Across the Pennines, on the outskirts of the city centre of Leeds, a special party has been running regularly for the majority of the last decade. Known as Cosmic Slop, the events have achieved critical acclaim in their own right as a politically charged, progressive party – purposely without a prescribed music policy their eclectic lineups have established a firm following.
Delivered through a custom built old school sound system, the Slop events, as they are affectionately known to aficionados, are more than just an excuse for a party, and are run to support Music and Arts Production Charity (MAP), which provides access to a range of music and art courses for young people at risk of being excluded from mainstream education.
Their home is Hope House, a former foundry in Mabgate, an area often referred to as the unofficial Leeds art quarter. Artists, musicians, writers, photographers, jewellers, designers of all kinds and more are resident in the area, drawn in by relatively cheap rents and the bohemian vibe of the area.
However, the recurring spectre of ‘regeneration’ has reared its head, with recent developments such as the Victoria Gate shopping centre close-by threatening MAP’s continued tenure; their ten-year lease expires in 2019. The landlord of the building bought the property knowing that John Lewis would be coming in to the surrounding area and there is already planning permission in place to develop Hope House into luxury flats.
Throughout November, creatives campaigners from Manchester will be showing their solidarity and support for Cosmic Slop and MAP by running a series of fundraising parties, talks, and events. A Facebook crowd-funding page has been set up, with details on all the connected events.
With ambitious aims to purchase the entire building, MAP are running a campaign to raise £2.4million in total to secure the building. Of that total £900k is earmarked towards refurbishing the building, which will be done whilst retaining all period features.
The charity has drawn up detailed business plans to demonstrate that a community-minded business such as theirs can be sustainable and attractive to investors on both the larger scale and also create a groundswell of local support.
Plans for Hope House include an onsite café, garment and paper printing, woodworking, metalworking and electronics workshops. A rooftop kitchen garden project will both teach cultivation skills and benefit from the produce created there. Long term, there are even thoughts of harnessing the brook that runs underneath the building into a sustainable energy source.
Exchange of skills between artists, craftsmen and students is at the heart of MAP’s plans for the future, when they succeed in buying the building. Once the building is bought and refurbished, artists will be able to move in, pay cheap rent, and in exchange spend one day a week teaching. Raf Bogan, communications manager at MAP, described their work:
“MAP was set up eleven years ago by some young practitioners working with kids at risk of being excluded from the mainstream schooling system. Through creative education courses and exposure to creatives working in media, art and design, MAP seeks to inspire and engage young learners to get back on the right path.
“Across the country access to art and music education has fallen, with no music or art department in many schools due to it being down prioritised”.
Research has shown that working class areas are particularly badly hit when it comes to arts education in times of austerity, compared to more affluent areas. With proud industrial heritage both Manchester and Leeds are rich in these working class areas. Bogan explained that many of these children do not fit into mainstream education for a range of different reasons including “large class sizes, the hoops they have to go through, difficult home lives, no opportunity to explore their creative sides”.
At MAP, students get an opportunity to have one-to-one support with tutors and are exposed to a range of different practitioners. They engage with companies from the creative industries who act as role models for the students through projects and workshops, as varied as graphic design for flyers on one hand, to making desks on another.
MAP works with many alternative providers and offers lots of mixed arts places for the students. A young person leaving MAP at sixteen will have had the chance to gain experience working with creative practitioners from many avenues, and can also leave with a recognised qualification, in the form of BTEC qualifications in Art & Design, Creative Media & Music. MAP have recently also started offering apprenticeships, which they are keen to expand upon.
Bogan describes the sound of the Slop parties as being “defined by the residents but appreciated by high level cultural ambassadors”. Highly rated by many high-profile DJ luminaries such as Hunee, Theo Parrish, Motor City Drum Ensemble, and Manchester’s Mr Scruff, the Slop parties create a framework for DJs to give back. The most recent party saw neuroscientist-turned-DJ Floating Points return to play, as ever, unpaid and unannounced. Acclaimed musician and DJ Four Tet used his recent Warehouse Project appearance as a fundraiser for MAP.
MAP’s ambitious aims are to acquire the building fully and refurbish it so that it’s fully utilised. They plan to rehouse their neighbours from the surrounding area, as they are moved on due to building developments. “We’re totally aware the neighbours will all be forced out, and we want to act as a sort of Noah’s Ark. Permanence is really important, we don’t want to have to move every two years. We have a lot to offer the community surrounding us.”
Speaking of their landlord, Bogan said they are luckier than some as he wants to help them out and he’s sympathetic to their cause: “When we pull this off, this can be his legacy to Leeds. He could be an inspiration to other landlords with similar tenants across the country, inspiring them to change their mindset.”
Bogan says MAP has been “overwhelmed by the response from the community”, with offers of help and support from people in many different walks of life in the surrounding communities, from charity and property lawyers, to architects, web developers and painters, decorators, etc. “Managing the goodwill is a task itself. The vision has united and inspired a lot of people.”
Talking of the solidarity events in Manchester, Bogan said “There’s always been a strong Manchester contingent for the parties, so it was an obvious avenue to explore.”
Manchester certainly has plenty of experience in losing its cultural venues and hubs to profit-led decision making from property owners. In recent times we have lost or are about to lose venues such as The Wonder Inn, Mantra Warehouse, Sound Control, and The Ruby Lounge. Antwerp mansion had to close, and then was able to reopen under a very different licensing regime. Others, like Rogue Studios have had to relocate to more out of town locations, which, whilst securing their future and utilising a derelict school, means that they are now located well away from transport hubs and other creative businesses.
Sacha Lord, the night-time economy adviser to Andy Burnham, talking at a recent round table event with fellow night club and events promoters, touched on the subject: “The saddest thing I’ve seen in the last twelve months was probably seeing Sound Control close, and that was purely down to a developer.”
Speaking of the difficulties facing the city’s promoters he said: “What we’re seeing at the moment is the greed of the landlords forcing ridiculous rents on operators, which in turn is making our lives a lot harder. Because of that we’ve got bigger rents to pay, bigger overheads to pay, which means bigger risk.”
Lord, did, however talk about some positive developments, including Manchester’s Partisan Collective, citing them as “part of the way forward”, lauding them as being “amazing, incredible, supported by memberships.” There will be another open floor discussion meeting between night time economy advisers and Manchester promoters on 13 December.
Partisan was host to the first MAP solidarity event in Manchester this month, a day long event which started as a relaxed affair, with live music, a record stall and communal food, before stepping up a gear and becoming a full-blown party.
Cousins across the Pennines
The similarities between MAP and Partisan are clear. They are progressive organisations supporting community, culture and a fairer society, and both are housed within grade-two listed buildings. These premises brings a lot of character, but also difficulties in gaining planning permissions to alter the structure. Partisan have been striving to make their venue fully accessible by installing a lift and ramps. Xav Cohen, a member of the Partisan events committee, explained to me that it is a major priority that they’ve been working on for months now.
“When we were deciding on whether to take the venue, we were left with a stark choice to either have no venue, or a venue where we would need to work, over time, on getting it up to the required level.”
Xav explained Partisan were about to meet an architect to progress their proposals for increasing accessibility. There are parallels in location too; both MAP and Partisan are situated slightly outside the central parts of town, and both venues are being encroached upon by property developments in the area. Luckily both venues have sympathetic landlords who wish to help.
Before the opening event, I spoke to Xav, and asked why they had got involved with the solidarity project:
“By standing explicitly and visibly together, we look to show that there is an alternative to how our culture can be organised, both on the level of having fun and partying, and also on the level of being socially and politically charged. At Partisan we look to give marginalised and disadvantaged organisations a safe space to organise and to flourish.”
Xav went on to explain to me how he has been a long-time fan of the Cosmic Slop parties, both as a stand-alone party, and also in the manner in which they tie politics into the party. Citing Cosmic Slop as a special inspiration to the Partisan team, particularly in the way that the political element is added:
“It’s not done in a ham-fisted manner; the politics doesn’t detract from the hedonism. In fact, there’s a community feeling brought out by the politics that does so much for the party environment and atmosphere.”
Describing MAP as “our cousins from across the Pennines”, Xav told me that the Slop events are parties with a meaningful project behind them: “By not being about lining the pockets of a specific promoter it creates a sense of community, togetherness and collective joy that the dance music scene has lost to a great degree.”
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The Manchester in Solidarity with MAP Charity month is a project co-ordinated by Isaac Rose, a housing campaigner and activist. Having spent plenty of time in the last couple of years on the Cosmic Slop dance floor, Rose told me that finding out about their campaign to save and buy the building fitted in with his work for Greater Manchester Housing Action. When MAP put a call out for ambassadors to help with the fundraising, he first thought to input ideas and create connections for MAP, but it snowballed into arranging the party at Partisan and following events.
Rose sees the importance of MAP’s work as being a holistic organisation that creates “a lot of social good.” He spoke at the recent The World Transformed event, which was partly held at Constellations; a venue in the Baltic Quarter of Manchester due to close in 2019 thanks to the area being developed into luxury flats.
Describing how MAP is building a social movement, Rose said “They have a local impact, but are a great example of progressive teaching, a good model of forward thinking.”
Manchester based producer, radio show host and DJ Tom Burford (Contours Music) first got to know got to know Isaac Rose though chatting about shared interests in DIY sound systems and grassroots music culture on the dancefloor of the White Hotel, Salford.
Echoing the activities at MAP, Burford teaches music to BTEC level at Loreto High School, Chorlton. Furthermore, having regularly made the journey across the Pennines to dance at Cosmic Slop, he was an obvious choice for Rose to enlist to curate the second of the solidarity parties, which is to be held at the newly opened Yes, on Charles St in Manchester on 16 November.
Burford was quick to agree because he sees alternative arts provision as essential, particularly for those kids who either do not engage with, or are at risk of being excluded from, mainstream education. He explains “my most formative educational experiences were in the informal teaching environments”, which led to his own musical explorations and ultimately, career path.
He remembers hearing John Martyn’s Solid Air at 2:30 am, a slow-paced track that normally would clear the dancefloor, but worked at Cosmic Slop “the eclectic tastes of the resident DJs push boundaries and keeps you on your toes.”
He describes Cosmic Slop as being “a unique space, with a special system and a nice crowd. It’s one of the best parties in the UK right now. Club culture should be more than just going out and getting battered, and I think Cosmic do that really well.”
The party on the 16 November will be held in the basement of Yes, where a custom built Danley UK sound system installed by Manchester’s Neuron Pro Audio will pay justice to Burford’s music. Other DJs include Meat Free resident Lucy Ironmonger, and NTS Radio host Annabel Fraser.
Then, back at Partisan on the 22 November, a talk between MAP director and co-founder Tom Smith, and Tim Lawrence, professor of Cultural Studies at the University of East London. Topics of discussion will include the legacy and influence of David Mancuso and The Loft on the culture and politics of community audiophile parties, the importance and role of networks in creating these cultures, and the struggles to protect and extend them.
Cosmic Slop themselves will be traveling over to host a party at Yes on the 23 November, this time taking over the main ‘Pink Room’. Then to finish off the events, on 30 November, Glaswegian producer and DJ Auntie Flo will be performing a live rendition of his new album Radio Highlife at Soup Kitchen, Spear Street, Manchester.
Rose point’s out that they are open to ideas, and anyone who would like to get involved, host another event or party is more than welcome. Over and above the pure fundraising involved, MAP, Partisan and Rose are all about creating social networks and connections. The bigger picture is the societal change these organisations and individuals are looking to facilitate, which goes far beyond just mere partying.
Having said that, I’ll meet you on the dancefloor, right?
James KA Baker
The Manchester in Solidarity with MAP Charity timetable:
16 November – MCR x MAP Solidarity Party, YES: details here
22 November – Music is Love, Partisan: details here
23 November – Cosmic Slop – Manchester Solidarity Campaign, Yes: details here
30 November – Auntie Flo ‘Radio Highlife’ Live Show, Soup Kitchen: details here
Stamp the Wax’s documentary on MAP here
donations can be made to MAP here