Full disclosure. I worked for Manchester International Festival for two years in the run-up, delivery and evaluation of MIF13. That was the one with Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth in a disused church, The xx in residence for 60 people a night in a secret underground location that transformed itself part-way through, Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis with special guest Elizabeth Frazer, and also the one which saw the re-use of neglected spaces like Albert Hall, Mayfield Depot, and what is now Hallé St Peter’s.
It was an extraordinary time, and the most stressful, exciting and best two years of my professional life. Consequently, it’s hard to peruse the pages of this generous book, Everything That Happened: Manchester International Festival, without a host of memories flooding in. Also, as a fan of MIF before and since my work there, the book serves as a reminder of the breadth of amazing experiences and artists the festival has brought to the city, to the people of the city, since its first trailblazer event back in 2005.
Set out chronologically, the book traces highlights from each festival, plus those trailblazers and pre-Factory events that have stood outside the biennial three-week period. Alongside images from these events, people have written their accounts of particular pieces of work. Sometimes these are specific, sometimes they are broader in their approach, and they range from audience members, participants, volunteers, artists and performers, MIF staff and some very important people indeed.
MIF presents itself as ’18 Extraordinary Days’ and, as you go through the book, the accumulation of talent attracted to Manchester by MIF is, indeed, extraordinary. Bjork, Marina Abramovic, Willem Dafoe, Abida Parveen, Kraftwerk, Punch Drunk, Cillian Murphy, Stormzy, Akram Khan, Victoria Wood, New Order, Yayoi Kusama…the list goes on and on.
Despite some unfortunate omissions (the previously mentioned stunning xx performances, Rufus Wainwright’s opera Prima Donna and the quite bonkers Skryker at the Royal Exchange), you get a strong sense of the volume of world-class artists who have brought, and continue to bring, new work to the North, and much of the writing tells of perceptions, experiences, lives and, crucially, a city transformed because of this.
There are written accounts from people like MIF’s artistic directors Alex Poots and John McGrath, Maxine Peake, Idris Elba and Christine Cort, MIF’s former managing director, plus a lovely introduction from Lemn Sissay. Yet it is the Peter Saville entry for the 2009 Kraftwerk event at the Manchester Velodrome, which featured the gold-medal winning British Olympic cycling team for the song Tour de France, which sums up why MIF matters so much.
Here he connects history, industry, art, culture, commerce and community and weaves them together through an MIF-focused lens. Without Kraftwerk, there’s no Joy Division, without whom there’s no Factory records, and without…and so on until you get MIF and all that this now venue-based organisation has brought to the arts and to the communities of Manchester and the world.
This beautifully presented book celebrates all of that, brilliantly.
Main image: Janelle Monáe at MIF19, credit Priti Shikotra.