We were interested to read this review in Art Forum, the international art magazine out of New York. Ostensibly, it’s a review of this year’s (rather excellent) Manchester International Festival. But it saves a withering paragraph for Manchester’s neighbour. Er, that’s us…

“…UNLIKE ITS NORTHERN NEIGHBOR LIVERPOOL, Manchester has long eschewed the biennial in favor of a cross-disciplinary, celebrity-laced International Festival. Its first edition premiered “Il Tempo del Postino” (Philippe Parreno and Hans Ulrich Obrist’s not altogether felicitous attempt to stage performance art in a traditional theater) and hosted an experimental opera by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, creators of the band Gorillaz. The second edition, in 2009, saw Marina Abramović giving lessons in watching durational art, another opera (by Rufus Wainwright), and commissions from Kraftwerk, Steve Reich, and the immersive theater company Punchdrunk. In contrast to this energetic flirtation among art, theater, and pop music, the Liverpool Biennial seems crippled by Arts Council funding agendas and routinely weak commissions. Manchester is definitively A-list, Liverpool at best a C…”

It’s a bitter pill. But it’s hard to put up a spirited argument against it. Isn’t it?  Let’s face it, Manchester only dreamt the festival up just a few years ago: this is only its third edition. That its punched its way so convincingly, and so excitingly, into the cultural calendar in the time that we’ve spent addressing our navel since the Capital of Culture is really a textbook lesson in how to get ahead.

 

  • http://Www.liverpoolculturalchampions.wordpress.com Argybargy

    What is the Manchester International Festival?! I only know it is something incessantly plugged by the Manchester based mass media. Seven Streets should stop sucking up to Manchester and report on the Liverpool arts scene….Manc envy I call it!

  • Graham

    Sorry I forgot Damon All-Bran was still relevant.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin

    Plugged by the Manchester-based media… and the New York-based media.

    As for the last comment, this is website that has a thousand articles on it about good stuff in Liverpool. If you think that’s sucking up to Manchester the local Liverpool-cheerleading dailies might be a better bet for you.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    I think you can pick holes in the programming, for sure, but the fact remains – the MIF has quickly established itself as a major cultural event, which focuses attention on the city for three weeks and embraces everything from Victoria Wood to Lou Reed. That can’t be a bad thing. Can it? I’d choose that over The British Pink Floyd Show, if I’m honest.

  • Mike

    MIF does get a lot of support from the likes of the guardian. It justifies this support effortlessly however, and this years offering compares much more than favourably with last years Liverpool biennial (which was particularly poor IMO).

    Liverpool does a lot of things well and though this article is something of a cul-de-sac, I can’t argue with the point it makes.

  • Lucie

    MIF is a brilliant, unique event in UK’s cultural calendar, and a uniquely wealthy one too – precisely is why it gets so much attention and interest.

    I love the MIF programming, and am thrilled that it’s only 40 mins down the road.

    But as for comparing the Biennial with MIF – it’s simply not comparing like for like… One is an entirely FREE visual arts festival (with the budgets that comes with such a remit) and the other is a multi-million pound operation with ticket prices to match.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    Yes, agreed Lucie – I’m just saying it’s a shame we can’t have had the vision to create something like that. It’s not a case of either or. I think the Biennial has earned its place on our calendar. But I still think its reach is quite narrow, within the city and without. It only addresses a small slither of the cultural pie, and we should have a more balanced diet? Maybe?

  • Graham

    I don’t really see what is so great about this year’s Manchester Festival. Snoop Dogg? Damon Albarn (again), Marina Abramovic (again)? It seems to be much more money orientated, which stinks really.

    As for the independent side of things, Manchester could learn a lot from the Liverpool Independents programme. Anyway that aside, surely by now we don’t need to continually compare the two places, they are both very different with seemingly very different agendas and ideas.

  • JT

    This article has a point, MIF is original, coherant and eye catching. It lacks the breadth and depth of the Biennial, and the indepenedent fringe, but in terms of pushing artistic boundaries and getting people to visit the city, it pisses all over the Biennial, which is too incoherant, too spread out and too often stuff people have seen before. Once again, we come up with a good idea, massive bi-annual arts feast in the north, and then the Mancs do it better. The Biennial needs someone with vision to take it forward and make it different to all the million other Biennial’s in the world. I hear the next Biennial’s theme is ‘hospitality’, which doesn’t give me much faith.

    However it must also be said the London media much prefer Manchester and visiting there. Because Manchester is like a little northern version of London. Different but not different enough to scare them. London liberal media types will never get Liverpool. We don’t fit into the box of what they imagine poor, down-trodden-but-salt-of-the-earth northen folks should be like. And people like that don’t like to be told something different to what they think. So they will always ridicule and patronise us to protect there own ideologies.

  • Percy Street

    Another display of ignorance from the woeful 7Streets that continually demonstrates its ignorance about culture and what’s on offer in Liverpool.

    Liverpool Biennial and MIF are not interchangeable – they are aiming at different audiences. Liverpool Biennial isn’t commissioning faded rock stars to write operas that won’t be performed again, it attracts a much larger audience that is interested in visual art in all its manifestations.

    The quote ‘unlike its northern neighbour, Liverpool’ isn’t offered as a put down but an observation. It’s 7Streets once again that indulges in a put down of the Liverpool. You can’t help but wonder what the agenda is here – unless it’s just a case of ignorance not knowing any better.

    Still 7Streets is always good a laugh.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin

    “The quote… is not offered as a put-down but an observation”.

    What exactly do you make of this bit?

    “In contrast to this energetic flirtation among art, theater, and pop music, the Liverpool Biennial seems crippled by Arts Council funding agendas and routinely weak commissions. Manchester is definitively A-list, Liverpool at best a C…”

  • Percy Street

    My bad – scrub the penultimate paragraph! It’s a pity posts don’t have an edit function.

    It isn’t hard to put up a defence against Claire Bishop’s blast at Liverpool or speculate about what her agenda is and why she chooses to head up a gush article about MIF with an attack on Liverpool Biennial that is all assertion and no evidence.

    Artistically how does one develop an argument in support of an ‘opera’ by Damon Albarn meriting an ‘A’ and what makes ‘Liverpool’ a ‘C’? Without knowing what criteria are being used it’s hard to marshal an argument in either direction.

    However, this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to roll over and agree – 7Streets style.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin

    How is it ‘7streets’ style’ to roll over and agree?

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    Don’t know what you saw, if anything of the MIF, Percy Street, but Marina Abramović’s piece at the Lowry was the most astonishing slice of theatre I think I’ve ever seen. Get over Damon Albarn, really. I have. I think it’s always best to critique something that you’ve had actual first hand experience of.

  • Percy Street

    “It’s a bitter pill. But it’s hard to put up a spirited argument against it. Isn’t it? Let’s face it, Manchester only dreamt the festival up just a few years ago: this is only its third edition. That its punched its way so convincingly, and so excitingly, into the cultural calendar in the time that we’ve spent addressing our navel since the Capital of Culture is really a textbook lesson in how to get ahead.”

    What you might have done was to interrogate her claim (as I have done). I can’t help but wonder why she mentioned Liverpool at all. Maybe she had a bad experience of the city or its inhabitants when she was based at Warwick – who knows? If she had provided details rather than lazy generalisations then that at least would have been something tangible to engage with.

    I enjoy some aspects of MIF but I would take it a bit more seriously if it were less reliant on faded rock/pop stars to bring in the punters. There’s a lot of experimental music out there and composers would kill for a commission but this wouldn’t put bums on seats which is what MIF is all about rather than taking creative risks – unless your definition if taking a creative risk is getting Damon Albarn to write another opera, or getting Lou Reed to sing songs from an album he recorded 30 years ago.

    Liverpool Biennial is attempting something different. Claire Bishop knows this but chooses not to consider the differences between the events.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    I’ll give you that – there was no need for the comparison in that piece. But my point was that we need something more than the Biennial – that it alone can not speak for the city every two years. And that the MIF (dreamt up to steal some of Edinburgh’s cultural cash) has become something, outwith of Albarn and Reed – that does stir up interest. I agree, its original premise of only producing original, new pieces is laughably off the mark, but still, it’s a shame we haven’t something similarly broad and engaging to act as a catalyst, and attention grabbing hook into the city. We know there’s lots to see here – that’s why we set up the site. So, please, less of the ‘ignorance’ calling. We’ll get along far better if we’re civil.

  • Mark

    “continually demonstrates its ignorance about culture and what’s on offer in Liverpool”?! utterly bizarre comment.

    David is correct in that the Biennial – every two years, just isn’t enough, even though it’s fantastic. The city needs something annually that pulls in or commissions stuff that gets some real international coverage and interest in Liverpool. MIF may not have the most incredibly original stuff at first glance but it’s a good mix of ‘name’ things – that, crucially, bring tourists into the city – and interesting original pieces. The Biennial is fantastic, though, and I love it.

  • Percy Street

    @ David

    Do you mean like the current Magritte exhibition at the Tate? Or the five star ratings being won by the RLPO for its Mahler cycle?

    There are plenty of festivals throughout the year held in Liverpool from the Liverpool Arabic Festival and Film Festival to Homotopia. Just because gush pieces aren’t written about them in magazines (although the Arabic Film Festival did receive a lot of positive press) doesn’t in any way detract from their cultural value.

    To create a festival that is broad and engaging and not so lightweight that one forgets about it immediately afterwards costs a lot of money and extra money for cultural events is a hard sell at the moment.

    Talking about creating ‘culture’ on the cheap: I keep hoping that the Mathew Street Festival could spawn a really interesting fringe that transcended the inherent naffness of tribute bands – fun though they can be. Attempts are being made, I guess, but it’s not easy to find anything fresh that will give the event real edge. It’s an event that attracts more people than the MIF but it won’t be mentioned in the national press even though for all its ‘cheese’ it’s still an interesting cultural phenomenon that attracts bands from all over the world. Perhaps whoever paid for Claire to return home to attend the MIF could toss her a few dollars to write an article about how MIF stalwarts, Elbow, are ‘A’ list and the Matthew Street Festival is a ‘C’?! I’m sure she will be up for it.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    We’re not all that ignorant – check this out, re what Mathew Street Fringe is premiering this year:

    http://www.sevenstreets.com/music-and-listening/radar-new-path-festival/

  • Matt

    Mathew St actually has real potential in terms of its name and ‘brand recognition’, and I’ve talked to a few people about this recently. There’s real scope, because of the time it falls, for the Fringe section of it to be a post-Edinburgh knees up: the week after the tribute bands have packed away, why don’t a selection of the shows at Edinburgh come on down for a performance or two, since many of their runs will have finished by then? The press wouldn’t salivate over it like MIF, but it’d be a step forward in the right direction.

  • Ellis

    I think Matthew Street is now just synonymous with wasted idiots roaming the streets and terrible cover bands. I did a fringe event at the Bluecoat last year which was lovely (walking literally a metre out of the back door entrance literally the first thing I saw was a teenager, probably around 15, puking at least 8 litres of cheap lager onto the pavement). It needs a complete reshuffle and major investment to become anything even vaguely decent. If I wasn’t running that event i’d definitely have been indoors with earplugs in. The new path thing from the minion TV guys looks great but it’ll be a tiny bastion of great in the midst of a shower of cover bands and neo-baboonery.

  • Percy Street

    I though Mathew Street was synonymous with people having a good time. It’s easy to sneer at cover bands just as it’s easy to sneer at lower middle class moralising and pretentiousness. For every ‘puker’ there are a thousand people who are cheerfully enjoying what the event has to offer.

    Baboons are social animals and mostly vegetarian so I’m reading your remarks about ‘neo-baboonery’ as a compliment. As for ‘cover bands’ – at least it’s done openly and isn’t, like the majority of contemporary music, essentially a remix of what has gone before but hyped up as the latest ‘sound’.

  • Ellis

    You obviously keep a keen eye on the media, Percy. Contemporary music is in many places incredibly original, you just have to ignore that hype business, you’d get on well with my mate Adorno.

    You also surely notice the hypocrisy in your criticism of the incredibly popular Elbow, Damon Alburn and Lou Reed, no? For every lower middle class pretentious moralist there’s a thousand people who just bloody love Blur.

    You criticize trotting out aging rockstars but endorse like-for-like cover acts? At least the new works are to some extent progressive. I’m happy for people to have a good time, it’s great, but Matthew Street is not in any kind of similar league to the Biennial or MIF, it’s an entirely separate entity. Just as with MIF and it’s successful operas and prestige gigs why would Matthew Street risk what would otherwise be a profitable weekend by commissioning experimental work? Surely you can recognize that. With my gallons of pretentiousness what I was picking up was the fact that Matthew Street is entirely irrelevant to this debate, it’s not going to change, it caters for an audience but it’s not relevant in this thread.

    I entirely agree that the Biennial is seen as in the shadow of MIF and it’s a shame. Here, with the Biennial I think we’re better off than those in Manchester with the Biennial producing and commissioning an array of genuinely interesting free events, I’m on Liverpool’s side here.

    Without making the Biennial charge admission there’s no way it’ll bring big acts. I’m happy with it as it is. Why is positive press so important if the event, within the city is seen as positive?

    “There’s a lot of experimental music out there and composers would kill for a commission but this wouldn’t put bums on seats which is what MIF is all about rather than taking creative risks”

    MIF is a business at the end of the day, aging rockstars mean cash. I think it’s incredibly short sighted to suggest that they should put on experimental acts who’d “kill for a commission”, it’s just not sustainable on any scale to commission an artist however fantastic they are if they’re not going to draw a crowd.

    I suppose this all boils down to sustainability, MIF, Matthew Street and Biennial are all sustainable events that all bring something into their respective cities, changing the format by any great deal will jeopardize their sustainability. By breaking the format and trying to carve a path that does not have an audience (however much artistic integrity it holds) it will fail, there’s clear evidence of that recently here in Liverpool.

    Genuinely, if you want to create culture ‘on the cheap’ why don’t you just get up and do it yourself?