'We want clubbers to walk in and have a wow moment'
The hedonistic spirit of the Hacienda lives on in what looks like a rundown factory near Old Trafford that aims to give each clubber a ‘wow moment,’ writes LAURENCE MACKIN
FOR PEOPLE of a certain age, the Warehouse Project in Manchester feels very familiar. The venue is an anonymous, cavernous space in an unlovely industrial estate, and as punters search the streets for it on a Saturday night, the low-end rumble of the sound system acts like a beacon.
Round a few corners and there are queues of people, huddling to get into what looks like a factory on its last legs. Inside, the place is thick with people and heat, dry ice and hedonism. Raw brick walls and metal beams in the massive main room and two smaller spaces hum to the sound of Manchester’s biggest night out in full flow.
It has the look and feel of an illegal rave from the mid-1990s, albeit on an ambitious scale. But this is one of the most cutting-edge clubs in a city rightly proud of its ability to show people a good time.
“The first time we found this venue, we got lost, then found it and thought, nah, this couldn’t be it,” says Kirsty Smith, one of the founders of the Warehouse Project (WHP).
“Then we got inside. The people who leased it to us asked if we wanted the outside painted – we said ‘absolutely not, leave it exactly as it is’. It feels a bit naughty, like you shouldn’t be there.”
Naughty is an understatement. Since 2006, the WHP has been bringing some of the biggest names in electronic music underneath one roof. It started life in an old Boddingtons Brewery, moved to a disused air-raid shelter, then an old car park, and now its current home is near Old Trafford.
“We felt that we could get amazing talent from around the world and we wanted events with a little bit of theatre behind them,” says Smith of the original event. “It really could have failed miserably. The financial risk was huge, and we were booking a huge block of the dance market in the space of three months into an old Boddingtons Brewery. And then 100,000 showed up, over 24 events in that autumn.”
The WHP might be big business – the sprawling venue packs in 5,000 on a given weekend – but the ethos is closer to the urban rave culture that originally put Manchester on the musical map, and there’s no getting away from the shadow cast by the most mythical club of all, the Hacienda.
“We’re proud of the musical heritage and we hold a lot of that in high regard,” says Smith. “The WHP works so well because of the attitude of the clubbers.
“It’s essentially a Manchester party. It wouldn’t necessarily work in other cities. Manchester is a buoyant city, the clubbers are really up for it. The attitude lives on.
“We wanted to evolve a series of events that would be there and then gone again. It’s not something that you would be sitting at home and thinking: ‘Will I go tonight? Nah, I’ll catch it next week.’ We always want people to walk in and have a wow moment.”
Few clubs can match the WHP when it comes to the calibre of its line-ups.
A Halloween party this weekend features Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Derrick Carter and John Talabot among many others; one November night alone has Flying Lotus, Squarepusher and Jamie XX sharing a roster with DJ Shadow; and in December, the Chemical Brothers and James Murphy are headlining another night (ticket prices are relatively reasonable, clocking in at between £20-30/€25-37).
The WHP team work with the performers on curated line-ups, asking headline acts to help pull together the roster – which no doubt leads to a few favours being pulled between friends. On the night we are there, London act SBTRKT is curating a standout night, featuring Caribou, Four Tet and Jacques Greene.
“It is like the world’s worst jigsaw puzzle,” says Smith. “Sam [Kandel, another of the original founders, along with Sacha Lord-Marchionne and Richard McGinnis] has gone grey over the years organising it; he starts in February, it takes until July, and there’s always this rush at the end. It just seems to come together.”
But can there be too much of a good thing? WHP runs for about five months a year, and typically closes its doors after a blowout on New Year’s Eve (last year’s party lasted for 17 hours). Will there be a day when Smith and co decide the club has had its day?
“Before it rolls out of steam it will be no more,” says Smith firmly. “It’s really important to us that we stop at the right time.”
It seems the spirit of Manchester’s clubbing life is in safe hands.