Parting the thick plastic curtains, rarely seen anywhere other than a tropical garden, an industrial jungle awaits inside, dripping with humidity and sweat. It quickly became clear that the essence of Manchester’s Warehouse Project has remained the same despite its many changes in location.
From the disused site of Boddingtons Brewery at the project’s inception to its residency on Store Street within an old air-raid shelter, it has consistently managed to retain its rustic charm and identity. With its recent leap to the ‘Depot’ and a new 10,000 person capacity, however, things have certainly altered.
Entry into the previous venue at Store Street was quite literally underground. Beneath a rumbling train-track, through a singular door and out into a warehouse. Exposed pipes, muddied brickwork and low-lighting, a breeding ground for counter-culture. Entrance to the Depot couldn’t be more different. Whilst the excitement of the young participants remained the same, it was somewhat marred by the rigid order upon entry, the traffic jam of brightly coloured students and 20-somethings criss-crossing their way across several security barriers and checkpoints before they’d even reached the venue itself. This time the rustic destination felt more corporate.
This is, however, an inevitable outcome from the increase in capacity. Rigid regulations and order are a byproduct of the events success and a necessary change if the project wishes to grow in popularity and stature. Warehouse Project deeply craves to be recognised as the counterculture experiment its VHS inspired website suggests, though it seems to be in constant conflict with its own self-interests. Whilst Skrillex’s pulse-regulating indulgence of flashing lights and twisted tempo energised the cavernous space, the crowd of stiff VIP guests gathered behind him was a contradiction to the intimacy of the audience. A reminder of the shows newfound commerciality.
Instead of criticism, however, this should be seen as a sign of the project’s success. Whilst a grungy layer of industrial authenticism has been scrubbed off, its replacement is a spectacle of sound and visuals that remains an impossible experience outside of Britain’s largest festivals. In fact, very few spaces at all could offer the vibrancy that last weeks programme offered. An eclectic mix of Four Tet, Skrillex, Peggy Gou, Daphnie, Mall Grab, Flava D and many more, each offering the spectacular and immense with thanks to multiple stages kitted out with the same audiovisual weight. That is reserved for the main room however, typifying the ‘warehouse’, in warehouse project, with thick concrete pillars reaching to the back of the space on either side, marking out a vast runway toward a front wall of pulsating sound.
The climax of the night was Skrillex and Four Tet’s back-to-back, which although was 50/50 in output, felt more Skrillex than Four Tet, with piercing beeps, pings and imaginative samples, undoubtedly setting the space alight. What resulted was an exploration of and homage to, British dance music. A meeting of British dubstep, jungle, drum & bass and grime formed a bizarre pit of commotion, blinding strobes and occasional melodic wonder. A mash-up of different styles and practises that formed together to create a unique and unforgettable experience. Despite its obvious aesthetic alterations, Warehouse Project continues to innovate, experiment and excite.