Placing one final exclamation mark at the end of the 2010s, a selection of Bido Lito! writers pick out some of the most important cultural moments to have taken place in Liverpool over the course of the past decade.
Wow. It hardly feels like 10 years since we started on this journey – how time flies when you’re in the middle of great social and political upheaval, soundtracked by music that’s as angst-ridden as it is fearless. As is common when times are tough, music acts as a salve and spark; and we can perhaps look back at the 2010s with a little more affection knowing that its soundtrack is one for the ages.
The first issue of Bido Lito! came out in May 2010, shortly after the general election which saw the beginning of a punitive decade of Tory rule. Softened as it was by the coalition with the Lib Dems (think: being punched repeated by a boxing glove rather than bare knuckle), things maybe didn’t seem quite so bleak back then. Little did we know what impact austerity would have on our society, wearing away at the cultural bonds that unite us all. We arrive, jaded, at the end of the second decade of the millennium, desperate for a fresh beginning.
We’ll all have our own memories that stand out from the past 10 years, moments that have affected us deeply or have proven to be turning points in our own lives. For our look back at the decade just gone, we’ve asked some of our core team of writers to pick out a selection of key cultural moments that they believe have had the greatest impact on our collective consciousness. We could quite easily have filled a book on dozens more memories – indeed, we’ve filled 106 magazines with them – so our selection is far from definitive, merely a snapshot. Therefore, if anything comes to mind, we’d like you to send us your own cultural moments from the past decade that you feel are worthy of mention.
The collection of tribes and scenes that make up our music community is undoubtedly much changed: healthier and more diverse in many ways; but lacking greatly in others, not least in the infrastructure around the music venues that are the lifeblood of a community of inter-dependent independents. From Static to the Baltic Triangle, noise has been a constant issue, making us face up to what kind of place we want our city centre to be. The coming decade will see that battle continue, and it is up to us to work out how we create an environment that is equal parts music city, party city and destination city.
We also need to encourage, or make space for, more collectives to add their voices to the hubbub, especially those from the worlds of jazz, grime/trap and hip hop. The underground dance, electronic and experimental purveyors that have coalesced around 24 Kitchen Street in the Baltic Triangle, for example, is surely one of the biggest, warmest successes of culture-led regeneration in the past decade – although there are fears it’s now in reverse. And we should look beyond the confines of the city centre – much like the seeds of growth around Smithdown Road – if we’re to find further fertile places for our noisy artists to flourish.
I’ve enjoyed seeing some of these tribes develop in a musical context over the years, not least those underground scenes that gathered around Strange Collective’s and Eggy Records’ DIY events. Queen Zee provided a momentous moment for queer visibility when they headlined Pride in 2018, which has also been buoyed by the work of Sonic Yootha and Preach. Stealing Sheep gathered their whole scene around them for a brilliant representation of their varied world when they filmed a video with Jack Whiteley and Joe Wills in the Kazimier Garden; which was just as exciting to witness as was XamVolo’s entrance to the GIT Awards in 2015, when a new sense of possibility descended the stairs onto the Kazimier stage with him. The re-emergence of Mick Head has also been particularly warming to see, with long overdue recognition rightfully coming his way.
It is a great tragedy that some people haven’t been able to see this all play out, not least Alan Wills and Tony Butler, two pillars of Liverpool music in the prior decade. The respect that both men commanded has been carried on by new torch-bearers, and their impact will still be felt as we embark on a new decade. We must also remember the memories of the talented young musicians from the groups Viola Beach and Her’s, who tragically passed away. The best way we can honour their memories is to make sure that the great work they started gets completed, and that their stories are remembered for future generations to discover.
It’s easy to get side-tracked by the flashy, large-scale events that we’ve become used to and forget about the more basic, grassroots cultural institutions that we need to encourage. Yet, we also shouldn’t play down the impact of great communal moments – giant parades, fireworks – in bringing the city together and restoring some much-needed collective pride. Whether you agree with the fence or not, LIMF is a massive upgrade on the Mathew Street festival, and is a far more progressive way of celebrating music for a city with a reputation on a global scale; and Sound City has re-discovered its heart, after a brief sojourn down on the docks. Watching together, dancing together, celebrating; that’s the very essence of culture.
This was our culture – what was yours?
Christopher Torpey / @CATorp
God Save The Florrie
Community action in Liverpool is a powerful force. The changes that can be brought about by collaboration, by the bringing together of people from diverse backgrounds for the benefit of all, is something this city does well. By necessity more than desire, more often than not.
A fine example of this is the Florence Institute, or The Florrie. A beautiful, Grade II late Victorian former boys’ club at the heart of Liverpool 8, The Florrie was in a perilous state of decay until a group of impassioned individuals with community ties to the building formed a trust to restore it to its former glory, and open it as a wholly inclusive community centre for all. Eight years and over £6 million later, The Florrie opened its doors to the community in 2012. Later, with the arrival of director Anne Lundon, The Florrie moved towards a programme of culture and creativity as a way of supporting the community and building cohesion.
Today, The Florrie is both proactive and reactive in responding to the needs of the community and provides a wealth of activities, from belly dancing lessons to reading groups, art sessions to yoga and circus skills. Plus, of course, the now legendary guitar group run by the Tea Street Band’s Timo Tierney. With happenings and exhibitions from notables such as Jamie Reid and Jimmy Cauty, The KLF, Michael Head, The La’s and Greg Wilson’s 14-hour Super Weird Happening in the mix, The Florrie has firmly established itself in the cultural beat of the city. By the community, for the community. #GodSaveTheFlorrie.
Resurrecting The Everyman
Demolishing a theatre is a dangerous thing. Once it’s gone, what happens to all the ghosts?
When the elderly Everyman Theatre was knocked down in 2011, efforts were made to encourage its theatrical spirits to stick around. Its bricks were saved, its site was preserved, and when the regenerated Everyman finally opened on 2nd March 2014 – complete with its startling façade featuring 105 life-size Liverpudlians – it was a relief to find that the box-fresh new venue somehow felt as if it had always been there.
Not all its ghosts came back. The reinvented Everyman Bistro never recaptured the magic that had made its previous incarnation into one of Liverpool’s most energised cultural hubs. But with its youth theatre space and its writers’ room, and its homely auditorium performing the trick of pretending it never went away, the Everyman remains a piece of Hope Street heaven – a resting place for old ghosts and for spectres yet to come.
It was 2006 when Laurence Westgaph said to me that FACT should have been built in Toxteth. Liverpool was in peak city centre regeneration at that point and there was still an assumption that to have good art it needs to be in the centre, and in a building.
The night of the Turner Prize in 2015, Granby CLT hired out Liverpool Small Cinema. No one expected the Four Streets and Assemble to win the coveted arts prize. The pictures of when they win remind me of Liverpool in Istanbul in 2005. The underdogs become the obvious choice.
Just a handful of years before, the residents of Granby were still convincing the council they deserved to keep their homes. After the win, they’re fielding calls from all over the world.
Before then, community was a thing many arts organisations used to tick boxes. You’d get a few gems, but we’re talking top down, not bottom up.
Post 2015, you can’t get away with pretending. Liverpool needed a kick up the arse. It needed art that was by its people if it wanted to be for its people. It needed reminding its art scene always works when it’s a bit punk; a bit less curated for a CV. It’s not there yet, but it’s a shift in power. Liverpool’s art scene needed a punk moment, and this was quite punk.
Diggin’ Your Selections
The vinyl boom hit Liverpool city centre after a lengthy period of slim pickings for those preferring the physical product in its traditional format, the omnipresent Probe aside. Dig Vinyl launching on Bold Street five years ago was a game changer, a second-hand record shop with knowledgeable staff well-armed with picky good tastes and attuned to customers’ wants.
As a lifelong collector, Manchester was a common destination before Dig’s arrival, but the record-buying community here is now able to indulge in a wider tour of record shops on home turf thanks to the opening of Dig: Phase One/Jacaranda, 81 Renshaw and Pop Boutique. There’s a marked difference between a record shop and a space which simply has records for sale. Dig is securely in the former category – as is now the case with stores that followed – supporting new releases from new local artists and signposting rarities, but equally open to tips from those they sell to.
K Is For Kazimier
A spaceship being hoisted over Wolstenholme Square, sparks flying off its base, following a symbolic battle between the evil Monotopia developers and Captain Kronos, astride a giant ostrich. You couldn’t have imagined a better send-off for The Kazimier, the venue that was the creative, madcap, maverick focal point of artistic possibility in Liverpool.
The night that the Kaz closed, New Year’s Eve 2015, was a momentous, ambitious celebration of all that the venue-cum-club had come to stand for. By the time the great burning K sign lit up the night sky, the writing had already long been daubed on the wall: Wolstenholme Square had already been shorn of MelloMello and Wolstenholme Creative Space – fellow outsider, independent spaces run by artists, for artists. Prior to their arrival, it was a part of town where people wouldn’t dare venture; since their departure, the square has succumbed to the endless sprawl of Liverpool ONE and premium city centre living apartments. Only the Kazimier Garden and Penelope light installation remain, towered over by flats and hemmed in by ‘vertical drinking establishments’ and ‘retail opportunities’.
The escape to Planet Kronos ultimately only took the remaining Kazimier team as far as the Invisible Wind Factory in the North Docks – but the metaphorical flight of the city’s creative heart outside of the city centre still hasn’t materialised. The Baltic Triangle and Ten Streets projects aren’t quite the promised lands they first seemed, and a gaping, K-shaped hole still remains at the heart of Liverpool’s creative scene.
Small Space For The Big Screen
I’ll let you into a secret about Liverpool Small Cinema, which was open between 2015 and 2017 in Liverpool city centre. If the audience were laughing, or recoiling in horror, the wall of the projection booth would bulge, reacting to the force of the reaction. I first noticed it at a screening of John Waters’ Female Trouble, which managed to get the 56-seat crowd to do both.
The space, on Victoria Street, was willed into existence by Sam Meech, arts project Re-Dock and a gang of volunteers. The place was built entirely through donations and offcuts and screened a huge variety of films. From a 24-hour Groundhog Day marathon, to championing female directors, offering LBGTQ+ screenings and somewhere for local film-makers to screen, it offered a home to many unable to use spaces like Odeon.
It was completely its own thing and open to all. Now it’s a hotel bar, as the developers moved in. But, for a couple of years, it was ours and it felt we could do anything in the city.
No Festival Today
If we’re honest, Liverpool’s music community can be quite a hostile place to outsiders. Outsiders bringing what seemed to be a festival themed around British colonialism with a line-up consisting solely of Britpop also-rans were duly met with scepticism in 2017. Hope And Glory Festival came from nowhere and no one seemed to know who was behind the garishly-branded shindig. That would change, however.
Ticket sales went well. There was clearly an appetite to see Embrace rub shoulders with The Pigeon Detectives on the Amritsar Massacre stage before the lad from Keane presented a screening of Zulu in the main room at St George’s Hall. However, when the weekend came, like the empire it looked to celebrate, things started to fall apart.
I happened to walk past the festival site shortly before midday on the opening day. As I peered through the Heras fencing, past the B&M Bargains plastic flamingo garden ornament, I thought it unusual that the build seemed only three-quarters finished so close to doors. The bulldog spirit would no doubt prevail though. Later that day social media was rife with discontent. Queues stretching up London Road, not enough bars or toilets and timings running so far behind schedule bands had to find alternative venues to play. And it got worse.
The words ‘no festival today’ have rightly been etched into Liverpool music folklore. This is how the Hope And Glory communications team (or most likely, the man in charge) chose to break the news that the event, which had been promoted for over a year and had Ocean Colour Scene fans sleeplessly anticipating all summer, would not be going into its second day. And the drama did not finish there.
Predictably there was a mixture of horror, mockery and anger on social media. The organiser, outed as Lee O’Hanlon, was digitally hung, drawn and quartered. O’Hanlon didn’t help his case by responding to many social media missives with flippancy and truculence. A more expansive (and bizarre) statement was released in the week after the festival, pointing the blame at a Liverpool City Council employee who briefly became a cult hero and talking at length about where they stored the sandwiches and milk.
Hope And Glory was a trailblazer in glorious festival fuck-ups. Unfortunately, there is no slick Netflix documentary and fly-by-night events do keep happening, but what it did provide Liverpool with is a cautionary tale and some of the funniest moments of the past decade. Outsiders are very welcome. Just don’t bring jingoism, please. Or Razorlight.
The repeated destruction of Banu Cennetoğlu’s posters along Great George Street, which acted as a collection of records about refugee and migrant deaths, was an unsettling moment.
It dented the city’s sense of self-identity as giving welcome to all, where fascists and anyone who would exclude minorities is quickly sent packing. But it also forced us to answer to the previously-hypothetical question of how such an attack is responded to. And the final decision to leave the work in shreds felt, to many, unsatisfactory. This was already a work which had been criticised for “aestheticising” tragedy. To stop repairing it felt like a confirmation that The List was more focused on violence than on advocating for the rights of the most vulnerable.
The List’s fate has left its scars, but its real legacy should be a deep questioning of culture’s role in visualising and platforming empathy.
When the Giants found their way their way back to Liverpool in 2018, it was a moment of celebration, but one to reflect on.
Liverpool changed in 2008. The year as European Capital of Culture established the city on the world stage as a destination. A place to be. The figures say that growth has increased by £1.6 billion year-on-year since the end of 2008. Perceptions outside the city have certainly changed. Liverpool is a modern, forward-facing city, not only proud of its contribution to the arts, culture and sport, but dependent, more than ever before, on that contribution for its future. Maybe the full legacy will only be known in years to come, when we have the true bigger picture.
The city mandarins talk of growth, of investment. From street level, however, that growth looks to be more about the Blade Runner claustrophobia of Wolstenholme Square, or the sheer whatthefuckery of the Lime Street development, a prestigious entry point to the city with the grand opulence of William Brown Street to one side and a grim metal box showcasing a new branch of Lidl to the other. Maybe this is the legacy for some. Culture comes from people, though, and that means the grassroots. Art needs space. It needs support and nourishment. So, while it’s no doubt an achievement for the city council, in the face of central government cuts, to protect the Biennial, or Sound City, Africa Oyé and LightNight, there is still a glaring need for the council to better support grassroots culture. That should be the true legacy.
My first visit to 24 Kitchen Street saw dust tumbling from the ceiling, such was the size of the sound system drafted in as Less Effect hosted Objekt. Since then, the music policy of the club has followed a similar track. Although now it’s likely small-scale debris drifting down from the ceiling can be attributed to the army of drills burrowing in the foundations of luxury apartments next door.
The rise of the Baltic Triangle was one of the most positive in the slew of recent city centre developments. The work of Baltic CIC set the foundations for a new chapter in Liverpool’s electronic music scene, giving rise to 24 Kitchen Street, Constellations, Camp and Furnace, Haus, Baltic Weekender and microclimate tastemakers Melodic Distraction Radio. A pared back answer to Detroit and Berlin’s repurposing of defunct industrial spaces, these homes to artistic endeavour and escapism are now ever more surrounded by simply homes, short term rentals and aspirational studio flats with necessary balcony to take in your achievements. Such apartments stand ever taller over Kitchen Street; Constellations is to be swept aside; the remaining venues in the district do their best to rattle the double glazing of local professionals.
For a moment Liverpool had a thriving creative district and night time scene that was its own, free from large scale residential intrusion. Crane your neck on Jamaica Street now and it’ll be hard to see how a sound system large enough to rattle a building to its core will ever be able to feature again.
Haring at Tate
Keith Haring’s presence in Liverpool was palpable all summer and into the winter of 2019. Emblazoned on buses and T-shirts and collectables, with DJs in every other venue paying homage.
Tate Liverpool housing the first major UK exhibition of Haring’s work felt like the North Star in a widening sky of constellations that are reorientating the city’s pull as a cultural destination. Vibrant, urgent and playful, Haring’s output has a humanity to it that resonated with the city. What’s more joy-inducing than Shazam-ing the shit out of the tracks played in a curtained room where his Day Glo works sit under UV light? What’s more sobering than understanding that his work was made in the face of a wilfully ignorant Reagan administration during the AIDS crisis? The exhibition was attractive and important.
It can be all too easy for the face of the city to rely on certain tropes while its underbelly swells with a cutting edge not necessarily seen by those outside of Liverpool. Haring didn’t put Liverpool on the map, but his work has helped to broaden our horizons, and others’ perception of the city as a cultural destination.