“Finally it’s the 21st century.”
So sparked one below-the-line commenter as the new single from drill rapper and dancer Blackhaine went up on Youtube last week. ‘Saddleworth’ – an eerie melange of fried soundscape, cinematic weirdness and dissociative rap – is the second single to drop from the artist’s forthcoming And Salford Falls Apart EP, due for release on the 19th.
“Behind the lockers in the washroom/ Razor in my throat numb/ Saliva in the mixture.” To the unengaged it might sound like a hyped-up load of sound effects and morbid voice-track. Filtered through a healthy diet of drill and ambient techno, on the other hand, what you hear is the underground straining every sinew to pare back its gums and vomit up the street: poverty, crime, addiction, hopelessness, hedonism.
What you see – moreover – in a typically ad hoc hijacking of the video streaming platform, and in the tortured physical poetry of Blackhaine’s dancing – is a commitment to the world intended to bypass the cynicism of the mainstream media in order to mainline a truly disaffected youth.
This is the smashed and strung-out North, where the artist – known to his mother as Tom Heyes – has attracted sufficient attention in recent months as to leave him wary of the media machine. Cornered by your correspendent in the shadows of Salford’s surreptitious White Hotel nightspot, this week, Heyes professed to be alienated by attempts in the style press to position him as a saviour of the local scene – such that one might wonder how he will handle full-blown success if it comes his way.
“His flat Northern vowels conjure comedown paranoia, simmering rage…and a life of crime only just out of shot,” reported The Face recently. “Primal, visceral…the raw style that got him noticed as a dancer,” gushed Dazed, clocking up the recent choreography commissions from the likes of Gucci, Mykki Blanco and Kanye West.
“The whole Manchester thing’s getting a bit sticky at the moment… it just snowballed,” he told Crack magazine this month.
Reclaiming rap from the clutches of celebrity, the drill subgenre has offered pitiless dispatches from the underbellies of Chicago, London, Brooklyn and elsewhere in trap beats, ice-flow narratives and no-budget street-corner videos. Blackhaine’s Mancunian spin – with its ‘ketty’ ambient underpinnings, his morgue-white features, and the contorted dancing said to recall the gouching of rough-sleeping ‘spice zombies’ during the recent epidemic – showcases an admixture of influences which have been gestating for some time.
New bands, DJ’s, night clubs come and go in the former Madchester. The arrival of something felt genuinely to be new is more rare. There are so many pockets of creativity here now it can be folly to hail the Next Big Scene, but there’s broad consensus that the White Hotel – a converted bag factory in the middle of the trading estate facing Strangeways prison – has in recent years offered one of the few outposts of independence in a culture increasingly ‘provided’ by corporation, council and state. It’s taken a while for something viable to emerge from the primordial soup – but now, seemingly, direct from its all-night hedonistic scene there’s something to spit back the world to you as a young ket-head in a left-behind northern town sees it.
Sooner or later, so the feeling goes, something will kick off – earlier this summer it was Space Afrika’s ambient album Honest Labour, to which the Preston-born artist contributed. Whether it will be Blackhaine himself or another artist mixing similar elements in his wake…somewhere in that brooding mixed-media of drill, dance, cinematography, ambient techno, spoken word is something that will eventually be sold back to a Mancunian culture still conspicuously living in the past.
Save the Chorlton by-election
The Ryebank Fields protestors were mostly out of town when I dropped by their camp the other night to canvas opinion on the upcoming Chorlton by-election. “They’re up in Glasgow at Cop26,” says Stephen, cradling his dog amid the shadows of the makeshift house the activists have built.
It’s undoubtedly the hot election topic – but everyone seems to be stepping around the stand-off around ManMet’s flogging of Chorltonian green space to housing developers.
“Matt Strong [the Labour councillor who is stepping down] was never interested. He just used to bang on about how he wanted this area to be the new Amsterdam, full of bike lanes.”
Have any of the candidates been down?
The protestors have put up their own, economist Paul Harnett, but he’s out of the country visiting family and urging supporters to vote for whoever has the best chance of beating Labour (the Greens were a distant second last time).
“[Liberal Democrat councillor] John Leech was here with their candidate. They say they want to stop the development but he told us we’ve made a mess and we’ll turn the neutrals against us. He doesn’t think the camp’s a good idea.”
“The Green candidate [Simon Milner-Edwards] is behind us,” says Steve, a former call centre worker. “He’s XR and he’s involved but he’s just a paper candidate because the Greens don’t expect to win. The Women’s Equality Party helped us organise night walks, they’re on board.”
Four competing candidates against the development, then, but little hope of success at the ballot box. So what of Labour? Matthew Benham, a case worker from MP Jeff Smith’s office, is strong favourite to take the seat.
“He’s been all over but not here,” says Emma, tending her crochet. “All the big-hitters…Pat Karney, Bev Craig, Smith…they were in the Unicorn the other day. Nothing about Ryebank Fields on their leaflets though.”
An entertaining second half at the Runcorn Linnets Stadium on Saturday as FC United overcame eighth tier opposition in the FA Trophy and board chair Adrian Seddon wiled away a jolly twenty minutes recounting the Rebels’ midweek adventures in Europe.
Europe? Indeed. The Anti-Glazer outfit were away at AKS Zly on Wednesday. The notion of an inter-continental competition for non-league clubs won’t please many Green protestor, perhaps. But it was Milanese minnows Brera who proposed a tournament for the little fish, managing to rope in seven other tier seven sides from cities accessible via budget airline – and thus gave birth to the inaugural Fenix Trophy.
“Obviously Manchester United pioneered European club football in the ‘50s,” says Seddon. “So it’s nice to follow in their footsteps, albeit in a small way.”
East European footie can sometimes be perceived be a hotbed of Saturday afternoon Hitler worship – so there was a pleasant surprise awaiting the Manchester club. Met at the airport by Zly’s lady president, former rock band manager Karolina Szumska, they were driven round in a Communist-era 1960s bus with Free Love slogans on the side, taken to an all-vegan stadium, plied with vodka in the ‘Offside’ bar (“like Corbiere’s crossed with the Moston Miners”), before taking the field in a ground awash with Refugees Welcome banners and lit sparklers.
Some 150 or so Rebels fans made the trip out. Those at home watched a free live stream as Bradley Holmes bagged a hat trick and United ran out handsome 6-1 winners.
“They were more Clapton than Clapton is the way I would put it,” said Seddon, referencing the South London anti-fascist crew and clearly charmed by the whole experience. “Let’s hope this is just the beginning of something that can grow next year and in the years to come.”