Mostly MIF 2023 part 1 (a 25th birthday post)

One of the ancient wonders of Manchester. (I mean the gate of the old Roman fort at Castlefield, not Jonathan Schofield.)The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey first appeared on the internet 25 years ago today, on July 14th, 1998. Which means that it’s time for the annual anniversary post, which in recent years has meant a quick reference to the anniversary number as depicted in pop culture, followed by a few links to how we celebrated it in previous years. (See the 24th birthday post as an example.)

But to be fair, a silver jubilee deserves better. So how about for a change, we mark this occasion with some actual content rather than a mere bit of self-congratulation? This site’s been there for every Manchester International Festival since they started in 2007, with the exception of 2009 when we had to be somewhere else for an eclipse. The Belated Birthday Girl and I were there for four days over the last weekend: here’s what we did. (Or at least the first half of it: more to follow soon.)

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Manchester International Festival 2021 (part 2)

[THE SOUND OF THE DELTA VARIANT CHEERFULLY HOPPING BETWEEN BEAN BAGS]In previous Manchester International Festivals – look, just go back to part one of this piece and follow the links in there, I can’t be bothered typing them again – anyway, back then the hub of the event was Festival Square. For the other 102 weeks of the bi-year it was Albert Square, the big public space in front of the town hall. But at MIF time, it became a riot of food stalls, bars and tented stages offering mostly free entertainment.

This year was always going to be different, and not just for the obvious reason. Manchester Town Hall is in the middle of a massive refurbishment programme, meaning that Albert Square is closed off. So for 2021 (and probably 2023), Festival Square has relocated to the space outside Manchester Cathedral. It’s still offering booze, food and entertainment, but this time round entry has to be carefully controlled, with all visitors carefully spaced out into meticulously organised bubbles.

They would have managed it, too, if it hadn’t been for the inhabitants of Twat Island.

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Manchester International Festival 2021 (part 1)

[THE SOUND OF TRYING TO FIND SOME DECENT PICTURE CAPTIONS]As we walk out of our central Manchester hotel on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, we see a plane flying overhead. It’s pulling a banner behind it. Because of the sun and the altitude, we can’t see what it says. This is a much bigger problem for us than you might think.

Less than an hour earlier, The Belated Birthday Girl and I had arrived in the city, all set for an extended run of the 2021 Manchester International Festival. Regular readers will recall our coverage of previous festivals – we paid a flying visit to the first one in 2007, had a good excuse for missing the second in 2009, then covered the next four for Europe’s Best Website (see 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017) before bringing it back in-house for 2019. All six of those visits had one thing in common – they only lasted a weekend, with us arriving late on Friday or early on Saturday, and on the train back to London by Sunday evening.

That’s how it usually works. This isn’t a usual year, though. With our planned foreign holiday kicked down the line for another year, we’re replacing it with a collection of short city breaks that don’t require us to leave the country. So this time around, we’ve spending a full five days (Wednesday to Sunday) at the Festival, although taking things at a slightly less manic pace than usual. The festival itself is an appreciably different shape to what it is normally – new outdoor and indoor venues to cope with social distancing requirements, a high proportion of online and hybrid content, a bit more public art than before – and so we’re going to be an appreciably different shape too. (Literally so, given some of the meals we’ve got lined up in the extended gaps between events.)

That plane I mentioned three paragraphs back is part of one of those public art projects I mentioned one paragraph back. It’ll all make sense in the end, probably – though bear in mind that this is a big enough festival to justify a two-part review, so scrolling to the end of the page won’t entirely help you.

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Mostly MIF 2019, and Partly BrewDogging #65: Outpost Manchester

I was originally going to say 10 PRINT HELLO 20 GOTO 10, but that seemed a little too meta.Friday July 12th

2310: Manchester Piccadilly station
We've arrived back in my home town once more for a weekend at the 2019 Manchester International Festival, bringing my coverage back in-house after four consecutive Festivals elsewhere. (It's running till July 21st, so at the time of writing you still may be able to catch some of it for yourself.) Over the next 48 hours or so, we'll be revelling in MIF's commitment to bringing us artistic experiences that haven't been seen before. A journey that along the way will bring to us new colour, new dimension, new value. New new new.

2350: BrewDog Manchester
Okay, so not everything here's going to be new. But as we pop in for our nightcap beers, we're immediately confronted by a DJ playing Billie Jean at top volume: it's funny how quickly that became socially acceptable again, isn't it? And as we sip on our #Mashtag2015 and Jackie O's Oil Of Aphrodite, I can't help but notice that over its seven years in the city centre, BrewDog Manchester has gradually become just another place in town where the kids come to get bladdered on a Friday night. A group of merry girls asks me to take a photo of them holding their cocktails: another group gets told off by bar staff for standing on the seats in their booth: a bloke takes his shirt off to mark something on the stroke of midnight, and is discreetly escorted from the premises shortly after. There's no trouble as such, but something essentially BrewDoggy seems missing. It makes you wonder what the new place is going to be like.

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BrewDogging #30: DogHouse Glasgow

Doghouse (late Sunday night, it's not always this quiet)[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stockholm, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell]

Last year, at the 2015 BrewDog AGM, a lot of big plans were announced. Many of them involved BrewDog opening new premises that weren't just straightforward bars. A press release listed the following: the ShuffleDog games room, a chain of Dog Eat Dog hotdog diners, the Newington Fix coffee bar, and a restaurant/bar/bottleshop combo called DogHouse.

One year on, let's check on their progress. ShuffleDog has been up and running in Leeds since last July. The Newington Fix has spent a year in planning permission hell, and it's still not certain whether it's going ahead or not. Dog Eat Dog - or at least the initial Angel branch - has been and gone. That leaves us with DogHouse, which opened in Glasgow last autumn to a few grumbles which I noted at the time the Soho bar opened. A few months later, at the end of last January, The Belated Birthday Girl and I headed up to Glasgow ourselves to see if they'd been resolved.

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Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama flower sculpture, Matsumoto City Arts Museum, May 2010. If any of you are around that way, could you let me know if it's still there? Thanks.My first experience of Yayoi Kusama's work took place two years ago, during my most recent visit to Japan. (Information correct at time of writing.) As The Belated Birthday Girl and I wandered around Matsumoto - actually the artist's hometown, though we didn't realise that at the time - we came across a set of gigantic polkadotted flower sculptures outside the city museum. The dotty colour scheme was obviously a motif, as the museum's drinks vending machines had also been painted up the same way. I duly reported it here and thought nothing more about it.

Looking back at that brief review, as Kusama gets a London retrospective at Tate Modern (running until June 5th), the main thing that strikes me now is a big stupid assumption I made in the one sentence I wrote: that Yayoi Kusama was a man. The BBG keeps saying I should correct that error, but I prefer to let it stand as a monument to my appalling sexism. (I'll fix it when I reprint the piece in my next travel book, though. I'm sexist, not stupid.)

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Brain Activity/Joy In People

Try to imagine a combination of David Shrigley's 'I'm Dead' and Jeremy Deller's 'Joy In People' that looks a little like this, but made by someone with access to decent image editing tools and talent.I know there isn't all that much coverage of visual art on this site - here, take a look - but it's interesting to me that this is the first time I've ever reviewed anything at London's Hayward Gallery. I'm in and out of all the other arts venues on the South Bank all the time, but it's rare that something at the Hayward attracts my attention.

So it's nice to be able to report that a conveniently matching pair of exhibitions is occupying the space from now until May 13th, 2012. One single ticket will get you into both: it's a very good deal, for a number of reasons.

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Watch Me Move: The Animation Show

Duck Amuck, by Chuck I don’t think this site’s commitment to the medium of animation can be questioned, can it? Aside from all the regular programmes of shorts I’ve reported on from the film festivals at London and Edinburgh, for the last few years I also appear to have been the only person who’s written a review of every single film in the British Animation Awards Public Choice section. That’s a lot of cartoons, and in the case of the BAA articles a lot of exhaustively researched links to film clips and animator websites too.

So you’d imagine that an exhibition like the Barbican’s Watch Me Move: The Animation Show (running until September 11th 2011) would be just up my street. And so it would. If there's any cause for concern, it's with the format - because this isn't a collection of still artwork, it's a collection of short films and clips. You know that irritating feeling you get hanging around outside a film installation in a gallery, waiting for it to go round to the beginning again? Imagine that feeling multiplied a hundred times or so. But if you're patient enough, there are some sights to be seen.

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Playing The Building

When was the last time you saw a piece of art that you could have a decent lie down to?

I know exactly when it was in my case: the Spring of 2004, when Olafur Eliasson's The Weather Project was coming to the end of its six-month installation in the Turbine Hall of London's Tate Modern. A combination of a mirrored ceiling, a faint mist in the air and a bloody enormous lighting rig came together to generate the illusion of a gigantic sun glowing away at one end of the hall. Faced with something of that magnitude, people reacted in the only way they could: lying on the floor and soaking it up (with the odd group of pranksters rearranging themselves or their belongings to spell out messages in the ceiling mirror).

David Byrne's Playing The Building, showing at the Roundhouse until August 31st 2009, may not be on the same gargantuan scale: but if you're not directly at the centre of it, I suspect that lying down may be the second best way of experiencing it.

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