Birmingham’s The Rainbow Venues is in the midst of a 15-week run of events titled Imaginarium.
Billed as “a pioneering, 360 degree cultural experience” which takes in music, food, art and design across venues, Imaginarium will operate like a Warehouse Project of sorts in Birmingham until January, with performances from everyone from Loco Dice to Tom Shorterz.
For the full rundown of events, head here. Eager to find out more, we spoke to Rainbow Venues’ Lee McDonald about how to run an event of this scale and the regeneration of Digbeth.
You’ve been heavily involved in Digbeth’s redevelopment – what has that involved?
We’ve been damn busy, every penny that comes in we throw it straight back into developing a corner of Digbeth. My dad thinks I’m off my head, I walk to work, still don’t own a car but I don’t care, I love it and take great pride in making something fun that people can enjoy.
Digbeth is quickly evolving, it’s a very exciting time to be part of the movement. Planning approval for a tram stop from the city centre and the new Grand Central station has now been granted, literally next to The Rainbow’s series of venues. This really opens us up to the city and I’m witnessing more and more venue operators descending into the creative quarter for a slice of the pie.
We have completed the transformation of The Rainbow Warehouse adding more capacity and building up and up reaching closer to that disused Victorian viaduct that winks at me every time I walk by. The roof terrace itself is pretty spectacular and is up there with the best things we have done in the last 11 years. It has been well received and has cracking views of the Birmingham skyline – well, as good as the Birmingham skyline can be. In fact, I hope Birmingham is slowly beginning to lose that stigma. It’s happening you know, I get some stick from my London pals but I’m telling you it’s coming.
The jewel for me that was completed May this year is The Blackbox. It’s a little techno den – low ceiling, minimal lighting, killer sound system. We haven’t shoved it down people’s throats, just subtly got it out there via word of mouth. It’s becoming something very special with the right people shouting about it.
Imaginarium bills itself as more than just club nights, what are some of the extra dimensions you’re gonna be bringing people to the fold?
You know, big line-ups are great but it’s not everything, we are not just a rave. We wanted to create a series of events that spans across the spectrum of creativity. The Imaginarium series takes place over all of our spaces. We will be including the award-winning Digbeth Dining Club, a spin on Oktoberfest and a take on 25 days of Christmas by providing an alternative to the German Market. A Winter Less Ordinary is a collaboration between The Rainbow Venues and an old time friend Jit Patel, who more recently has become known for his creative flair behind the Magic Door event.
A Winter Less Ordinary is an extremely exciting project. The environment will be set amongst a backdrop of installations, live and DJ based music, spoken word, immersive theatre… I think unlike anything the city has ever seen before, A Winter Less Ordinary promises to be a bustling market, buzzing meeting place, relaxed hangout, eclectic dance-floor and recreational odyssey for all the ages, richly infused with the spirit of Christmas – but with a distinct twist.
What are some of the key things you have to consider when you’re doing a run of events this long?
Diversity. The Blackbox aside, it’s important to space out the shows so you’re not asking the same crowd to come week in week out. This is a real challenge of course, as the scene grows it becomes more difficult to dictate to agents the date you want the artists. Using a completely overused phrase, we really have shed blood, sweat and tears. Like loads of it. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, but seeing it come together is like watching a sunrise.
It seems like there’s an emphasis on local acts – Shorterz, Hannah Wants etc – was that deliberate? And what makes Birmingham different from other cities in terms of clubbing?
Of course we are very proud of some of the local acts that have grown with The Rainbow, some damn big personalities too. Adam Shelton lived above the Rainbow Pub, Subb-an had a stint there too, so did Tom Craven! Hannah Wants played pretty much all the time with 02:31, had several photo shoots in the early years over our spaces and blossomed to become a big, big hit. You know what, they’re all firing out at the moment, it’s a well oiled engine.
We will always support our local talent. Residents are as important as the main guest. Some venues lose sight of this. It’s always been an instrumental part of our success in my opinion.
You celebrated 11 years of the Rainbow Venues this year, what are some of your best memories of running these nights? And what are the key things you’ve learnt?
To see the crowd have it out. I would rather 50 people have it right off than 5,000 people look like zombies. Losing money on a show I can deal with; there not being an atmosphere at a party can send me under for days. If I think something can work better in a different way I will make the change. I don’t think I will ever rest on my laurels. It will never be perfect but I will keep getting closer and closer. One thing I have learnt is to never be content. Keep evolving and the kids will keep coming.
For more on Imaginarium, head here.