Interview: Idle Chatter

Idle Chatter is a brand new venue for experimental music in Salford. More than that, it’s a space where live performance comes first; a dedicated (and gorgeous) warehouse space for the enactment and experience of live artistry, capable of adapting to accommodate the entire spectrum of Manchester’s experimental music scene (skronk punk, live-coded improvisation, noise, modular synthesis…). 

The collective behind Idle Chatter currently comprises David Birchall, Edwin Dorley, Hannah Ellul, Vitalija Glovackyte, Kelly Jayne Jones, Ben Knight, Manoli Moriaty, Will Tomlinson, Otto Wilberg and Sam Weaver. Below, we talk about the process of forging a community and the venue’s thoroughly exciting launch night on Thursday 22nd September.

How did this artistic collective come together, and what made you want to start Idle Chatter?

The group’s formation began in January of this year after one of our members Will Tomlinson put out a call for collaborators to establish a venue for experimental music in Manchester. It was really motivating to find those that responded were musicians and artists ranging the full spectrum of “experimental music” in Manchester, with many having never worked together before but all passionately sharing the desire to make such a place exist. Since that first meeting, we’ve been working collectively to solidify our shared aims and ideas and to make such a space happen, and for it to cater for the whole experimental scene in the city.

Before this call, many of us had been individually expressing such a need for a number of years. Talking to promoters, artists, and friends involved in the experimental end of Manchester’s music scene, it was obvious that there was a real desire for this kind of project from the whole community too. There is so much great stuff going on with music in Manchester but it can sometimes feel disconnected or isolated, yet there’s obvious overlaps between different practices and audiences. It made sense to try and bring those diverse practices and ideas into one space, and to work collectively to create an environment and community to support experimental and forward thinking music and art.

I notice you refer to the venue as being “much needed” in the area. Idle Chatter aside, how does Salford currently fare in terms of supporting and housing the more exploratory, forms of sonic art?

There are spaces in Manchester and Salford that do cater for exploratory music and sound art to some extent. Most notably, Islington Mill continues to have a huge part in supporting diverse practices in both music and visual arts. There are regular events in places like St Margaret’s Church, Soup Kitchen, IABF Centre, Nexus Art Cafe and others, but these all function primarily as something other than a music venue, and as such come with their own restrictions and compromises. That can be great to respond to as an artist and these places continue to be important in the city, but what is needed just as much is a place with live performance as the primary function: a venue where the music is put first and is able to adapt to accommodate works that just could not practically be presented in the current available spaces.

It sounds like the objectives of Idle Chatter extend beyond merely providing a home for experimental sound and performance; it seems that you perceive the venue to play a role in cultivating an audience and a community for sonic arts practice. Why is this important, and how does Idle Chatter plan to go beyond being just a venue space to nurturing the practice itself?

Right from the beginning the idea has been to forge a community around the space, and it’s important to us that we created a space that could support diverse practices long term and provide a space for collaboration and experimentation. Those are the kind of spaces that people become invested in and are enthusiastic about being a part of, because they’re about more than just showing up, buying a drink and watching a band. That idea of building a community rather than just a venue space is a big part of what we’re trying to achieve, because we want to see Manchester’s experimental music scene continue to grow.

One advantage of being a collective is the ability to pull on your various forms of expertise and creative interest. Does this help you to keep the Idle Chatter programme diverse? Do each of you have particular roles within the upkeep of Idle Chatter?

We feel that the diversity of the group running Idle Chatter is probably it’s biggest strength and it’s one of the things we’re most excited about looking ahead. Just over the first couple of months we have live-coded improv, noisy skronk punk, noise, modular synth, live visuals and free improv lined up. The diversity of the programming is very exciting.

Working collectively on a project as big as this is a challenge, especially if you’re new to it. It takes time and patience but when it clicks it’s easily the most enjoyable and productive way to work, we find. We have our own roles and responsibilities, as well as collectively managing some aspects of what happens with the space. The shared knowledge and skills of the collective is an obvious advantage.

The venue is a disused industrial unit space, which is a description that always excites me. Some of my favourite shows have been in these sorts of spaces. Could you tell us about the venue, and what makes it a suitable home for Idle Chatter?

The venue is fantastic and has a lot of potential for exciting and varied nights. There’s a cavernous main warehouse area which offers the possibility for ambitious large-scale projects, and then two smaller rooms housing our bar and a more intimate performance space. It’s almost a blank canvas and if you’re a musician or artist, you start to get ideas the moment you walk through the door and see it. We think it will inspire a lot of creativity. We’ve had two successful test run events already, both receiving overwhelmingly positive responses from their audiences, and proving the space perfectly welcoming for both large and more intimate events.

We’re really lucky to find ourselves here; an opportunity that arose as Idle Chatter’s Kelly Jayne Jones was coincidentally doing a residency in the space with Islington Mill’s Art Academy as the collective was scouting the city for suitable venue locations. As a consequence, we are extremely grateful to have gained the trust and support from Islington Mill’s Maurice Carlin to give us a set of keys to the space, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to use the venue for our own artistic aims.

I spotted a picture on your Instagram showing the Idle Chatter floor space covered in paintings. What’s happening there?

The artwork in the picture, which is currently still on show in the space, is by Islington Mill director and founder Maurice Carlin. It was made back in 2013 as a durational publishing performance piece, where people were invited to come and watch Carlin make the piece live. It has been redisplayed again as part of the Islington Mill Art Academy, who also share the warehouse with Idle Chatter, and bring special guests from as far as China and New York. Although their work is not directly related to Idle Chatter, it’s great to share the space with artists like Maurice and the Art Academy, as it means the space is well used beyond our live events.

Your launch night is coming up on the 22nd September. What’s going to be happening? WIDT sound pretty special.

WIDT are indeed pretty special and we’re really excited that they’re going to be performing. It’s an amazing mix of processed vocals and video. Not to be missed. There’s excellent support from some Manchester based artists as well. Michael Cutting and Idle Chatter member Vitalija Glovackyte’s KINDER MECCANO promises to be fantastic, as do performances from Yes Blythe and Aliyah Hussain, and fellow Idle member Sam Weaver. We’re looking forward to some fantastic performances and it’s going to be interesting to see how everybody makes use of the space.

Beyond the launch night, what’s on the horizon for Idle Chatter?

We have some fantastic shows coming up in October with Aurochs, Fickle twin, Shelly Knotts, and Yaxu (Alex Mclean), Rosalia Soria & Constantin Popp – local electroacoustic composers who will transform the space and includes the use of beanbags for maximum comfort – not to be missed. There will be a mini festival on 13 Nov with Michael Fischer, Pudang Food Fighters, Lee Patterson, Rie Nakajima & Pierre Berthet. We are planning to hold some regular improvisation evenings too run by Otto Wilberg & David Birchall, plus we’re going to be developing the space a bit and making it feel more like home. We’re very excited!

Idle Chatter’s launch night on 22nd September – www.facebook.com/events/233281983740862
Idle Chatter website – www.idlechatter.co.uk
Idle Chatter on Facebook – facebook.com/idlechatteruk