Having been regularly attending gigs in Manchester for 22 years (a mixture of showing my age and starting early), there’s scant that can surprise in terms of the city’s venues. I’ve encountered the great, the not-so-great and the down-right shoddy (including my own teenage indie band) in countless venues, from the ’30s art deco faded glamour of Ardwick Green’s Apollo (where my nan used to go and watch Saturday Matinees), to the dank basement of the Northern Quarter’s Soup Kitchen, the corporate soul-sapping of the MEN, iconic student venues that have seen practically every major act to have toured, through to dodging glass in hairy public houses. And pretty much everywhere in between.
However, with a history for surprising, the Manchester International Festival have pulled out some hefty trump cards for this year’s festivities – enough to astound even the most seasoned connoisseur of the rainy city’s music venues. Running biennially since 2007, the artist-led festival of culture, art, music and innovation has seen the diverse likes of Marina Abramović, Björk, Damon Albarn, Jeremy Deller, Kanye West, Zaha Hadid and all manner of high-brow theatrical business, taking to venues around the city for the best part of a month each run. Redefining the contemporary culture festival, it’s understandable that they keep an eye on venues that match their ambition and imagination. Past years have seen a tunnel on Great Bridgewater Street and the striking Campfield Market Hall welcome guest performers.
Gritty, moody, melancholic; this year MIF have found two dilapidated venues that personify their host city. There’s a tense sense of mild menace, juxtaposed with Victorian grandeur and echoes of the city’s heyday – anybody who knows Manchester will recognise the characteristics of these majestic venues the moment they step inside. Those who don’t, will instantly be seduced by the non-conformist aesthetic and rules that they and the city play by.
Eerie and industrial, the post-apocalyptic Mayfield Depot will play host to Massive Attack and Adam Curtis’ ambitious music meets visual arts extravaganza, whilst The Albert Hall, a forgotten Wesleyan chapel in the city’s centre, will welcome the likes of Goldfrapp, Mogwai performing their Zidane soundtrack live alongside the movie and a dramatic performance piece from former Shameless star Maxine Peake, directed by Sarah Frankcom. If these exclusive images are anything to go by, this year’s festival (starting 4th July) looks set to exceed its own formidable expectations.