Islington Mill - 2000 to now

‘Created in 2000, Islington Mill remains a work in progress; an ever-evolving creative space, arts hub and community. Scratch the surface and you’ll find a vibrant and resourceful cross disciplinary creative network; a space where conversations lead to connections, collaboration and co-creation.

Public arts programmes, residencies and galleries sit alongside rehearsal space. Music and visual arts mix with events and exhibitions. More than 50 businesses and 100 artists call the Mill home. Over the last 15 years we’ve supported more than 5000 artists from 35 countries. More than 15,000 people visit the building every year. Some stay for an evening, some make it their home for several years.’ That’s how the mill describes itself and I think that says everything you need to know about the legacy that this place has created.'

That's how they describe themselves and it truly speaks volumes.

Over the 20 years that Islington Mill has been around it has truly become home to thousands of people passing through or even that have stayed, Rachel Goodyear arrived in 2000 as an artists and is now part of the board of directors! Whether it be the simple fact that they offer a warming and constructive environment for creatives to make their best work or for the general public to get a look at what's going on. Whether you want to go to a queer cabaret show at midnight or see see your favourite band, the mill has truly offered itself up to do everything and anything the community needs.

From its inception in 1999 Bill Campbell had continued to renovate spaces and offer them up to similar minded artists and the community really started to grow. That same diverse mindset of providing the environment, community, resources, contacts and inspiration to lead fully creative lives and I think we can honestly say that he has done that.

We chatted to Greg Thorpe about it all.

“We always talk about the mill, and we do always talk about the people too. Whoever is at the mill -and there has been thousands- over the years really shape the identity of the building. The key change and still the key association with the mill was the music venue and the club! For a long time the club was a place you could see touring musicians and locals bands would put on their first show, also as a place that marginalised groups could put on club nights.

Because of the nature of the mill being in a quieter area you really needed to be in a certain head space and it had to be a certain time of night to find it, it would just manifest! It’s in a magical, liminal place right in-between the two cities, next to a bridge and near a hill, it's a good spot. The gig space really defined us at that time around 2007, it brought people into the mill who weren’t artists or had a studio space. Some people that came didn’t know that there were hundreds of artist studios above them, like me. So that was really the first wave of real recognition and of energy that ended up turning into Sounds From The Other City festival and became a really defining thing.”

Around 2009 Fat Out’s Emma Thompson really changed it all up by taking over that part of Islington Mill. They brought in a culture of real left field music and art lovers together, the people in the studios upstairs came to the venue and the music lovers learnt about the real use and purpose of the mill. This partnership went on for 8 years and established Fat Out Fest, a truly momentous fantastic representation of the capabilities of Manchester creatives.

Since the venue space on the ground floor has moved, it has now been repurposed and really given artists and makers the limelight, which is where they’ve always been.

“Our public image changed, our funding and our strategies all changed, so really it was really all in line. It won’t be like this forever, we are hoping to bring our venue back and especially to host the festivals annually also.”

Throughout the years of the mill, it has truly become a cultural and social hub with residents and even squatters making it into the limelight nationally and even internationally.

So what do we already know? We know that there have been hundreds if not thousands of artists come through the doors of Islington Mill, however some people stayed for a long time and truly call it home, others have already told their story and have moved on. But I'd like an insider's view, who made it big, who have really made work that we will relish forever, as always Greg filled us in!

“I’m a big fan of Dr. Me, they’ve just released their crowdfunded ten year book, looking back over their work. It makes me feel old to know they’ve been there for ten years, but it’s a great example of a group that are really well respected and have got a profession and practise they can earn a living from, as well as an eye for things that are experimental and playful. To me, that is a perfect outcome for the mill and what it can do for people, give them space to be safe and secure and to experiment, but then also professionalise their practise and make a living doing what they want.

In terms of things before my time, we always talk about The Ting Tings. They really personified a certain period of musical excitement, not just in Manchester, but everywhere. If you’re in Manchester and have been for a while, like I have, it’s very hard to shake aspects of Manchester’s musical heritage, shall we say. What I loved about The Ting Tings is that they made space for something that was new and from Manchester but didn’t immediately shout Manchester in everyone's mind, it was really fresh. They came out of a particular set of circumstances, they lived at the mill for a long time. They were experimenting on making a certain type of music and it really wasn’t working for them, but being part of the mill and being surrounded by other people who were experimenting. It really influenced them to think, maybe we should stop making music that we think we should be making and instead go back to basics and make the music we want to hear. That was born out of being surrounded by other people experimenting and supporting them to do that, having a cheap place to live in the mill, at some point even squatting, really allowed the sound of The Ting Tings to kick in. Those first Ting Ting gigs at Islington Mill really felt like something special, it was kind of mind blowing when you saw them on TV or playing a huge festival and you knew they got the sound! But all of that happened here at the mill, with people living on fresh air and beans. It made a big impact and they are still close to the mill now, as supporters and friends, so they are never far away.”

Some of our other favourite residents that we want to shout about are TV Babies, who were four artists integrating film and live performance in staged landscapes. We also love Caustic Coastal, who are an independent art label based in Salford and Stockholm working as a platform for emerging artists. Head to the mill website to find out so many more!

Gnod are a collective that really deserve to be shouted about. Since their inception back in 2007 they have toured the world with their alternative rock outfit. Based in Islington Mill they have set up their home and even recorded their seminal album ‘Infinity Machines’ completely in the mill. Their members have subsequently created lots of other avenues like the Gnod Farm, Golden Ratio Frequencies, Dwellings, Negra Branca, Raikes Parade, Tesla Tapes, Gesamtkunstwerk, Anonymous Bash, Open Circuit and Cuspeditions, all of which you really should look at!

We are collaborating with Paddy and Alex from Gnod on our monthly residency with Steam Radio, which will air Sunday March 14th, 5 till 7. We will be talking all about the band and the other work they continue to do in Greater Manchester with their labels and other projects.

Apart from all the amazing people housed in the mill, there are so many festivals, exhibitions and events that have gone alongside, Greg filled us in.

“I always think about putting Salford on the map creatively, individual artists can always do that through the power of their work, but the mill has been able to bring lots of people together and really stake a claim for the Salford! I think that happens best with Sounds From The Other City. The area of Salford that we take over, the mill and the little back rooms of pubs and the street become a place of performance. I just love the name ‘The Other City’. I was talking to a friend about some 19th writing that refers to two cities, referring to Manchester and Salford, but people don’t really say that anymore, it’s now just Greater Manchester. But calling it the other city really stakes a claim for Salford to be its own thing, in its own right. Part of our vision is celebrating Salford being the place that stuff gets made, it was the perfect template for us to create this. Sounds From The Other City isn’t just about music, it's about art and performance, so it’s a great thing that encapsulates what we do really well.

The pandemic of course has really change all our lives and certainly changed the way that the mill has got involved with the community without a physical presence.

We’ve had 3 Covid response projects, the first is Masks For Life.

This was a project where mill artists and designers are making, designing and donating face coverings. There was a small group of us who were responding to an immediate need and it was a good way for people to make money when their normal format wasn’t there.

We have also done a project called Memories Of Living.

Which was about capturing the daily experiences of life in lockdown. We did wonder if this was a good idea, who needs a reminder of it? However we found that the terrain of our lives was changing and things that we took for granted were already becoming historical. So we invited artists, residents and staff to make short films, essays or just a reflection of lockdown and life around them. They turned into a lovely collection that are already a year old, which is crazy. I think they will be amazing time pieces to show us what life was really like when we were apart. I personally managed that project so I was able to make lots of one on one connections, which was lovely in these times.

We have another project which is going to be released soon called Morning Lives Lost which we’ve given artists the lead on. What do we do with all this grief, everything around us becomes statistics and while we are apart how do we discuss public mourning as something together? It’s more a solemn but necessary conversation. From the beginning we resisted to be super productive and it’s more important how we are than what we do.

These are just a few of the many stories to tell over the 20 years of Islington Mill. Following up in our next few stories we will show you the newest residents, the classics, our favourites and all the great bands that played down in The Burrow.

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