A NIGHT OF SWEET HARMONY: A WHP X HIGHSNOBIETY X SIZE? EXHIBITION
Whether or not they realise it, the people here have been to an art exhibition, and that’s what really moves me.
On a November evening that couldn’t be more Mancunian – cold, dreary and wet – something exciting was happening inside a dilapidated train station. At its new location of Mayfield Depot, which is within spitting distance of Piccadilly Station, The Warehouse Project has settled in nicely, bringing with it tens of thousands of people ready to enjoy nights that they likely won’t forget (or will, but for all the right reasons). And so, with this in mind, it seemed the ideal location for an exhibition on rave culture – it might seem a world away from its original home of the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, but it’s perfect.
Walking into the Depot was, admittedly, freezing… but that didn’t seem to register with me, or anyone for that matter. In fact, I think someone could have walked past and slapped me in the face and I probably wouldn’t have even blinked. This is partly due to the fact that before you’ve even made it into the exhibition you’ve been stopped in your tracks by a floating, spinning car. Yes, you did read that right. An inverted golden Lotus, provided by artist Conrad Shawcross, is suspended by a series of chains allowing it to spin hypnotically to the beat of the music coming from within – an ode to the often arduous yet always thrilling trek to the rave.
Co-curator of the exhibition, Kobi Prempeh, is smiling ear to ear, the sheer joy of having his exhibition migrate from Chelsea to Manchester, and it work better than he imagined, is clear on his face. “There was a moment when they switched off the lights, and we weren’t quite finished yet, but it was just the moment that I saw it, that I saw the brief of what we wanted the lighting to be and the layout of the pictures… in that flash I saw it there, and no matter how much my back hurts, it’s phenomenal. But it’s phenomenal, not because of the self-satisfaction, but because this is a really important exhibition.”
For Kobi, having the exhibition in Manchester was just something that felt right, and emphasises the importance of not just the work in the show, but everything that it has come to represent too. “So many artists in this show said that everything always happens in London. When The Warehouse Project did Homobloc, it could never have been achieved in London – I mean it could have been, sure, but it would have been hyped up to such an extent. There is an authenticity here. There is something about Mancunians. They just have that spirit.”
‘Sweet Harmony’ is an exhibition about rave; the people who have been to raves, who documented the raves, and who pretty much are the raves. It’s about the community that it intrinsically comes with, which is why it was perfect to have the opening night coincide with Highsnobiety Soundsystem’s debut live show, with performances from Slowthai, Fredo, Mike Skinner and more; a night that brings perhaps a slightly different crowd to The Warehouse Project, whilst also introducing artists that are new on the scene.
“When I was younger, The Warehouse Project was my big rave thing, it was my ‘better than Glastonbury’. It was just so fun and the emotion was there, and I could go to Trof the following morning for a roast. It was more than just another gig, it was a whole experience and it was, and still is, a community thing.” The swaths of people that descended upon the 2019 season of The Warehouse Project was so powerful and only further emphasises how the people who attend the nights are equally, if not more, important than the performers. The photographs displayed throughout the ‘Sweet Harmony’ exhibition, from the likes of John Shard, Adrian Fisc, Al Baker, Dave Swindells and more, are focused so heavily on the people there, but they are not your typical representation of the rave. Kobi notes how they’ve “played with the colours, so it’s not your usual pictures of people gurning, or yellow and black stripes that you know as The Haçienda.” They’re showing the authenticity and spirit of rave, how it is in its organic state, from the 90s to the present day.
John Shard, one of the photographers on display, was a resident photographer at The Hacienda on a night called ‘Flesh’. “Shard celebrated the Haçienda as an art form, which it truly was. Something truly beautiful happened on that dance-floor, especially with the club night ‘Flesh’. Paul Cons, who brought it together, wanted it to be the gay nightclub of the North, if not even in the country. When you look at ‘Flesh’ and the photographs John Shard was taking nearly thirty years ago and compare them to what was happening here at Homobloc, there is hardly a difference. ‘Flesh’ was groundbreaking because it was a night where straight, gay, and everyone in between, could come together – and we had 10,000 people here at The Warehouse Project do exactly the same thing but just a bit bigger. I don’t think they’ll like me for saying this, but I think The Warehouse Project is the inheritor of The Haçienda; the community of people together travelling across the country to get here.”
Collaborating with size? only added a further element to the exhibition by featuring a trainer retrospective, showcasing classic trainers and unreleased pairs that are synonymous with rave culture. This was complimented by a timeline of a guy called Thomas Watts who “moved to Rippendale to go to Manchester Poly, or that’s what what he told his parents,” Kobi laughs, “but he came here to rave!” A display cabinet featuring all of his old trainers, bus tickets, train passes, posters, pretty much everything, surrounded the trainer retrospective – although this is just one person’s experience, you can truly understand that this is people’s lives. The different mediums that the exhibition was made up of highlights how Kobi wanted to portray an “element of rave, but not a pastiche of rave… [they] wanted that visual were you couldn’t quite work out what was going on.”
What appealed to Kobi was exactly that. He enthused that “guys and girls will come here, see it, maybe they’ll enjoy it, maybe they’ll walk right through. Whether they realise it or not they realise it, they’ve just been to an art exhibition, and that’s what really moves me. We’re challenging not only the narrative around rave, but also that young people are able to experience an art exhibition in an environment that feels comfortable for them.”