Walking through the side-streets and barbed-wired back-alleys of central Manchester toward Skepta’s DYSTOPIA 987 was unlike most walks to a venue. Being led through the industrial districts of Manchester by leather-clad volunteers in dystopian character, straight from a discount Blade Runner, would in any other situation sound like a terrible idea. Promising ‘real life magic’ from the artist himself, the event looked to reconnect the performer and audience in Manchester International Festival’s newest addition to their arsenal of programming. 

Behind the curtain of an old industrial building bordered by violent security spiked fencing, staged the portal to 1980s rave culture. A vast warehouse of several chambers and walkways, housing a vision of the past with a trickle of the future. A bubbling main area offered expressionistic neon-coloured face paint, artworks and a virtual reality experience reserved only for the ‘chosen few’. It was a cauldron of excitement, stoked by the events’ employees donned in face paint and elaborate costumes, as well as supporting artist DJ KESH who’s Darth Maul inspired face paint threw the experience into a galaxy far, far away. 

A voice announces “Come… we are free!” and a large industrial door opens at the end of the room, leading to another chamber where sitting in the middle was a towering tiered stage. A scaffolding centrepiece which put you in shouting distance of the artist himself. Strutting around and across the strobe-emitting staging, on the equivalent of a soapbox, was unique, inclusive and captivating. 

It’s not often that your eye-line is clear of all Samsung, Huawei and the occasional iPad screens at a live event. Our devices have become proof of attendance to friends and family members, but also glass walls to true immersion in an event. The request of no pictures or videos is nothing new, though physically removing access to your phone through specialised lockable pouches, is, and looks to be the future. Without the temptation to escape into our insular world of social media, Skepta’s wish to return to the communion of rave culture appeared to be granted. Though this was an idea only solidified by Skepta’s occasional rousing chants. This wasn’t an idea he had to drill home. Without phones, pictures and videos, there was no way to share the event outside of those people who were there in person, it felt like a unique communal experience. 

The many minds behind Dystopia 987 have created something unique, encouraging a state of mind which was constantly curious. Though, as is the mesmeric nature of rave culture, the show’s climax only left a craving for more, an ode to how immersive and inclusive the event was. Anything but the apocalypse of light-shows would’ve been underwhelming. More lights. More immersion. More songs. More artists. More surprises. Alas, there was no more.

The Uber was completely normal. 

All images via Jordan Hughes and The Manchester International Festival

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