the centre of the city, it's a pretty good day job to be honest. I'm also the chap behind the Dots & Loops club and gigs, and sometimes DJ elsewhere when people will have me. Other than that, I'll probably be at home listening to Leonard Cohen.

Where do you live?

I'm living with my girlfriend in West Didsbury at the moment, just off Burton Road. The flat is kinda weird because it's above a house share that we have to pass through to get to it, but it's totally our own space. The other day we needed to get access to the basement below the house share to store some junk, and it turns out the basement is a disused recording studio. I mean, it isn't in operational order right now, but it's pretty damn cool down there. 

Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.

It's hard to elaborate on how I ended up somewhere I've always been. I was brought up in Rochdale and studied at Salford Uni for a couple of years and I never made the decision to move away anywhere else. I've often considered moving away, but it never came off for one reason or another... it's definitely likely in a few years or so, but I'm quite comfortable for the time being. 

What’s great about this city?

There's never a lack of good shows or events, and it's a really creative place with a good atmosphere. It's crazy how a small city like this can have so many promoters and artists out there putting on their own stuff and making a really good go of it, and there's a real togetherness between most of them too. The record stores, of course... People complain about the weather, but I quite like it these days.

What’s not so great?

The high street is pretty awful. People can say what they like about HMV, but to see that store close down and become a 3-storey bargain place is pretty depressing. It's just scaled down supermakets and mobile phone stores now. Piccadilly Gardens is a real mess too, and that big wheel hasn't done much for it. I really can't tolerate Spinningfields, but each to their own and all that. I'm not really a city centre kind of guy I suppose.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

The old fire station by Piccadilly train station, it's a really impressive building, absolutely stunning. It's a real shame that Britannia Hotels (who own the building) continue to neglect it. They came up with some nonsense about there being no demand for more hotels in the city, but then you see there's more and more hotels being proposed and approved every year. It's really hard for me to understand what they're trying to do there, very unusual. Hopefully there can be some kind of resolution soon, but it's been 20-something years as far as I'm aware, so I'll not hold my breath. It's not like a new hotel would be my preferred option for the place anyway, but it needs to be SOMETHING. The worst building? Has to be that premier inn. What a shocker.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

I don't really have a favourite Mancunian that comes to mind. I guess I'll be real nice and say my Papa. It certainly ain't Ian Brown, anyway! Mark E Smith is a funny guy, I like him. Don't reckon he'd like me much, mind...

What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?

This is real difficult, there's plenty of nice places! I suppose my favourite places would be Fuel and Kraak. Always a great atmosphere in both those places, and plenty of interesting stuff going on. Islington Mill is fantastic... The Castle is nice to pop in for a good drink and a sit down, and the venue space is pretty handy too. I generally like to stay in with a few records though, and burton road has a really great beer store now called The Epicurean. It isn't cheap, but it's good to be able to just pop into a place and pick up some drinks you're used to only being able to buy at trendy bars here and there.

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

I think we were missing a good medium sized venue, but the Albert Hall  has that covered really well now. Burton Road really needs a grocery store, I'll say that. I don't think there's enough good outdoor areas in the centre of the city, nowhere to really sit down and relax in the middle of all the madness. That's maybe something they could work on, starting with Piccadilly Gardens.

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

Make the Metrolink free of charge. Hell, that ain't no kind of service to be charged for.

Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?

Kev Rolfe. He's got his own label going on now, and is always involved in other great stuff. He's off around America for a few months but you should grab him after that.

Dots& Loops 8th Birthday is on July 4th including a DJ set from special guest Bob Stanley (Saint Etienne) plus live sets from The Oscillation & Dead Sea Apes. Kraak. 9pm till 4am. £8 advance, £10 on the door. Event page here