The Eastside Association
The origins of the Northern Quarter, city centre living and the Night and Day noise war. Photos by Chris Bethell.
Everyone loves a villain and for many residents of Manchester during 2014 an unnamed neighbour of small music venue Night and Day became that guy. In October last year the anonymous neighbour and his partner complained about the noise coming from the live music venue and since then the situation has spiralled almost farcically out of all control with accusations of blackmail, death threats and the venue having been served a noise abatement order with a potential outcome of heavy fines or even a prison sentence.
It’s certainly unfair to make a monster of the Oldham Street resident but let’s understand the crux of the situation - it’s akin to him pitching his tent in the elephant enclosure then filing a complaint that there’s too many elephants stinking up his garden. He moved into an area and scene that only exists today because of its bars.
In 1992 Manchester City Council sought to revive the area that had been shrivelling up and decaying in the shadow cast by the newly opened Arndale Centre for well over a decade. It’s the same old story of course; a newly deprived area with now lower than average rent begins to attract artists and some time later the city reinvests and the process of mass repopulation begins.
However, it wasn’t quite as autonomous as that for the Northern Quarter’s artists - it was, in part, engineered.
The Eastside Association was a board of local artists set up at behest of the council - their mission was to draft a report of suitable locations for public art around the northeasterly part of the city in order to create a buzz about the creativity and DIY nature of the existing businesses such as the cultish Afflecks Palace.
What had really given the project legs was the audacious decision of Tony Wilson to open a bar on Oldham Street three years earlier. That move had given hope (to those who held the purse strings) that there was potential for real investment in the east side of the city.
Liam Curtin, the founding member of the association and Manchester City Council’s Artist in Residence, saw his chance to address the depravity of a geographically-prime city-centre location in exchange for his artistic brush stroke. The poems in the pavement, the blue and white ceramic street signs, the giant glowing tower on top of the NCP car park, were all commissioned or made by Curtin.
Back to present day and the Eastside Association is now the Northern Quarter and a stalwart business of the scene is fighting the very council who encouraged them to the area.
The complainants who live above Night and Day feel they have been poorly represented in the media so far. Not wanting to be interviewed for fear of further misrepresentation the neighbours instead sent us a statement. “Since the notice was issued the Night and Day have put out false statements trying to vilify us and portray themselves as being the victims. This is the not the case.”
Speaking of their frustration about the situation the neighbours stated that they didn’t move to an area above a bar and expect there to be a vacuum-like silence come bedtime, they told us how they are simply asking for the volume to return to the level it was before October last year. “It could be a simple case of just adjusting the bass. It could be a case of simply moving speakers.”
Although the noise is the problem here the neighbours are angry with way it has been handled, saying of Night and Day “their general attitude was that they had been there longer…”.
And indeed they have. Twenty Three years longer.
Gareth Butterworth has worked for Night and Day since December 2013 and has had a rather tumultuous start.
What does the Northern Quarter mean to you? Is the location vital to the fabric of Night and Day and is there still a community there?
GB: It’s definitely a community but its always changing, like in the way trends develop. Night and Day was one of the first businesses to attract people to the area - this part of Manchester was quite a rough part of town and its now one of the trendiest areas in the country and now has an international reputation.
The neighbours have spoken to me about dishonesty on your part - missing Facebook comments, previous complaints from other neighbours, and not investigating soundproofing when you said you would - can you comment on that?
We haven't been dishonest with anything.
Our social platforms are for us to promote our business and anything negative on there is erased as it would by any business. If anyone wants to say negative things about us then they can use their own social platforms. If someone was to walk in a bar or shop and start slating it or passing a negative vibe then surely the manager would ask that person to leave? This is pretty much the same thing.
There are currently soundproofing works going on upstairs. Plus Night and Day spent tens of thousands soundproofing the front of the building a few years ago.
As for the other complaints. We have never had one from that particular building where it is coming from now. The complaint in 2004 from a different building was dropped and there was never a notice applied from it.
How does the court case change the future of the venue, if at all?
The court case will cost us huge amounts of money plus an enormous amount of stress and time. We feel its all a little unfair as nothing has changed on the way we have ran our business in the last 23 years.
Do you think the NQ is becoming a victim of it's own success?
I would say no. We have one complaint that has caused this. IMO people move here for the location and city centre convenience and seem very happy to live in the thriving area.
Does this feel like the end of an era is some ways?
Absolutely not. We are going to court to hopefully have this notice removed so we can carry on doing what we've done in the last 23 years. We love music, Manchester and the NQ. The whole court case and noise abatement notice is a massive, stressful inconvenience but providing a platform for local and international artists hugely outweighs it.
As for the question that arises from the current spat with Night and Day of whether the Northern Quarter is becoming gentrified - well, yes, but wasn’t that the plan all along?
One of the other artists involved in creating the face of the area is mural artist Mark Kennedy, his views on the area and its evolution are brief and loaded with so-fucking-whats.
On the Northern Quarter “I don’t know what it is. It doesn’t exist. Afflecks was the egg, that’s what created this area and the goose that laid the fucking egg was basically trampled over, and that’s what happens. People who create things are usually the ones who are kicked out first and they’re replaced by bangers you know, money. Bangers and mash."
On its future ”It will move on and rightly so...it’ll all be successful and nice, and people changing nappies on the fucking bar and bringing out the fucking vegetables.”
The residents above Night and Day handed in their notice to vacate the flat in August this year. Perhaps they took the advice of Tony Wilson from this short film on city centre living and moved to the suburbs. Made in 2000 Wilson's video addresses the issues that both Night and Day and, more recently, Islington Mill are facing.
"You can not want to live in the city and yet also want to destroy the life of the city."
Photography by Chris Bethell.