“It looks a bit like something from Spinal Tap,” says Warehouse Project’s (WHP) Sacha Lord-Marchionne as we look at DJ Shadow’s Shadowsphere globe ahead of the iconic night’s opening.
A cross between a giant golf ball and the packaging from a zero gravity massage chair, it certainly doesn’t go anyway to quelling established notions that artists can be prone to theatrics at the height of their careers.
Then again, I find it hard to imagine the man behind 1996’s seminal debut album Endtroducing, the first record in history to be composed entirely out of samples, will throw away an opening nights performance for some ill-judged digitalised performance art.
“Ticket sales are going well and this last year here is looking good,” Marchionne reassures us. “It’s gonna be a big night,” he adds, before smiling and walking off, leaving us in the cavernous car park-cum-venue.
CALM BEFORE THE STORM: All is quiet moments before the crowds arrive
It’s Saturday 16 September and WHP is about to enter its final leg at the Store Street car park that has been its home, under Piccadilly Station, for the past four years.
This year, its fifth, will be its last but Lord-Marchionne, together with fellow promoters Kirsty Smith and Sam Kandel, are determined to make it one of the most memorable.
Originally making waves at Sankey’s in pre-Labour-era restored Ancoats, Kandel, Smith and Marchionne have become widely identified as some of the key figures in the UK’s clubbing event industry. If Sankey’s reawakened the industrial DIY aesthetic of Manchester’s clubbing scene, establishing itself, quite literally, away from any of the competition, then WHP took that idea and ran with it across town.
The level with which that DIY element has continued to inform and define WHP is clearly visible. Two hours before the doors were due to open, the merchandise table was still being hammered into place, while sparks flew from angle grinders cutting stage legs in two in the distance.
“The WHP brings something new to Manchester,” said Jenny Bates, 23, who went to see Aphex Twin when they first graced the project in 2009.
“But at the same time, it has always been a good place for a broad range of music and people love it,” she added.
OPENING NIGHT: A clubber on the first night of the WHP this year
Like so many things when it comes to the city and its relationship with music, WHP represents a distinct rejection of past conventions in an attempt to stay fresh and respond to what the scene demands, according to Kirsty Smith.
That said, organisers are keeping pretty schtum about where it’s moving to next – if, in fact, it will even continue into next year. Perhaps the ‘warehouse’ element might be fulfilled and we’ll see the season hosted in an actual storage facility rather than a car park, or the ex-Boddington’s Brewery opposite Strangeways that kicked off the whole endeavour in 2006.
However, if the line-up calibre of this years line-up is anything to go by – a DJ Shadow opening, welcoming back Aphex Twin for a second time and showcasing acts at the cutting edge of clubbing right now in the UK like Manchester residents Illum Sphere and Now Wave’s DJs – then clubbers could be forgiven for thinking WHP’s return is as certain as the Pope is a Catholic.
As the first revellers, adorned with edgy haircuts and obscure pop-cultural referencing tee-shirts, peel through the industrial PVC flaps and black curtains that mark the entrance, WHP kicks off.
Jonny Dub opens the night without much fanfare, allowing the bass to ripple around the red-brick arches as the more seasoned clubbers among the assembled – complete with fishing caps and Manc swagger – attempt to start their own private “dance revolution”, at least that’s what one says to me as the music gathers pace. However it is SBTRKT that manages to inject a real sense of momentum in the crowd.
Adorned in his ceremonial mask, the obvious adjective would be ‘tribal’ to describe the overall state of the crowd, as the opening synthesised chords wash across the main hall. So I’m not going to say that. Either way, the pensively soulful and playful sound that has come to define this latest advocate of the perennially changing UK Bass scene ignites Store Street.
IN THE SHADOWSPHERE: DJ Shadow works his magic
“If you want a decent city with all the energy of London, I tell everyone to head to Manchester,” said Michael, a media professional originally from Melbourne who has now settled in the city.
As we wait for DJ Shadow in the main throng, he adds: “I travel around the country a lot for my job and I see a lot of other cities, but WHP helps make Manchester one of the best.”
DJ Shadow seems to echo his sentiments from somewhere inside the Shadowsphere. Now DJing for 27 years, he thanks the fans and Manchester for allowing him to perform and do what he loves, as a howl of admiration emits from the pit in response.
Giving the crowd everything they want, the set encompasses classics from The Number Song through to the magnificent Organ Donor. Blood on the Motorway, complete with a swaying lighter held aloft for the stirring opening lines, adds the gravitas while a finishing track from his upcoming album The Less You Know Me the Better, his fourth LP released five years since The Outsider, completes a career-defining set.
Tickets for this weekend’s shows (September 23rd – 24th), featuring Annie Mac, Now Wave DJs, MJ Cole and Ms Dynamite on Friday while Visionquest, Seth Troxler and Four Tet lead the set on the Saturday have sold out. However, new for 2011, WHP have teamed up with Resident Advisor and Awdio to stream all performances for this season live.