Manchester changes faster than other places. So it seems to those of us that have the city as a geographical barometer of our lives. Over four decades of knowing this city there has been a continuous climb upwards. Not just the buildings. Maybe we see it most immediately in the buildings. Lots of this sky creep feels alienating and the sense of Gotham exploding over less than a decade shrinks me, physically and spiritually. This happens through age, waning familiarity mixed with a flooding of memory, our own changing perspectives and the new worlds spinning alongside us. Long spent nervous energy on trains from Wigan to the Hacienda, Conspiracy, Oldham Street, forgotten pits and dark encounters wandering rainy dark streets soaked with night-long friendships, evaporated. Resistant to romanticised versions of corporate versions of the eighties and nighties means the necessity of clinging to that sense of something special always getting tougher. Our own past getting drained out into a communal cultural past that tests memories which were always going to be hazy given the states they were in at the time of collection.
Memories fade but Manchester remains as a place that made lots of me, has a resonance I know is there even if it is not always glowing. A place of found friends and lost ones and wild excesses and desperate wanderings. Manchester is complicated and the massive transformation demands an engagement with it. Not sure why place does this but all places do, drag down or lift-up and generally a messy and incoherent mixing of both. How we respond to places, and the spaces in them, defines us more than anything else. Our differences and commonalities most acute in the ways we respond to a place in the world.
Factory International, now Aviva Studios, is part of that smashing together of past, of recreation and memory and reframed territories of another time. It has a cultural focus with a significant place in a city that has its people, people demanding representation in amongst the glass and steel and ever lengthening shadows. It is a place many of you will be visiting, it has a mission already placed there before the first sod was cut, or historic slab was pneumatically drilled open to reveal what ever hard core lay beneath. And somebody there at that inauguration was Afrodeutsche.
A familiar voice from the wireless, a nationwide people’s party in which a beautiful voice wraps together tunes and Friday uplifts with a velvet vocal thread. This brought lots of people, a familiarity in the unfamiliar and a recognition of our wider cultural belonging and being welcomed.
New spaces require an invitation.
What makes a city is differences recognised, not all the same, but all together. This choice of Afrodeutsche, not born in the city but made by it and making it in return, was perfect. Russian, German, Ghanaian, south western England, Mancunian, the formative places acknowledged and we know our own backgrounds of everywhere countries and classes and cultures melded in this urban crucible are just perfect. Nobody owns place, not important places anyway. Where ownership is clear and confirmed, life is already dead. What this new space in place needs is to throw open doors and recognise it is alive by virtue of those that come, that help reshape. Melding an individual, complex, emerging, transforming, with Camerata musicians so perfect in their ability to open doors into our own selves, that was something of genius. Not a single actor, but a combination, a transformation aided by courageous opening up of vulnerability and new worlds for one person that allowed us to think about that in our worlds and people and selves. Together we approached this with no ownership, no priorities of knowing what a camerata is, or encyclopaedic knowledge of electronic soundscape artist or classical composition. Some knew parts of this, experts elsewhere in here no doubt, it did not matter. With great events your body knows impact, just listen to that. Like listening to the Sun Ra Arkestra walking the streets of Wigan, we walk differently with other creations that link us to the universal. We feel our way.
In this new world, we had a reality shaped by psalms and faith, candlelit musicians conjuring sonic magic, huge visuals later presented everydayness and humanity in cinematic scale, not just as a visual but in the ears and in the soul and the ways we see ourselves together. All of us up there and in here. Places made by people, not as obstacles to abstracted architectural perfection, but as the fleshy corporeal gorgeousness of us as a collection of souls and bodies and faces and movement and love and anguish and our lost and our found. This was no Friday night People’s Party (it was Wednesday for a start) but it did the same thing.
Midway through a serene evocative part of the performance a family arrived, ‘sorry love, coming through, murder finding here innit?’, it was, it took a while, new places on old ground. My time to offer warm invitation, smiles, my sense of the place changed now. I felt the broader warmth immediately, my people here, not my family but could be. This event allowed us each a place together that we could be ourselves. That was what I saw and felt, down there on stage, next to me and around me in the cushioned seats, up there onscreen, an invitation to be part of this. It was courage from Afrodeutsche, each of the few comments opening new doorways to an exposed humanity, of autism, faith, perceptions of how we each love, what that means. The most intense of invitations, to look at ourselves completely, and to do it all together. Another kind of people’s party this, for sure.
Strings and voice, composition of some immense power. Lighting and sound, the films themselves superb, evocative. There is no need to engage in a piece by piece dissection of these as the combination is what matters most, the effect overall.
This is not for your critical mind. Your body will know. Your soul too.
The immensity of the event was seductive and it was also familiar. Up there on the screens, here in amongst the sounds, it was the everyday that was made brilliant, grand scale, evocative. Not actors or single voiced. How perfect to remember all of us, each other and those revelations of just a few years ago, our collective humanity. Afroduetsche reveals individual depth but in a cauldron of us all, adds to it but does not dominate it and we are invited to see this place and ourselves as together, not leaders and followers, communal. What comes through here, for me, is the human as worthy of reflection.
Not heroic individualism that darkens the auditorium and lightens the tiny few as in the Arena. Not the stage of reified absolute perfection and mannered quietness and convention of the Bridgewater. Both influential spaces, both important. But here needs to be and can be different. A grandeur and significance, not of the few but of us all, as place in need of space. A recognition of the hidden that come to be the ones that shape where we are in communal spaces. Hacienda not as DJs but as dancers, cities not of individual heroes but collective cultures.
This whole venue needs a review of its impact once it gets underway but the seeds of that power of place are already bursting through with this event. These are not seedlings really, this is a winter garden already in full bloom. There is influence here I know of, of faith and psalms and pasts and identities and displacement and togetherness. Others I have no clue about, about Bach and compositions and scores and technical skills and historical resonance. Neither matters. The body knows these sensations and it was through the buzz and the sparkles and the waves and the calls inward and upward that I felt this was special. It needed this crowd, this crowd, everyone one of us a part of the event. Mesmerised out of everyday sleeping through space and place into full awareness of the body in this space, in this place. Mesmerised by sound, by visuals, by the reclaiming of a cinematic grandeur of each other, of being here, tonight. You’ll get the same, but different, your crowd, with you in it.
Places need spaces to make them. Sometimes those spaces are threatening and exclusive even while symbols of new prosperity and other futures. It is a special space that can take our histories and futures, mix them in a present and get the richness of it all. Not histories of a singularity, either, not some curated preferred version that legitimises powerful voices and loses the rest of us. It is early days for sure, but what Afrodeutsche and Manchester Camerata do is make other possibilities possible. Faith, identities in transformation, musicians together with audience with space, a venue that is for these brief hours seemingly all of that, out but in, together but feeling that as connection not as alienation.
Culture is crucial to space and to place. Culture is not what you go and see, it is not a series of images or events of people you come to know and learn to revere. Or at least, it need not be even if that is often how it seems. Culture can be what shakes it all up and makes things fizz and lets global influence land in places and help reframe places and do what has always happened to stop stagnation, to keep us alive.
The power of cultural spaces is not that they tell us what to think. Tonight, these prayers and reflections, sonic mindscapes and visuals, collective gatherings of vulnerabilities alongside others asserting presence, others unsure, others immersed, were dream building moments. A beginning of things, not the end. Mysteries of ‘other people’s brilliance’ can play a part, intimidated or impressed, but can also be left behind. The real value of a culture place is what it leaves in us, in you, what we want to do now that we have been part of that. It is a challenge, the statistical measure means that often we become reduced to numbers, how many of us, how much we paid, how often we attend. All of that is mere consumption logic. The real value is harder to measure, of what sparks are generated, where they light and what they help build. Who walks in a different way now and thinks a new thought that makes tomorrow something it would not have been otherwise. Not products purchased but dreams begun. Manchester is built on dreams from darkness, all great cities are. Factory International harks back to memories curated differently to my own of same places and events, but these would not have happened without the hundreds, later thousands, that turned out in those rainy first days and found the dreams of others and dreamed ones of our own. Dreamers that built dreams and fed other dreamers and here we are again merging those worlds of dreams and creation. It can never stop and there is no perfect space.
As working class artists and writers, thinkers, people on the edge of creation, we need spaces and investment too. Much of what is planned to happen here is from people like us, frustrated by continually being outside and finally given a crack at something, some exposure. Time will tell but even in recognising the necessity of this crack at something is acknowledged as missing right now. We might find that a concrete block outside the festival square as somewhere to sit and write is the best we get. This review came from that. Maybe like Afrodeutsche found, there is a bigger platform. There are fellowships, invitations for community groups, things are there and please continue to search and find a way for yourself. Or this becomes just another monolith we end up standing outside. The goal cannot be gated and curated playgrounds in which we do the work we did anyway, just now funded and monitored and made safe. This promise, and the whole edifice, is a gigantic promise of hope and opportunity. A promise that needs us to be open to, not just to distant and opaque invitations but as places to make suggestions, insistent ones. To be involved.
Being here tonight was significant to me. An energy of artists and composers, of conductors and film makers, all of it impressive. All of it miniscule without audience and the energy of a collective. The power of this was generated by brilliant people, doing exciting things, and it was from that we saw the invitation to be a part of new ways of being. An audience as a space for inspiration in a venue that welcomes what is inspired to come and be shared and inspire others.
This may well be a very special place, and yes, time will tell. What it absolutely needs is all of us to make that work. Not some of us. My first time is over and it left something new in me, but did not steal anything away from the past to build it. If you can, get there and see this, help grow it some more. This place and this event even will be noisily judged first on what can be counted and I hope the numbers make people happy and help things continue. The real value, the difference it makes, is down to you and something you should make sure you get to experience, to reshape and to make. This place tells us many things and Afrodeutsche and Manchester Camerata are perfect in helping us locate that knowing. What future we get is entirely based on how we act in the present. Make sure that includes your dreams.