THE RECESSION ISN’T ALL BAD. WITHOUT IT MANCHESTER’S WAREHOUSE PROJECT WOULD HAVE GONE THE WAY OF THE HACIENDA LONG BEFORE THIS, THEIR FIFTH AND FINEST YEAR YET
In a climate that’s seen some of UK clubland’s biggest names and venues close their doors, the Warehouse Project, contrastingly, is in remarkably rude health. Celebrating its fifth year since the old Boddingtons brewery tentatively opened its doors to remind Manchester’s revellers of the reckless hedonistic rave spirit, it’s a bit of a miracle that WHP ever got this far.
A resident, stalwart and share holder at the iconic Manchester club, Sankeys, Sacha Lord-
Marchionne spent six years at the venue putting on nights that, despite the high calibre of DJs, “got a bit boring”. So, in 2006, Sacha sold up. A few drinks with two friends, and a consequent night out later, the rough blueprint of the Warehouse Project was born.
“I remember we spent our time driving around Manchester trying to find a space to do something special and we came across Boddingtons brewery,” he explains. “If you remember, Boddingtons had that ad line ‘the Cream of Manchester’ and all the guys that used to work there, we’re talking generations, they had all been kicked out, and the place was just lying there, dormant.
“So we organised to meet the owner and kind of sugar coated the fact we wanted to put on raves…you know, dropping words like ‘bands’ and ‘producers’ and ‘family events’. He came down as a customer on the first night and realised we’d pulled a fast one.”
Born from a desire and staunch belief in reviving the glory days of the dance scene, WHP stays refreshingly true to its roots. In a modern age of health, safety and political correctness, the entrance to its current Store Street car park venue is one of reassuring organisation – police, medics and security are all present and correct – but inside, it’s directly back to basics.
A world away from the stylised pandering and bling of the super-clubs, exposed, industrial brickwork and makeshift bars give WHP its rough and ready atmosphere but with a booming sound system cranked to bring decibel shattering noise, and an enduringly premier roster of electronic music’s finest, it’s a welcome contrast from mirrored hallways and backlit bars.
“I actually had an argument about this with our licensee about the bars,” Sacha smiles. “When you queue up at Store Street, you can see the police, the security, the medics – it’s all official and done by the book – but as soon as you walk through the doors, we want it to feel like an illegal rave. They wanted to start making the bars look like nice bars, as opposed to the bars you could knock up in a few minutes, and we weren’t really having any of it. It just wouldn’t feel right.”
Establishing and stamping the project on the Manchester map hasn’t been without its tribulations. Issues with planning and excess sound threatened to curtail the night in its infancy, but with a bit of a penchant for sweet-talking, Sacha (and his business partners, Sam and Kirsty) always found a way to keep the event alive.
“When we were given the license, environmental health and the police came down, checked everything out and they were fine with it. But no one picked up on the fact that the brewery had a corrugated roof, so the first night Public Enemy came down and started screaming down the microphones, and because Boddingtons is right next door to Strangeways prison, we had the prison governor on the phone telling us that as good a DJ as Richie Hawtin was, we couldn’t have this because the prisoners were literally raving.
“Of course by this time we’d booked all the artists, so we had to beg, borrow and steal from Manchester city council to let us stay there until January 1st. I was on my knees because otherwise we would have been in financial ruin. We still get letters from prisoners asking us if we can return.”
Moved on from their first, albeit brief, home at the brewery, the only alternative was to find a suitable venue that satisfied everyone’s demands, so where better than their current residency at Store Street – Manchester’s largest ex air raid shelter. But even that move across town wasn’t without its problems.
“Well, about 18 months ago there was a car park right next door to where we were situated and one night, they bulldozed it down, and Manchester council were set to build the largest skyscraper in the city. My take on it was that the first people there should have the right but that’s not English law and we needed a venue where the noise couldn’t escape. So we panicked a little and started looking for another home but then, low and behold, this wonderful word beginning with an R emerged, and the recession hit worldwide, and everything was doom and gloom except on Store Street. The banks pulled all the funding for the project and they were fucked. Now it will never happen.
“It cost them £40 million pounds to lay the foundations and there’s nothing they can do now but in true Manchester style, I noticed there were 400 cars parked on the space and guys were charging £6 to park a day. What had happened was, two lads from Salford had got some bolt cutters and just set it up. I worked it out – they must have cleared about £40k before the police turfed them off it.”
Now settled and established, it’s the Warehouse Project ethos that has kept the night thriving as opposed to just surviving. With clubs and venues seeing regular closures, it’s a demise WHP has avoided thus far thanks to its organisers’ ambitious, albeit condensed, approach to running the project.
“I think we’ve put ourselves on a pedestal a bit and we have this terrible fear of being knocked off it. We have a formula, and the main component is the fact we’re only here for three months of the year. If we were to operate like Matter, or other large clubs, 52 weeks a year, we’d be in a mess as well.
“We have that anticipation but between January and June, people couldn’t give a shit about us to be honest! I hate the term ‘pop up’, but for those three months, if you’re into techno, we have the four biggest DJs playing, if you’re into Drum’n’Bass, we have the biggest acts there too. I think that’s the reason why we work and are still here. When we see people have had enough of the format, because it’s bound to happen, we’ll come back in a different one that will appeal.”
A quick scan of this year’s impending line up and it’s not difficult to see the current appeal – by the time you read this, the likes of BoysNoize, Fake Blood, Felix Da Housecat and Hudson Mohawke will have graced the 1s and 2s – and with the nights sold out and racked up until New Year’s day, it’s firmly in the ascendancy which makes Sacha’s modest reflection and driven outlook on the project’s fifth birthday milestone all the more endearing.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen at Boddingtons so no; we didn’t really expect to be around this long,” he admits. “Nothing like that had ever happened in Manchester before, and I suppose half the city didn’t think it would work, half the city was supporting us, and it was a case of dipping our toe in the water and seeing. We’re so nervous when tickets go on sale, when line-ups are announced, because we’re never going to be a project that drags its feet. When we see a decrease in ticket sales, we’ll stop.
“I remember the Hacienda the last few years, it was quite depressing. I’m not for one minute comparing us to the Hacienda, that was the centre of the universe and without it we wouldn’t be here but we’d rather bow out on a high.”
It’s an admirable stance and one that’s inspired the Warehouse Project to its current levels of success. Having been offered to take the night out of Manchester (the odd London show is as far out of the M postcode as they’ll go) WHP still fiercely retains its DIY spirit and Manchester roots, and shows no signs of changing. And why would they? With the ghost of the Hacienda and the spirit of Tony Wilson watching over the city, Manchester’s never needed an excuse for a party, just a venue.
“In Manchester,” says Sacha “it’s all about the music and, I think to quote Wilson, on
on the city: ‘We do things differently here!’”
By Reef Younis
Originally published in issue 22 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. October 2010