The Underground is Where I Wanna Go
Updated: Jan 12
... are lyrics borrowed from Honey Dijon's track 'Downtown'.
But Honey, where is this underground of which you speak?
Does it exist any more, in our age of social media and uber transparancy?
This is one of the key questions that emerged last week, after I spent an inspiring 6 days with Fynn Galloway, a fellow Lancastrian DJ. We'd been successful in our application to join the 'Would Like to Meet' Residency, organised and funded by Manchester-based arts organisation, Quarantine.
Their invitation was fairly simple on the face of it;
" WOULD LIKE TO MEET is a series of week-long exchanges across November and December 2022 for artists who are generations apart but interested in bringing their practices together. Hosted and supported by Quarantine, we’ve invited pairs of artists with a twenty-year minimum age gap to come together to spend a week framed by the provocation ‘what questions do you have for each other?’
Aimed at facilitating intergenerational collaborations, the residency will explore an area of shared interest, framed by the notion of asking each other questions."
So Fynn (22) and I (42) thought we'd use the opportunity to learn about each others' journeys, invite other DJs to join the conversation and explore the conditions which make for a thriving music scene. Naturally, I'd also be taking photographs.
We found Manchester to be the ideal setting.
We started our week in Brewtang, a café and events space linked to the School of Electronic Music in Salford. I love this place. When it was the MIDI School, I did a fantastic 10-week DJ course in 2007 (although the café space didn't exist then).
We spent the day on the decks, sharing aspects of our music stories and our tunes. I kicked off with 'Sweet Dreams' by the Eurythmics as it was the first album I received as a gift (age 11 at Christmas, from my dad). I learnt that Fynn grew up on traditional Irish music and that he plays various instruments. Each day, Quarantine set up three questions to get the conversation started. That said, I found it easy to chat to Fynn and we soon discovered we had loads in common. Our routes into DJing were very different though. Fynn had mates that introduced the music to him, mostly Drum and Bass. I didn't know anyone in the dance scene when I started, so taught myself, then went to plenty of club nights to meet people.
Photo - Kate Daley
The Record Shops
One of my highlights from the week, was a chat with Jim Bane from Eastern Bloc.
Record shops played a crucial part in the acid house explosion of the late 80s. Dave Haslam (Haçienda DJ, journalist and author) told us that shops like Eastern Bloc would put aside a collection of records under the counter for his next visit. Staff at the shops would get to know their DJs and curate tailored 'playlists' (to a level that Spotify's personalisation techies can only dream of).
Whilst Fynn shopped for tunes, Jim got to know him and his musical tastes, pulling out records he thought he'd like, refining it with each new bit of feedback. It turns out that Jim has worked at Eastern Bloc for nearly 20 years. We chatted about his own DJing, music production and the best festivals for kids (We Out Here rating highest in Jim's opinion).
This chat was a clear reminder to me, that face-to-face conversation is king when it comes to getting involved in the music community. And Manchester really feels like a community. It's a decent-sized city but one where everyone is connected.
Maybe the way to the underground is through talking to people in the know. But don't get me wrong, very few in the city are precious with their info, as they want people to join the party.
Photos - Ginny Koppenhol
What is it about Manchester that makes it successful as a 'music city'?
What are the conditions that enable a music scene to develop and thrive?
Fynn posed the question: Is another 'musical revolution' on the scale of the acid house era of the late 80s, possible today?
We met with Matthew Krysko, a DJ who has been resident at the Warehouse Project for nearly 20 years. He feels that "social change through music, is usually born out of tough times, often outside of the law". So it seems that resilience, perhaps a desire to protest, creative expression, and a sense of community are all strong drivers. Manchester is a trade city with links to North America, explained Dave Haslam in the documentary film 'Manchester Keeps on Dancing'. This enabled natural links to form on a musical front too. In the same film, Mike Pickering (originally a booker and DJ at the Haçienda) commented that many people in Manchester lived for the weekend, a mix of the grey skies and tedious work, prompting this response.
From my own experience, I already think that promoters and clubbers are going 'back to basics'. In fact my last night out before the first lockdown was at Hidden, a venue that is right up my street. It's DIY, it's stripped back, it's raw. It was a Homoelectric night and I'm so glad I went to a great place to party before the subsequent dancefloor-less months. It has the spirit of the underground and maybe that's all we need.
Matthew also feels that 10 years ago or more, DJs had to "stay in their lane" musically. After so much cross-pollination during the later 80s and early 90s, I too felt that as a DJ in the 2000s, you had to choose a style and stick to it. He is hopeful that this is starting to change again, and that creative collaboration is in a good place.
Dave agrees that people will always be creative, but feels it's getting harder for that creativity to break through. He said that without the underground, there can't be the seismic cultural shifts; " If the cracks get filled in, and there isn't an underground, things get lost".
So maybe reviving the spirit of the underground is important, but not quite enough.
Photos - Ginny Koppenhol
After these chats, we passed the Haçienda Apartments, the site of the nightclub upon which a lot of our conversations centred. Haçienda anniversary parties have been held in this car park, most recently to mark 40 years since the club's opening. The Haçienda: the underground, that become overground, back in the (literal) underground (car park).
Photo - Fynn Galloway
Photo - Ginny Koppenhol
And what of the Warehouse Project? It's a popular overground gigantic sensation of a club, but that has the spirit of the DIY era. Fynn and I find it a confusing mix at times, and are unsure how we feel about the sea of phones held aloft during a DJ's most recognisable track (although I admit to occasionally being one of those people). But both Matthew and Dave agree that if you view the events as concerts, where you'll see DJs playing their 'hit tracks', it's a more coherent experience. There is most definitely a need for the smaller, intimate venues, the types that musical communities spring from, but WHP is something different. Matthew added that it's a useful 'gateway experience' for many clubbers. They come to WHP to dance and leave wanting to know more about this exciting scene.
Photo - Ginny Koppenhol
Fynn and I ended the week DJing together. Thanks again to Manchester's community spirit and strong networks, the team at Quarantine found us not one, but two short-notice gigs. The first was at a Station South, a fantastic community and creativity centred café bar in a restored train station in Levenshulme. The second was at HOME, a large arts and theatre venue in central Manchester. The gigs were great, and a perfect way to end the week together.
After the gigs, we fancied going out and asked my friend Adam where we should go (he's a fellow Lancastrian, who's lived and partied in Manchester for years). We wondered whether he could use his contacts to get us into the White Hotel in Salford, another place successfully generating intrigue by choosing not to share tons of photos and videos on social media. He tried, but not even he could get us into the sold out event.
But we did go back to Eastern Bloc for a techno night. It was superb.
I am not sure if we found the underground, but maybe due to the pandemic and our over-reliance on the internet, the underground's got a little deeper. I hope it's still there, and I reckon the best way to find it, is via good ol' fashioned conversations.
PS - Fynn & I were interviewed by Sarah Hunter at the end of the week. Have a watch and feel free to laugh at my inability to remember the name of Massive Attack's huge hit track at the very end.