A somnambulist journey into the modern day myth of Manchester.
Music and arts organization Manchester Collective seek to bare the changing soul of their city in Dark Days, Luminous Nights, an ambitious immersive audiovisual project made during lockdown in collaboration with director Simon Buckley and multidisciplinary artist and Fact Resident Blackhaine. Incorporating a short film, an excerpt of which is shown above, as well as live experience which is described as part-exhibition, part-installation, the project charts a somnambulist journey along a ruined waterway into the modern day myth of Manchester. “In a time when we can’t physically be together, we wanted to shape an experience that contains humanity and creates space for reflection,” explains Rakhi Singh, co-founder and musical director of Manchester Collective. “Dark Days, Luminous Nights is the story of what we’ve all been going through, not as individuals but as a collective experience.”
“This stretch of land, from the evocatively named Danztic Street all the way up to Smedley Road, following the forgotten River Irk, has long fascinated me, drawing me back like a benign curse,” says Buckley of the location chosen to capture the project. “I am now out again,” he continues, “in this strange place my hackles to twitch, like a woodland creature hearing a predator’s soft wing beat approach on a moonlit night.” Illuminated only by a handheld red light, the film follows Blackhaine as he stalks three friends through night time drizzle, a group made up of Raki Singh herself, Ashiya Eastwood and Sebastian Gainsborough, also known as Vessel. Blackhaine’s brutal movement shines red light onto the skeletal trees, crumbling bridges and damp faces that make up Manchester’s nocturnal landscape, the frantic, restless animus of the city made manifest. “When we met Simon Buckley, we discovered that he has a similar connection with cities that we have with music – looking for spaces that are passed by, in the darkness and ignored,” explains Singh. “He finds the beauty and personality in them, as well as the hidden stories. His work seamlessly blends the contrasts of the music with elements of dance, photography and film into a complete experience.”
“This area tells the story of Manchester, and is a place of dreams and ghosts”, continues Buckley. “If ever, in my city, I was going to sense Hades, the King of the Underworld in ancient Greek mythology, surely it would be here, a place of constant transition, between old and new worlds.” Set against a evocative score from Béla Bartók, Wojciech Kilar and Edmund Finnis, the film casts Blackhaine in this Hellenic role, seeing him shepard strangers through the dense dark of an urban underworld, reflected in terrifying, primordial light. “Me and Simon didn’t talk much during the process, he just allowed me a free reign with my performance which works best for me,” explains Blackhaine. “My approach to acting and movement in the film became a resistance to the ideals you can find in the city, contrasted against my character. There’s a desperation which is universal, and that’s something I focused on. Areas like Collyhurst, Cheetham Hill and Salford aren’t seen much on camera and this film is a container to the Manchester narrative over the last decade.”
“This work stretched us in every conceivable way,” says Adam Szabo, chief executive of Manchester Collective. “I could tell you about the night-shoots: crew and company, roaming forgotten corners of Manchester and Salford for three nights, in midwinter, between 6pm and 5am. I could tell you about Simon’s remarkable vision – film and stills that capture a city in the act of transformation, old becoming new, in the dead of night and at the first blush of dawn. I could tell you about Blackhaine’s extraordinary, hateful, repentant, brutal choreography. We found ways to work together, to create something new and remarkable that is more than the sum of its parts. Our music binds the work together, but this isn’t a concert piece. It’s something utterly different to anything we’ve made before.”
Dark Days, Luminous Nights will take place from June 3 – 10 at The White Hotel in Salford, tickets are available now. Manchester Collective’s debut album, The Centre is Everywhere, is out now on Bedroom Community.