It’s been a mad couple of months. When I started packing to move house and began the real task of sorting our studio space I knew it would be a mad few weeks. I underestimated how long it would all actually take. This is unusual for me. Usually I overestimate.
We took on a warehouse space in December 2018 – nearly a year ago. Plans were to make a combined art and music space. We thought we’d be looking for months but found the place almost immediately. It was the first space we viewed and it was perfect (we viewed three. The other two were offices, grim, and not right for us). If we had been a week later it would have been impossible as the warehouse was already kitted out with two upstairs areas and a fully working kitchen. Two days later and this would have all been dismantled and it would have cost us thousands to build.
It went off to a dicey start. We were guzzumped within hours of putting our offer in and after the initial excitement of finding somewhere we then had to console each other that something else as good would come up. None of us were convinced. During the following week we viewed the grim office spaces, nodded politely, and tried not to feel too glum about our loss. Then we got the email. The people who had outbid us were messing the landlords around. Were we still interested? It was almost too much to take in.
Even with the space in the decent state it was in, there was a lot of work to be done. We had plans over the following few months and these began with painting the walls and floor, adding to the kitchen, making it a space we could at least begin to work in.
My long term plans were to have a full music studio in there, boxed off and soundproofed, an office area upstairs and make the large open space downstairs workable as 1) a space where I and others could make art – huge paintings, sculptures, whatever we wanted, not limited by the confines of trying to make a massive piece of work in a bedroom in a shared house or a busy space that you could only use short term; 2) a space where we could host art exhibitions, record fairs, small exclusive events; 3) a space that could be hired by suitable people vetted by us for suitable events. There is a yoga class taking place here now weekly on Thursday nights.
Other peoples’ plans included a green room, which has now been created next to the kitchen.
Initially, there were four of us. We realised that it would be more affordable with five or six and found a fifth then sixth person to join our group. Work began…
The second part of the whole thing going off to a dicey start was that as soon as the paint had dried, we nearly blew the place up. I can’t help but laugh out loud every time I think of that now. And at this moment, sitting on my own in a busy bar, typing this on my phone, I must look half mad – and possibly like I am typing the longest message ever. I mean, it would have been absolutely awful but also very darkly funny, if after all that we’d burned the place down.
What happened was that having completed stage one of plans and having a space that at least looked nice, James – one of our collective, he runs Igloo Disco – decided to host a meal for all his staff plus all us folks. I’d offered to help out with the cooking and I was minding my own business, chopping vegetables when I heard James shout ‘FIRE!’ There had been a mishap with a gas heater. (No more gas heaters.) The flames were up to the ceiling. As we’d barely used our outside door, which was meters away from me, I disregarded it completely and ran straight past the fire and through the other doors into the communal area for the other warehouses, set off a fire alarm, bolted outside shouting ‘FIRE!’ and rang the fire brigade. I believe James did a very similar thing, but in the moment there was no time to look around or consult with anyone else. Anyway, two fire engines arrived.
Amusingly, there was no damage, and afterwards, due to the craziness of what had happened and my relief at not having lost any of my stuff or our wonderful space, I felt pretty elated. Recently, in Amsterdam, during a ridiculous acid-fuelled attempt to get to a club in the freezing cold, in an area where no taxis would come, my friend JP said to me ‘If I could choose anyone to accompany me in a disaster, it would be you.’ Given the relative non-gravity of the situation we were in, that sounds quite dramatic of him. But I did appreciate the sentiment. Emotions phase me but real danger never does. I would go as far as to say that I love a good disaster. In my own space – my workspace, my home – I need order. But in my adventures beyond these places I thrive on absurdity and chaos. Not drama, which is a silly, low thing, and something I despise, but a good moment of utter madness. So I took it as the compliment that I think it was intended as. ‘You appreciate the intricacies of a disaster’ JP later explained. Funny.
Anyway, to return to my original point, no damage was done, we went back in, continued cooking, and we had a lovely meal.
Our thinking was that over the following few months we would build the place we had created in our imaginations and plans. That it would take a year wasn’t something I expected. But I do also know about waiting. A few years ago now, a series of unfortunate events meant that my life collapsed around me. And when that happened, I knew that it would take time to build things back up and that I had to get my head down and just take it all step by step. I suppose, in a much more positive way, this is a bit like that.
Various situations stalled our plans. First of all, money became very tight. Due to the political and economic climate a couple of us ended up with cancelled jobs, unpaid invoices, certainly no ability to carry on working on the space. I took on a contract as a developer in a company where I had to go into an office every day. I felt choked and stifled. But I had to do this.
I barely saw the space from April until September. The contract was horrible. I either had nothing to do but had to sit there anyway, or was given a job that should have been a six week project with two weeks allocated for me to complete it. The guy I was working under, from what I can gather, never wanted me to be there. I endured some kind of bizarre passive aggressive bullying. I felt grim, and for the first time in my life experienced real anxiety. I thought I had a throat problem and then realised that I was just choked up with horror at my situation. Anyway, that’s all over now.
As I said earlier in this spiel, I understand about waiting. When we first took the space on, my good friend JT expressed interest in coming onboard with us. He was put off by the possibility that we may be a disjointed group and that this may pose problems. I saw this too, but I also experienced something odd that I have felt at other times in my life… I felt that if I just waited then things would naturally sort themselves out somehow. This proved to be the case. Two of our group dropped out. They are lovely people and remain good friends of mine, but the space and dynamic were not right for them. Fair play, and I respect the decision they made to leave. After that, we decided to find just one more person. They were all set to come on board, and then – just before our lease payment was due, they dropped out. This did not make things easy, but we agreed that perhaps it was best to carry on as four people. At least we all knew each other well, trusted one another and shared a vision.
The day after this decision was made, JT came by mine for a cup of tea. This was one of many weekends where a cuppa and a few tunes early on a Friday evening turns into a througher. It was a few hours later. We’d ended up at our friends’ house and we were smoking in the backyard.
I was telling JT all about what had happened and he said ‘do you know what? I think it’s right now. I’ll come onboard.’ And so the next stage of work began.
Occasionally you may be lucky enough to meet a person who not only is a true friend, but also 1) understands that you have a vision and drive; 2) has a vision and drive themselves. Plans were fast-tracked and taken to new levels. We also set up office on the newly converted mezzanine level of our space and work has been coming in.
It has been a good and crazy time. As I said earlier, chaos is brilliant in the midst of adventures, but in my own space I need order. I need to know where things are and not be surrounded by mess. To be moving house at a time when we were also doing up the studio and basically working from a building site was perhaps slightly insane and it hasn’t always been easy or good for productivity. I also haven’t done anything creative for a long time. Or not really. I had a stint of having gigs every weekend up until a couple of weeks ago and felt I had some audacity to even go and play these gigs when all my tunes were unsorted and I barely mixed in my own time. I have tunes I need to finish and I need to paint. I have ideas. But in order to create the space in which to be creative, the creative stuff has had to go on hold. That was a mouthful, sorry.
Anyway… I have stuff to do. I also have work to do for clients. I feel I can finally knuckle down in relative normality, but – wow – it has taken some time!
Packing to move took ages because where I was living before had always been a temporary situation and the house was tiny. It is much harder packing to move when you have no space.
JT’s mate Donkey helped me move and he was a ledge and the main part of the move itself was very easy. There was, however, a backlog of stuff that remained at my old place that took two weeks of various trips to finally clear out. In fact, that is a lie. I still have at least two boxes of cables and a painting there. Possibly more things. I am a nightmare.
Shout out as well to Michael Northwood Joinery – these guys built our production studio.
Another person who has been a hero is our mate Killers, who has been our handyman for several weeks and has helped us transform our mezzanine area from a dusty storage space into a lovely workspace. It’s been carpeted and several non-structural and potentially pain-inducing (they are head height) beams have been removed. The roof has been insulated. Some beams remain and are now covered in thick rubber. I have tested these on my head and they no longer pose a threat. Unfortunately I also inadvertently tested the non-covered beams. I think we have all banged our heads, and in some ways I have suffered the least as I am small. I also have maybe come off the worst because the third knock I took was on a sharp edge and caused a deep cut that I had to tape together. I have been sporting a bandanna ever since. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like there will be much of a scar. And anyway, fuck it, scars are kind of cool. I keep changing my mind about this. I have done a shout out on facebook for an Aloe Vera cutting and people have been lovely. What will be will be.
So the weeks have been busy and mad, and of course, so have the weekends. It is rare for me to sleep on a weekend. About fifty percent of the time I know what is ahead and the other fifty percent I genuinely believe that I will get some rest in, which is funny to look back on when in the end I don’t. You’d think I would have learned by now.
I feel I should document some of the events. If I’d had more time – and if our wonderful DIY Leeds hadn’t been destroyed by a horrendous error (post link here if you want to know more. It is being rebuilt), then I would probably have written several accounts/reviews of these gigs. As it is I’ve had no time to do anything. And as somebody where a million ideas a minute fly in out of nowhere and land in my mind, that has been slightly painful. But needs must. My Google Keep notes are immense now.
I played in York for the fifth (I think) birthday of Sotano back in September. That was a good day and seems like a hundred years ago now. We had a Schwein event at Distrikt, Bobby O’Donnell played – and our residents of course. That was a good night too. I recall us all discussing how we were all going straight home to bed after the gig and then ending up staying up all weekend. The next day I played at Hatch at Coop. I went straight from the sesh to the gig. Again, a good night. Another straight from the sesh to the gig was a set at Growlers, 7 til close with Al Bradley. Another good night. And I went to Timing at Eiger Studios straight after and that was a truly awesome night. I would definitely have written that up if I wasn’t already at the beginning of all the madness. I think it’s a little late now.
I also intended to write up Boxjam, but that moment has probably passed too. That was a good weekend. Again, another unintentional througher. When Saturday morning came and I found myself at a friend’s flat in Meanwood, at some weird address where you had to walk through some yards and to an actual street in order to be able to get a taxi, I thought ‘Oh no, I’ve done it again’ and chatted to a homeless guy who kindly offered me a cigarette (I declined as my taxi was two minutes away). I then had to pick up my lasers and smoke machine from my old house and take them to Old Red Bus Station. It occurred to me that I looked quite obviously like a person who hadn’t been to sleep and that I was going to play a gig for people who didn’t know me that well and that maybe I should have got some rest and presented a better version of myself. A passing thought, obviously, as there was fuck all I could do about it by then and I was fine. That was a good day as well. I enjoyed the music, I enjoyed catching up with my friend Nigel and his girlfriend Catriona and I enjoyed running around the mad maze of Old Red Bus station and talking to various people. My set was ok. I’ve played better. A mild criticism is that while it’s wonderful to pay attention to the decor, the main thing you need to take care of is the music equipment. If the people responsible for the event were not such nice people and didn’t obviously have true intentions, it would be a harsher criticism. No needles or slipmats isn’t a good thing. I had actually intended to play records, not just USB. If being a promoter is not generally what you do and you are putting on a charity event – or any event – please do not feel shy of asking people who do this as the main part of their lives (me, that is – and I’m sure some others would say the same) for advice and assistance. If I’d known it was more than lasers and a smoke machine you needed, I would have brought more. Lasers and smoke are not the main event.
Much later that night a wonderful and weird thing happened. I ended up in Distrikt and people kept coming up to me and talking to me about the studio. That was kind of heartwarming. It means surely that you are doing something good.
The week after that was The Off Licence night. That was beyond all weekends. Just good on so many levels. Shout out to Tom Ellis, Bruno Di Paolo, Jonny Sleight and Pete Melba – and off course to Ben and Kelsall. And also to Kitch and Jonny T. And to me (ha!) I will leave it there because that night and the sesh that followed is a five-page write up in itself and that may yet happen. I am not against having this piece hijacked by an account of that event, but I am aware that there is a certain point where a blog post is a little too long and the reader’s interest may wane.
Finally, now, I am sorting my stuff properly in my home as well as at the studio. It has taken this long because I’ve had so much on. I unpacked enough to have things at hand and not be in amongst bags and boxes, but not so much as to be properly organised.
I’ve also come to some profound realisations in the midst of it all. A lot has happened.
So yeah, in many ways it’s been an interesting time.
After all the mayhem, November has been the ultimate madness. It was JT’s birthday and he organised a trip to Dam for a group of good friends with him and his girlfriend. We partied in a ridiculous, decadent apartment – a wonderful place owned and masterminded by a hedonistic visionary named Dennis. And we went to Slapfunk at Shelter. Hamish and Toby, The Ghost and Ingi Visions. No review even needed. Pure fucking class. And one of the best sound systems I’ve had the pleasure of listening to such music through. It was quite a weekend and I had little time to recover. The studio had been a building site and it was in chaos. Aside of the fact that I couldn’t function in a place like that for very long, we also had the practical issue of having to tidy it up for a yoga class (Now happening weekly – more info here). I said to JT that it was a day’s work and he said that I was mad and I disagreed. I was right. Me and Killers tidied it up in a day. In fact, as Killers has rightly pointed out, it took us half a day. That week was full of a lot of things. We also had a charity do at Outlaws. A drink and draw and charity auction – Illustrate Donate – to raise money for MAP Charity. That was the night before last and it was – I am pleased to say – a success. The auction is still open and you can bid here.
What other things have happened..? Well, last night Ali Wilson used the space for a photoshoot, tonight I’m meeting some artists here with view to a collaboration and we have various things in the pipeline. Along of the place nearly going up in flames, we also had a minor flood – nothing too bad; I sacrificed my duvet as a defence and also used two nice rugs which have been cleaned, but are looking a bit worse for wear. Also – we have a name – JT described the space as ‘our imaginarium’ in our collective Whatsapp group and we realised it was a good description of the space. So it is now The Imaginarium. Follow us on Facebook.
I often write these posts on the other side of long stints of awake, busy and madness.
Eventually you have to crash. I got the flu, have rested now. And on the other side of all of this there is much to be done – and music and art to be made… 🙂