In 1982, the head of Factory Records and general cultural curiosity Tony Wilson opened Manchester’s club The Hacienda. Occupying the site of a former warehouse, the venue was inspired by similarly cavernous venues that had become popular in American underground, dance music circles. The first of its kind in Europe, the legacy of the legendary venue is evident in many contemporary British music events, especially Manchester’s very own Warehouse Project. The yearly clubbing extravaganza aims to evoke and replicate the heydays of Acid House, giving both contemporary musicians and fans the opportunity to indulge in some rave nostalgia.
Initially Wilson’s grand vision was a commercial and critical flop, as the vast space was simply not suited to the acts it hosted, namely the abrasive post-punk bands that Factory specialised in. Walking into The Warehouse Project for the first time conjures up images of the early days of The Hacienda. Poor Kwes. When the Warp-signed singer-songwriter penned his lush EP Meantime, he probably didn’t envision having to re-create it in an empty airplane hanger and despite his best efforts the results were ultimately just surreal; recalling a scene in Michael Winterbottom’s irreverent film 24 Hour Party People, where Factory record’s staples A Certain Ratio play the opening night of The Hacienda to a scant crowd. Situations such as these are a consequence of Warehouse Project’s blockbuster bills that force some of dance music’s finer live acts to warm up non-existent crowds that have not yet arrived in a room not suited for their aesthetic.
Just as Tony Wilson was eventually (and emphatically) vindicated by the emergence and ubiquity of rave culture in 1980s Britain, as the crowds poured in and the night wore on, Warehouse Project came into its own. The night was curated by SBTRKT and his selections of mainstream dance music fixtures such as TNGHT and Four Tet brought the previously dead room to life. Fresh off their collaborative EP as TNGHT, Lunice and Hudson Mohawke played their exorbitant trap music creations live. Their immense yet frivolous sound perfectly complemented the bacchanalian atmosphere of Room 1. The highlight of the set was the all-conquering ‘R U Ready’; a colossal banger notably absent from the EP and condemned to YouTube infamy amid rumours of Kanye West purchasing it. While Four Tet is a much more subtle proposition sonically, the opportunity to hear him construct his languid electronic works live was just as invigorating. His recent focus on DJing has left live performances by the musical savant a rare treat for his fans. He did not disappoint, re-creating the club-leaning tracks that comprised recent release Pink to great effect. He brought a much-needed warmth and intimacy to proceedings, finishing the magical set with an older classic: the organic and anthemic ‘Love Cry’.
The colossal Room 1 with its frenzied light show housed the majority of the big live acts at Warehouse Project. However, the more authentic (and in my opinion, superior) clubbing experience was to be had in the other two rooms, their low ceilings and lack of lighting complimenting DJs such as Pariah and Oneman perfectly. Having endured enough hours with the raucous revellers in Room 1, I decided to skip SBTRKT’s set and see the night out with Caribou in Room 2. Having just released new album Jiaolong under his Daphni moniker, Dan Snaith’s set was full of high-energy, evocative house music from himself as well as fellow contemporary producers such as Joy Orbison and Bicep. He also played LB Lynam’s ‘Get Things Straight’ a highlight of his recent Boiler Room set, to further fuel the rumors that the track’s mysterious producer is in fact Snaith himself. Free from the constraints of a ‘warehouse’ setting, both the DJ and the crowd felt more comfortable in Room 2, creating a relaxed atmosphere that felt more like a classic rave than any of the Room 1 performances. The success and popularity of dubstep and its club nights over the past decade has demonstrated that often a more powerful sonic (and social) experience can be had in a smaller venue, and the contrasting experiences that Rooms 1 and 2 offer demonstrated this. Warehouse Project will always be popular due to their lineups, bringing the best electronic music from all genres and eras under one roof. However, there’s still room to argue that they should learn from the previous decade of clubbing; updating the ‘warehouse’ concept for the 21st Century instead of merely indulging in nostalgia.By Alex Beazley-Long