This previous Saturday was my own personal debut at the new home of one of Manchester’s clubbing institutions. The Warehouse Project has changed homes before, but none have felt like such an obvious upgrade as this.
2018’s edition had felt like the end of a cycle, and while the return to Store Street was enjoyable enough, it was difficult to shake the impression that the concept had outgrown the reality. The main room was often uncomfortably busy and the layout of the venue had become increasingly confusing, with each stage having little to differentiate itself from the others. The move to Mayfield Depot was a result of the WHP team’s ambition, but it was also rooted in necessity.
The move has been justified in every possible measure. The bars, toilets, queues and dancefloors are all much improved. The production has taken a step up even from Store Street’s impressively high standards, with the whole experience now transcending the typical UK clubbing experience. Warehouse Project now appears to have a venue capable of matching the high standards of its musical programming. Four Tet’s curations are always likely to throw a couple of curveballs, so it was interesting to see Skrillex share the top billing. It’s difficult to say whether this fits into any sort of long-term plan to ingratiate into the UK’s underground scene, or whether Four Tet is just a fan, but this isn’t the first or last time we see Skrillex given such a platform.
Our day started with Avalon Emerson warming up a cavernous main room, before Caribou’s alter ego took to the stage. Daphni’s early selections were cerebral, until he unleashed a pitched down version of Jeff Mills’ ‘The Bells’ which gradually accelerated into its usual tempo. From there things were altogether more riotous. Summer hit ‘Sizzling’ arrived hot on the heels of a fantastic piano house record. There was even room to squeeze in T2’s ‘Heartbroken’, which has become something of a staple at Four Tet’s curated events. By now it’s equally at home in the Warehouse Project’s main room as the sixth form common room in which I first heard it. Curious, but a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, I can only speak of what I saw, and with a lineup this stacked it was inevitable that some difficult decisions would have to be made. While Peggy Gou was followed by Four Tet in the depot, the slightly more modest but altogether more interesting Concourse was hosting many of the day’s highlights. The venue’s second room was somehow both expansive and intimate, with ample space to dance behind the DJ booth. It’s a welcome change of pace from having an entire dancefloor facing the same direction; a dynamic creates more of a party than a show. After Daphni’s turn in the main room, we were treated to the ever-spectacular sight of the three heads of Hessle Audio acting as one. The ease with which Ben Ufo, Pearson Sound and Pangaea weaved throughout each other’s selections was exhilarating. Essentially one DJ with six arms, the mixing was dextrous and genres were mixed without ever compromising the tempo. It’s still easy enough to tell which of the three is behind the wheel though, and Ben Ufo’s recent b2b with Blawan has seen some excellent music change hands. So it was no surprise when Ben reached for Karenn’s ‘Crush the Mushrooms’, a muscular, modular monster of a track which has been receiving a warm reception from dancefloors across Europe. Overmono’s incredible remix of Nathan Fake’s ‘Degreelessness’ was also given an airing as a breathless three hours came to a close.
Next up was Jon Hopkins, who has returned to the booth after a fairly extensive live tour. It’s at times like this that his background in classical music becomes so apparent. Building his own unique soundscape which begins with Emerald Rush and ends with some of his absolutely killer, unreleased techno tracks. Two in particular have been present in his DJ sets since I first heard him play them at Melt back in 2016, they remain a closely guarded secret, but both shook the concourse to its foundations. I’ve long since thought he was one of the finest selectors in the world, and nothing I have seen since has changed my mind.
Four Tet’s solo slot was typically fantastic, and the diversity in his own back catalogue means he can easily fill headline performances with his own productions. ‘Only Human’ was quickly followed by ‘Lush’, with the former’s vocals laid over the latter. It was sensational. There was even time for his edit of ‘Opus’, which stands alone as the anthemic antithesis to Eric Prydz original trance masterpiece.
The latter stages of our evening were spent in the company of Lone, Courtesy, Skee Mask and Mall Grab who all left their own mark on proceedings. The latter’s shift from lo-fi to electro & techno is worthy of its own write-up, with the unreleased ‘Take Down Enemies’ rounding off what had been a phenomenal evening of music.
Amidst all the fun of the fair, I only managed to catch snippets of Skrillex & Four Tet’s b2b. I was curious as to whether they’d meet in the middle of their own distinct sounds. From what I could tell the selections flowed smoothly, culminating in Magnetic Man’s ‘I Need Air’ floating across the venue as the lights came on and as the night drew to a close. UK club culture may well have failed Magnetic Man, but the Warehouse Project team have given us something to rival any clubbing experience across the continent.