The Don’t Drop The Dumbells crew (pic r) don’t go in for manifestos. But if they did, something approximating ‘making music, not money since 2010’ would be as good an intro to the chaps’ philosophy – and the reason why this warren of rooms off Hardman Street has been responsible for some of the city’s most exciting, and eclectic musical evenings over the past two seasons.
Rising from the quadrangle of crumbling buildings that once housed the Picket, the Dumbells HQ actually occupies the former site of a deaf school, and gym (hence the name) that’s turned inwards, away from the city’s gaze, and overlooked by all but those who’ve determinately sought it out. It’s a location that fits their DNA like a hand in a double helix glove.
Outside, at street level, there’s talk of a Cafe Nero, and a(nother)Tesco to trap the city-bound as they trudge down from the University to Bold Street. But the Dumbells remain undaunted. Their art and music space, practice rooms and bunker
isn’t about to be bulldozed by big business anytime yet. sadly is about to be bulldozed by big business (see DDTD response below).
Jake, Steve and Joel met up concocting something wonderful, and fleeting, at the equally crumbly Park Palace – a boarded up music hall hidden in the badlands of the Dingle. A couple of encounters later, and they’d met the landlord of their current HQ, and sold him on the idea of exchanging a peppercorn rent in return for breathing life, and purpose, into this venerable corner of city’s musical heritage.
“It’s an experiment,” says Jake. “We wanted to create an environment that’s not hostile to creativity, one that doesn’t make money a consideration for getting involved.”
“There’s not enough people who don’t care about money,” he adds. “It just doesn’t happen in the UK, but in Europe, places like Dumbells thrive in the city’s abandoned spaces, and the authorities either turn a blind eye, or have a hands off position that allows them to grow and thrive.”
Things, so far, are thriving nicely here, too. Half hidden behind the cast iron gates, the DDTD DIY aesthetic is proof that you don’t need bouncers, nor PR, nor early bird wristbands to create a genuinely exciting musical movement in the city. All you need is an old gymnasium (tick), a seriously skilled sound engineer (tick) and some of Europe’s most innovative and incendiary live acts (double tick), and you got yourself a scene. Sort of. Just don’t tell everyone.
“We only put posters up in here,” laughs Jake, “then our crowd is self selecting. We never get any trouble. If scallies ever do wander in, they don’t last long…”
“There’s been a real lack of imagination in the city, especially in the new venues and music spaces opening up,” Steve says. “We just thought ‘if you’re a new band, with no money, no address, how do you get to perform? If you don’t give a platform to the city’s genuinely creative souls, you’ll lose them. And then we’ll all be poorer.”
To that end, DDTD has seen memorable nights from local and international heroes such as Ergo Phizmiz, Zombina and the Skeletones, Ex-Easter Island Head, a.P.A.t.T and Carlton Melton: bands big, small, young and old, drawn to the climbing frames and parquet flooring up Hardman Street with no promise of a rider, no merch stand, no 7 out of 10 reviews in The Echo. Just a crowd, an atmosphere, and a feeling that everyone’s in it together.
“Why aren’t other people doing this?” ponders Jake, beneath a hanging mobile of molars and incisors (remnants of a toothy art installation) “Liverpool’s got us and the Kaza, but there needs to be more spaces where you can genuinely have a meeting of minds, and where amazing things can happen. Where there’s an opportunity to come up with something new…”
As we talk, somewhere in the building’s labyrinthine passages, other members of the crew are digitally splicing together the latest video diary: since its inception DDTD has produced discrete documents of its art shows, discussions, film shows, parties and pandemonium – for no other reason than to say – hey, this happened. Hosted by Paul Tarpy, the videos add weight to the belief that what’s happening here isn’t a random collection of gigs, of 20 and 30 somethings getting wasted on cider and pogoing to art rock (although, to be fair, that’s pretty much as good a reason to call as any), but a counter-culture documentary, filmed in real time, with real people.
“People remember the early eighties’ political scene,” Jake says, “we’re just trying to keep that spirit alive. There’s so many distractions, these days, but we believe that when everyone pools what they’ve got together, something great can happen. The beauty is in finding it.”
And this is one experiment the DDTD crew are determined isn’t going to be as easily snuffed out by the wrecking ball, the tyranny of town planning or – yes, even – the advance of Tesco.
“We’re making a DIY film about the use of empty spaces and how music and art grow in these otherwise unused buildings,” Jake says. “The act of watching these is an official invite to get involved in our future events. It’ll also act as a permanent reminder of what actually took place.”
Good to know that this revolution, at least, will be televised. Still, if you’re lucky enough to catch any of the few remaining parties, you’ll know that there’s no substitute for being there.