Former railway station Mayfield Depot had been coveted by The Warehouse Project for some time, with rumours circulating that it would move to the 6.2-acre landmark in 2014. An expansion such as this made sense – launched in 2006 in a former Boddingtons brewery, the superclub had several hugely successful seasons at Manchester Piccadilly’s Store Street and Victoria Warehouse in Trafford Park. But the move to The Warehouse Project’s biggest venue yet, wasn’t meant to be – until now.
Opening its doors as the sun was setting on a rare Indian Summer September evening, the 1910 built building had something of a coliseum about it as the sun’s warm glow shone through the outer windows. The scene was apt – 7,000 people were about to attend its opening night, a world first – an evening curated by electronic music experimentalist Aphex Twin.
Situated a five minutes’ walk away from Store Street, which The Warehouse Project had dubbed its spiritual home, the location of Mayfield Depot felt apt for a nightclub that has always favoured spaces that honour Manchester’s industrial past, while keeping itself at arm’s length from the city’s centre. Closed to passengers in 1960 and standing derelict since 1986, the building had been stripped back to its bare bones. Steel pillars, exposed brick walls and boarded up windows seemed to offer infinite possibilities for audiovisual experiences, but it’s not until you got inside that you fully realised the enormity of the space. It instantly dwarfed everything that has gone before it.
With a programme of events that begin earlier than most live gigs start, The Warehouse Project is repositioning itself as something between a live gig venue and club night and from the outset it was apparent that this works. On Friday, the sonic brutality of SØS Gunver Ryberg’s almost apocalyptic compositions rippled through the tightly packed audience in the Archive, the most intimate of Mayfield Depot’s three stages and a reference to the aesthetics of Store Street’s rugged brickwork arches.
While the Depot is the venue’s biggest space, the Concourse is a main stage by any other club’s standards. With a floor-level breezeblock DJ booth flanked by dancefloor both front and back, it positions the DJ in the middle of the rave while the raised platform to its right creates a unique sense of participation. This seemed apt for Lee Gamble’s brand of politically infused techno that harks back to the genre’s roots as the music of resistance. As the DJ had both upper and lower crowds united in chanting a sample from Paul Johnson’s “Give Me Ecstasy” it evoked the history of the Manchester club scene as a space for countercultural ideologies.
Fluidity might seem like an odd word to describe music that’s at the avant garde end of the electronic music spectrum, but Aphex Twin’s curation created a sense of continuity across the distinct spaces on opening night. This came to a natural end as anticipation grew for an artist who stages some of the most accomplished audiovisual shows in electronic music, but who performs sporadically and was last seen in Manchester almost a decade ago.
Given that Aphex Twin incorporated world champion gurners into his 2007 Warehouse Project show, this performance was always going to be startling in originality, but what Richard D James delivered was a fitting dedication to The Warehouse Project’s imposing new home. Fully equipped with his own lighting rig whose laser beams shone like giant hypodermic needles, Aphex Twin numbed the audience with the rattling bass of a typically disjointed set swinging between ambient techno and jungle. In effect, the almost shell shocked revellers set a precedent for what emotions this venue is capable of eliciting during the season to come.
In contrast, Saturday night’s Welcome to the Depot showed how the space’s configuration allows for an impressively bountiful and eclectic lineup. Maribou State played a poignant live set alongside longtime collaborator Holly Walker, with the Depot bathed in a blanket of pink light as they climaxed with “Turnmills” from their 2018 album Kingdoms in Colour. But perhaps the biggest crowd gathered for Disclosure’s future garage and synth-driven pop with the duo opening with the momentum-building motivational monologue from their “When A Fire Starts to Burn” track. With the beat kicking in, the neon-clad crowd erupted and the venue’s atmosphere ascended to festival-like camaraderie.
In the Concourse Leon Vynehall’s brooding deep house was followed by touches of disco and funk courtesy of Jayda G while the booking of artists like SHERELLE for the Archive showed that whilst The Warehouse Project has moved to premises the size of a football pitch, they’re still championing the underground – convincingly building their case as the UK’s most versatile nightclub concept. Indeed, if Friday provided a masteclass in musical theory and composition, then Saturday channeled the hedonistic abandonment of youth, effectively showing this is a venue for everyone.
For Manchester, it’s so much more. The blueprint of what The Warehouse Project has created encourages people in the city to dream big, the legacy of its original ambition already felt in venues like the Albert Hall and Refuge. Attracting clubbers from across the UK, it also significantly contributes to Manchester’s already thriving service economy, while simultaneously showing how the city has bounced back from the adversity of the Manchester Arena attack. But what it achieved last weekend, with two perfectly executed nights that saw 20,000 clubbers pass through its doors, demonstrates that The Warehouse Project is now in the same league as Berlin’s Berghain or Amsterdam’s Trouw. For that it can be very proud.
Written by Kamila Rymajdo – Creative Hub 003