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Simon Buckley Smedley Road, 9.04pm (2020)
Simon Buckley Smedley Road, 9.04pm (2020)

Manchester Collective’s Adam Szabo is creating art to shock us out of our pandemic rut

Home » To do & see » Manchester Collective’s Adam Szabo is creating art to shock us out of our pandemic rut

As live entertainment re-emerges from the pandemic, Manchester Collective’s latest project, Dark Days, Luminous Nights reimagines the live experience with an immersive, audio-visual installation that captures a city in transition.

The ambitious collaboration features work captured and recorded in Manchester and Salford during the pandemic from artists Simon Buckley and Blackhaine, alongside a score by Edmund Finnis, Béla Bartók, and Wojciech Kilar.

Carmel Thomason talks to Manchester Collective’s co-founder, Adam Szabo to find out more:

Manchester Collective co-founders Rakhi Singh and Adam Szabo. Photo by Robin Clewley
Manchester Collective co-founders Rakhi Singh and Adam Szabo. Photo by Robin Clewley

Where did the idea of Dark Days, Luminous Nights come from?

Adam: “Very early on in the pandemic, it became clear that it wasn’t going to be possible for us to continue making work in the ways that we had become accustomed. We’re a touring organisation, but touring was off the menu. The idea for Dark Days, Luminous Nights was born out of a question: if you wanted to create an intense, artistic, musical experience for audiences that didn’t involve any live musicians, what could that look like?”

How did you choose the two artists to work on this project?

Adam: “From the beginning, we were quite attracted to the idea of creating a piece that was rooted in a sense of place. None of us could travel, so it made a lot of sense to look inwards, to our homes and to our home cities. Simon Buckley has a very special connection to Manchester and Salford, and it was a real treat to see these twin cities through his eyes. Blackhaine on the other hand is just a phenomenon. We came across his brilliant music video for ‘Down By The Tree’, a Pearl City track, and were hooked. We knew about 20 seconds in that we had to have him working on Dark Days”.

What is it about?

Adam: “It’s a pretty open work, I think people bring a lot of themselves to it. For me, it’s about the ways that cities change, and about the fact that in the end, nature always wins. In almost every frame and every photograph, there is a sense of nature waiting in the wings, slowly taking back control of this urban nightmare”.

Has it changed your view of the city?

Adam: “Absolutely. I didn’t know Collyhurst at all before we shot the film – now it’s a place where I love spending time. We’ve all gotten to know the river Irk rather well”.

Who is the project aimed at?

Adam: “I think anyone can come to Dark Days and have an experience that is valuable and moving, but in particular, we had the citizens of Salford and Manchester in mind when we created the piece. The landscape of the film and photographs is not one that you get to see on screen very often, and there’s something very special about seeing your home on screen through a filmmaker or photographer’s lens”.

Simon Buckley, The White Hotel, 6.51am
Simon Buckley, The White Hotel, 6.51am

What can audiences expect from the experience? It is a new eclectic mix of art forms. How would you like the audience to approach it?

Adam: “Come with an open mind. It’s an hour long – film, music, photographs. I guess we’re hoping to create a strong feeling in the hearts and minds of our audiences, but we’re never prescriptive about what that feeling should be. I’m sure some people will have a strong reaction against the work, and that’s fine. All we ask is that you come and listen”.

What inspired you to be so ambitious during a pandemic?

Adam: “Last summer we had the option to close up shop, mothball, and wait it out till it all blew over. That option just seemed impossible for us. I think we all felt that if we stopped creating, then we would stop being artists. We wanted to keep working, and of course we had a responsibility to our players to create work for them if we could. Tying this whole piece together is a one-hour sound installation, recorded, mixed, mastered during the pandemic by our string orchestra. For many of those players, the piece we created together was their first bit of creative work for months. Stopping was never really an option for us”.

Simon Buckley Irk Valley, 4.32pm (2020)
Simon Buckley Irk Valley, 4.32pm (2020)

How has the pandemic impacted the work of Manchester Collective?

Adam: “In many ways it’s been pretty diabolical. We had a wonderful season of live work planned – European festivals, UK tours, all cancelled. But it’s not all been bad. Sometimes it can be liberating to have your hand forced when it comes to creating work in a different way. In the last 18 months we’ve really pushed our work in the studio. We made Dark Days, Luminous Nights, we commissioned a huge amount of totally new music. This year has been very extending for us as well, and now that we’re starting to come out of the darker times, there are exciting opportunities ahead”.

How will this project influence the future direction of Manchester Collective?

Adam: “We would never have come up with this project had the pandemic not happened. Creating this kind of cross-arts collaboration wasn’t something that we had ever done before. It was very difficult – every aspect of this project was something that we were doing for the first time! From shooting at night, to pre- and post-production on a short film, to learning about rigging and art exhibitions, to ticketing a 10 day run in hourly slots – it’s been a steep learning curve. But, now that we’ve done it, I can’t wait to see what the next project will be”.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about the event?

Adam: “I hope that people like it. But more than that, I hope when they see it, they feel something. In many ways, this year has been paralysing – the monotony, the uncertainty. Great art can shock you out of that kind of rut. I hope people come and that they feel something again”.


Dark Days, Luminous Nights is at The White Hotel, Salford from 3-10 June 2021. Visit manchestercollective.co.uk for details.

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Carmel Thomason
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