Here at Example we often interview music producers, but rarely ask promoters to speak since (once-engaged) an average promoter rants forever about how nights you never went to were simply historic; whereas the shit that went wrong on the night you did attend was somehow someone else’s fault. Our Photo Editor Al Baker has met a fair few in his time but has decided that some are worthy of note, either for their genuine promotion of new music or their tireless promotion of local talent; and some seriously seminal club-nights
Following on from our recent ‘Put-Your-Music-Where-Your-Mouth-Is’ feature (Iss.27 –Ed.) next up a few words with Jim Hall from Manchester leftfield dubstep nights ‘Open Plan’ & ‘Secret Wars’...
AB: Open Plan has been going for a while. When and where did you start?
JH: Back in 2005 at Zumbar (Odd Bar now). Our idea was to have a variety of different artists, reflecting different nights happening in Manchester – hence the name. Our smoke machine went mental, so for large parts of the gig we couldn’t see anything. We’ve maintained similar standards of organization ‘til this day! Did my birthday in 2007, Dolphin headlined; Hardcore, break-core, heavy dubstep. It went well. I decided to go monthly in June (Pangaea played for 50 quid!). I focussed on dubstep because nights I’d played at were trying to do a few things that didn’t seem to be working. A few sporadic events, back rooms, but they didn’t play what I was listening to. There was a load going on at the time tune-wise, most have gone on to become genres in their own right. Back then you could play break-step, grime, garage, ultra heavy stuff in one set and people weren’t thinking much further than just enjoying themselves –that’s where we were coming from.
AB: Many venue changes since?
JH: Yeah plenty, Manchester has a problem venue-wise. You’d be hard pushed to find anyone that disagrees. There are few adequately equipped & priced spaces. Venue managers are almost always trying to do-over nights in some way. They get away with it because they’ve got a captive market of green, ambitious young ‘uns to exploit…
Manchester plays on its past musical achievements, stifling opportunity for anything like that to happen again. The other problem that’s kept us on the move is sound complaints. MCR Council allowing flats to be built next to every venue! A venue that’s running for x amount of years should be protected from having its’ viability infringed. For us that means smaller venues that allow for new nights, new music are dwindling, which ultimately puts more power in the hands of more money-orientated promoters.
AB: What 1st got you into the music you promote? Is there any one particular track or club night that inspired you?
JH: Manchester! I came here to study at RNCM, and dropped out. I got into experimental electronica like Autechre, Aphex Twin, meeting people, partying – ran a night called Not Music, Manchester’s 1st break-core night.
Rephlex (Aphex’s label) released Grime 2 in 2004, a dubstep album really. Tunes coming out around this time are some of my favourites. I liked them because they were dark but didn’t try too hard. Proper warm sound to them as well. I’d been listening to a lot of 200bpm stuff so it was my way of moving on. A lot of the old half-step stuff was amazing but the time between had drive and was very cinematic.
Night-wise is FWD. When I went I realised that what I’d been doing for years was just going to events where artists I liked were playing and getting pissed. A room full of people genuinely feeling it is something else and is inspirational.
AB: Introduce us to your residents?
JH: At the (ard) core there’s Morris Cowan who runs MCR’s branch of Wigflex. A fantastic upcoming producer, check him out: ( http://soundcloud.com/morriscowan ). We’ve got a very talented bunch backing us –Dash Total’d, Heppstar, Magic Mash and Teutonic Kaboom. Node runs 140 Podcast ( feed://140.podOmatic.com/rss2.xml ). Our residents were a result of a call-out we did months back. Asking not just for music skill but also a level-headed approach to the other things involved with nights.
AB: Tell us about your favourite guest or proudest moment?
JH: Thing about putting someone on that you really want to see is that you don’t often get to see them play. You’re stuck on the door or doing something else similarly exciting – I’ve missed a lot! 2000f was amazing as was Niveau Zero the other week. Putting on Horsepower and Appleblim meant a lot.
Proudest moment was our 1st birthday: When we started I’d been travelling up from Wales every weekend on my dole to flyer; Facebook in public libraries on extremely-slow, crashing computers; Cutting out flyers by hand – you know, grind. Most of the year was just that. To see it get to a point where we had over 500 very happy people with little traditional advertising was a ‘hell yeaaah’ moment because it had worked.
AB: Last Open Plan at Jabez Clegg now though? How come?
JH: Lots of reasons. As the genre became more widely known everything changed. A bunch of nights came through doing a similar thing but more specialised. Other nights changed their line-ups to suit that crowd so it quickly changed into an atmosphere of competition. We were about energy, underground music; but the competition and what the audience came to expect made it so we couldn’t really do what we wanted. I tried coming at it from a few different angles line-up wise but that wasn’t the answer.
AB: Which brings us nicely to Secret Wars: Tell us about the concept behind it
JH: I think there are factors affecting the quality of music being put on and if you can live without them then you should. Money’s the main problem. The relationship between capacity and cost: You need a 200+ venue to be breaking even with the rising costs of acts at a competitive price. The temptation to increase your profits affects everything.
Big gigs have got their charm but it is small events where people are close together that makes it more about music than socializing. So if you keep it small, say 100 people, how much are they willing to pay for a ticket as long as they know there’s no profit (ie: they’re not being swindled)?
We let them vote on who they want to see then show them a breakdown of costs which corresponds to the ticket price and ask if that’s acceptable. The result is a great gig where everyone really wants to be there! It might seem quite convoluted to some people as well but that’s the point! Its’ not going to be everyone’s bag. All we’re doing is facilitating a gig for people that want an alternative.
AB: And the live act I caught at Secret Wars @ Soup Kitchen?
JH: Shackleton. Who was amazing. He said he enjoyed it more than Bloc Festival, which was the same weekend. His basslines just seem to get more and more ruthless, rhythms more sharp. It’s heavy stuff! Watching people respond to the smallest tweek of a drum envelope. Incredible. It was like an acid set.It’s brilliant to see where he and Appleblim have gone since they started Skull Disco. What they’ve done means a lot to people who operate on the fringes.
AB: What's up next for you, Open Plan & Secret Wars?
JH: Immediate future is more Secret Wars parties, which I’m buzzing about! Cosmin Trg (Friday 13th May), as part of FutureEverything Festival. We’ve got some really special visual things for inside & outside the venue, which will be mint.
We run Facebook listings for MCR events called ‘Yea you like dubstep..,’ which puts all nights on an equal footing. We do a little booking and are planning releases and podcasts – the modern media shebang.
Looking at where we’ve come from, ‘Yea you like..,’ Secret Wars, Open Plan, I think there’s a sort of theme of equality and trying to be helpful. I think if you want a healthy scene it’s cooperation that needs to promoted, not headliners – the actual mechanics of how things work can be thought of and that can be effective, not just gimmicky, and it’s like now that we don’t have to worry about who to put on every month maybe we can start looking around and asking ‘what can we do to help?’
What a nice man. Manchester needs more like you. Support your scene. FutureEverything: Secret Wars @ Saki Bar >> Cosmin Trg Fri 13th May 2011.