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Peripheral Functions: Notes On Shipley's Golden Cabinet
Sophie Zola , May 6th, 2015 13:49

A nine month long examination of the monthly experimental music night happening at the heart of Shipley's local community

Photo by Matt Colquhoun

I first meet Richard Claxton and Mark Leese at Fuse; a small single-roomed arts venue caught between a scattering of tanning shops and takeaways in the heart of Bradford city centre. It's May, and at intervals between the day's scheduled events Richard weaves his way through the crowd in a bright yellow down jacket, handing out small neon flyers to anyone who will offer an outstretched hand. Richard and Mark are part of a collective of promoters who run a night called Golden Cabinet; together with Anth Palmer and Nick Loaring they organise DIY experimental music nights at the Kirkgate Community Centre in the small commuter town of Shipley. The flyers being passed around are advertising their next show, to be headlined by Dominick Fernow's Vatican Shadow, and bear a parenthesis of disbelief ("yes that Vatican Shadow") inked underneath in a small bold font.

**

Three months later I find myself in a Fiat Punto careering down a slick M62 on a rainy August afternoon. The opportunity of witnessing Fernow rampaging around a small community hall in a West Yorkshire town seems like one far too good to pass up on.

Shipley flourished during the Industrial Revolution, only to be debilitated – like many of its Northern contemporaries – by the post-war disintegration of Britain's textile industry. Its high streets are now saturated with e-cigarette outlets and mobile phone accessory shops, beacons of the century's great retail demise. Head uphill from the Brutalist market clocktower, past a Polish delicatessen and a shop selling framed holograms of The Last Supper, and you'll find The Kirkgate Centre across the road from the town hall. An unassuming former Victorian school, the board outside lists a whole host of extra-curricular activities that take place there: meditation, films, counselling. If it weren't for an A4 piece of paper taped to the door with the schedule for the night ahead, you'd be convinced you'd turned up at the wrong venue.

Inside, the semi-hexagonal ceiling is painted a pale shade of blue, and an incongruous disco ball hangs down between the steel frames that stitch the roof together. A huge, deflated Chinese dragon sits atop an inner wall. Gnod have brought over their soundsystem from Islington Mill; two massive looming speaker stacks that sit silently but menacingly at one end of the hall. "We really like them being in the building," says Richard of the Salford group. "They're just nice people to hang out with." Over the course of the afternoon the Kirkgate undergoes a full transformation. Tables and chairs are carried into an adjoining room, projections are beamed onto the white wall of the office at the back of the hall, and sections of non-white space are covered with pieces of white MDF and cloth.

Photo by Matt Colquhoun

At 5pm, Fernow arrives for a soundcheck, and within moments the entire room is filled with billowing thunderous sound. "Last time Gnod brought that PA it blew all the files off the shelves in the office," Richard says to me in the brief moments of silence. I wander outside. Across the road, the windows in Shipley's town hall are vibrating so violently it creates a tunnel of shuddering sound in the space above the road between. The whooshing of speeding cars intermittently punctures the rattling, but does little to dispel it. Back inside, dark drapes have been pulled over the windows to eliminate any of the last fading rays of sunlight. Nick points upwards and informs me they had to climb up onto the roof last month to black out all the skylight windows from the outside.

The doors open at 7pm, and by quarter past the hall is already full. Richard, sat at a table by the door, greets almost everyone by name, before waving them towards a hatch serving local ale and homemade cake. Another table along an adjoining wall displays some of Nick's own hand printed Golden Cabinet posters. Later, in the midst of his set, Fernow strides around the front of his setup, torch in hand, bellowing in gleeful faces. Richard too threads his way through the crowd, greeting them each in turn, his elongated shouts of, "fucking hell this is great" sailing over the tops of plastic cups of beer and raised arms. Subsequently, he recalls the evening as one of his favourite moments of Golden Cabinet's existence so far: "I watched a video of the set a week later, and for a split second I could see [Fernow] smiling. That was pretty special."

**

The year slips into the next. It's February, and I've been lured back to Shipley again. This time I find myself meandering through the peripheries of town, down a gritty towpath by the canal where slogans calling for an end to the unnecessary killing of rare marbled butterflies by supermarkets are stencilled onto wooden fences. Two young girls hurl rocks onto the water's semi-frozen surface, attempting to smash their way through to the water below.

Since my last visit, Golden Cabinet has blossomed. They've had a succession of excellent bookings including Perc and Karen Gwyer, and Samuel Kerridge, Vessel and Powell are in the diary for later in the year. They've even acquired an in-house laser, and as I arrive, their new sound engineer Vernon stalks around neatly coiled cables on the floor, setting up a monstrous looking new PA. Tonight's lineup sees Gnod's Marlene Ribeiro play as Negra Blanca, alongside M.E.S.H and a headlining Objekt. A large communal bowl of chilli is wheeled out for those loitering around during setup. The place is in hectic but high spirits.

Golden Cabinet began in 2013, after the Kirkgate's manager Paul Bennett approached Nick about putting on live music nights there. "Part of it was that he had a free weekend didn't he?" Richard says when I sit down with the four promoters in a back room, Objekt's soundcheck pounding through the walls. "There's a lot of things on here monthly, there's a film club, a record club, and a few other things like that and they had a spare first Saturday of the month that needed filling to bring in some money for the centre. At the beginning I don't think there really was a plan. We didn't think we would do this and then at some point we would get Demdike Stare or Objekt to play, or Perc; it was more, we were going to put on bands we liked and see how far it went."

"Historically, we all have experience of putting on bands, but we weren't sure whether taking ourselves out of that context and putting ourselves into this one would actually work in the same way," adds Nick. "Wherever we set up before, there was everything we needed, it was catered for and we could just drop in, drop out sort of thing, whereas with the Kirkgate Centre it wasn't set up for the type of thing we did. It was a challenge really."

The sound from the main hall grows louder. "Those windows are going to fall out one day," says Nick. "Over time the putty just gets loosened and they're going to jump down. One of the things people said about this place was that it wouldn't work, you wouldn't be able to put music on because of the acoustics, and, well, that's fucking bullshit."

I think back to the last time I was here, witnessing the windows in the town hall tremble under the sonic pressure. The recent problems experienced by the Islington Mill in terms of noise complaints and a consequent temporary closure come to mind. I ask if there's been any trouble here.

"Not yet," says Nick. "I mean there are next-door neighbours and Paul is to his credit, he is OK with us, but he is at times concerned with windows falling out and neighbours complaining. I actually live on a street parallel and I have been at home sometimes while people are soundchecking and you can hear it from my house."

Photo by Matt Colquhoun

"Paul is kind of unbelievable." Richard continues. "He's changed the Kirkgate Centre from being something that you'd walk past and not really know what it was, to being something that's really the centre of the community. I was down here this morning with [Nick's] son and my daughter doing woodchips and sort of running around the small hall, and there was belly dancing going on in the main hall, and I'm sat there going, 'oh fucking hell, in 12 hours there's going to be a load of nutters in here dancing around.'"

As its reputation grows, artists have started getting in touch with Golden Cabinet to ask if they can play. "If they can look at what we've done, they can see who has played and they know that we must be doing something right," says Richard. "I think in the past they'd look on a map and go, 'Shipley? No that's not happening.'" Bookings also often come as a result of the positive word of mouth of the artists themselves. "I remember coming in this room and Andy Stott was talking to Rainer Vail," Richard recalls. "You know when you walk in on a conversation and everything goes quiet? Then Rainer Vail said, 'Andy Stott said Vatican Shadow says this is the best venue he's ever played,' and they both laughed". William Bennett, he adds, was too full of praise for the night: "Jamie who's doing the projections, he's involved in the Fat Out Fest at Islington Mill. Cut Hands played that last May, and I was at home doing story time with my daughter and I just got this text saying, 'I'm stood next to William Bennett and he says the best place he's ever played in the world is Shipley'."

I suggest that the novelty of Golden Cabinet lies within the very walls of the Kirkgate Centre itself, that for artists who are playing the same venues in the same cities, week in week out, performing in a very different context is an enjoyable contrast to the familiar monotony the live circuit. Mark nods. "That's what Demdike Stare said. They called it 'exotic'."

"It's a fun creative process, trying to make it something that's special," says Richard. "There's also a creative process in trying to get people to come on the train to Shipley. I know from experience how difficult it is to get people to move from Leeds to even Bradford to a gig, never mind a town like this. One of the things we try and do is remember people's names when they come in, because some of them are regulars. It's like the Cheers thing, I like that everybody knows your name when you go into a bar. That's what I want Golden Cabinet to be like."

**

Later that night the Golden Cabinet crowd files in once again. There are different and younger faces this time, but Richard still knows all the names. The gender ratio initially seems a little overbearingly male, but a push through the crowd reveals a large group of women down at the front, glasses of wine in hand, dancing around handbags piled in a heap on the floor. By the time Objekt drops the final track of the night – a 2014 remix of Pink & Black's 'Sometimes I Wish' – rapturous grins are plastered across every face in the hall.

Months later, over email, Richard modestly agitates against the notion of Golden Cabinet being important to contemporary music culture, that it's simply "fun to do and nice to be able to walk down the road to see Andy Stott." It's easy to see where he's coming from, but difficult to agree wholeheartedly. Whether intentionally or not, Golden Cabinet positions itself as an important platform for peripheral functions, a cultural prism in which the local community can access forward-thinking music that they would otherwise be hopelessly chasing via the internet, something I myself spent years doing as a teenager living in the suburbs of a neglected Northern city. It's prevailing proof that there is a demand for underground music within these rural fringes of society, beyond salient metropolises where cultural venues are being closed and repurposed and the streets tremble with the rumble of gentrification. Music venues don't (and indeed shouldn't) have to be architectural outliers, hidden away under rail arches or on out of town industrial estates; they can be at the nucleus of the community, coexisting with other local happenings alike.

Vessel plays Golden Cabinet on June 6 and tickets are available here. To keep up with future events visit their website.

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