There really was nowhere quite like the Kazimier.
If it had only been the best venue in which to see a band that I’ve visited in 35 years of gig going, that would surely have been accolade enough.
And if that superlative gig venue had only spawned one of Britain’s most brilliant bars – the unique, ever-evolving outdoor wonderland that is the Kazimier Garden – then that would certainly have ensured its legend.
But if it had also hosted parties that turned Liverpool club culture into a sensational theatrical cabaret, and housed an artistic collective who imagined their way into a parallel sci-fi universe and then made it come true, and if it had also catalysed a generation of creative magicians in the city…well, if it had done all that, surely it would never have closed?
Except it did all that. And it did close after one last exhilarating party on New Year’s Eve 2015. Four months later, the building was wiped from the face of the earth.
We all know the story. Dreamers and schemers turn abandoned city plots into palaces of creativity and fun only to be turfed out once they’ve done the dirty work of helping land values to rise. But however many times it happens, it never makes the experience easier to bear.
As always though, when you reach the end of something good, the trick is to see it as a new beginning. It’s Liverpool’s good fortune that this is exactly what the Kazimier team has done.
So in among the semi-abandoned warehouses and forgotten industrial streets of Liverpool’s north docks – only a 20-minute walk from the Pier Head but a world away from its gleaming regeneration – a new creative spirit is blowing.
With the old Kazimier HQ in the city centre now but a rubble-strewn memory (though the Kazimier Garden continues, praise the Lord), this is where you’ll find their ambitious new project, the Invisible Wind Factory. With its vast brick spaces and re-purposed industrial core, this huge warehouse space promises to be the canvas on which the team can daub a new creative future doing…well, what exactly?
Perhaps its first public manifestation gives us a clue.
At the end of May, the Invisible Wind Factory presented a brand new immersive spectacle called OMPHALOS: Energy Eternal. Described as a guided tour through their ‘secret research facility’, OMPHALOS invited the public to explore a visitors’ centre filled with bizarre experiments before entering a ‘conversion chamber’ in which an apparently untapped energy source was unleashed. The event’s bone-dry comedic spirit lampooned Area 51-style sci-fi eccentricity and 1950s Cold War paranoia while culminating in a pagan-rite-cum-maximalist-opera that seemed like an explosive statement of intent.
If this sounds baffling, that’s all part of the fun.
As with previous Kazimier projects such as the deeply incredible Atalonia: A Descent to Hollow Earth in 2011, it was perhaps the conceptual coherence that impressed most – the sense that in its design, construction and execution, it dovetailed seamlessly with everything the Kazimier ever was and has ever done, while still managing to be tantalisingly new. The Invisible Wind Factory may be a fresh addition to Liverpool’s cultural menu, but OMPHALOS was a delicious taster for good things to come.
Much of the pleasure inherent in Kazimier events has always been enmeshed with the venue’s undoubted mystique. Many people will know the name only as a gig venue; others will be familiar with its cryptic and curious one-off parties. But then again, the Kazimier could also be a theatre, a cabaret, a cinema, or just an inspirational energy source.
I admit that this shape-shifting cultural playground has long fascinated me, so with the brick dust still settling on the old building’s demolition site and the doors opening on the Invisible Wind Factory, I spoke to the Kazimier’s Liam Naughton to find out what the future has in store.
But first: where on earth did the Kazimier come from?
“It actually started in Oxford,” explains Naughton. “A couple of the original team – Venya Krutikov and Laurie Crombie – had done a night there called Kazimier 22 when they were on an art foundation course. It was a mix of music, exhibitions, stuff like that. That was the start of the Kazimier name. It eventually moved to an old art-deco bingo hall in Oxford and a whole bunch of people got involved.
“Then in 2007, a group of them came to Liverpool – just rocked up on bikes and discovered there were all these derelict buildings in a city with a good spirit, and because it was leading up to the European Capital of Culture, it made sense to come here. Eventually they found an empty space [an abandoned glitzy chrome-and-mirrors nightclub called The Continental] which became the Kazimier club. It was part workshop, part venue, part presentation space.
“It’s just evolved really. We’ve branched out and done different things, formalised it as a community interest company, worked on commissions and got way more professional. It’s just evolved but the name’s stayed with us.”
Most new venues try and open with a splash even if their budget can only generate a ripple, but the Kazimier seemed to appear as if from nowhere. No fireworks, no fanfare – it just suddenly seemed to be a place that people in the know, er, knew about.
I wonder if it was always the intention to stay under the media radar.
“I think it was just the nature of the Kazimier,” Naughton says. “We’re fringe people, we exist in areas that are not the mainstream. And I think there’s a spirit of the travelling circus in the Kazimier – we’re a big team, we collaborate a lot, and we pop up in different places. We used to have a ritual with the club, even after it had been running for years and was well known nationally. If you walked down during the day, it was just this white building and you’d never know there was a venue there. But five minutes before show time, we’d come out and ceremonially hang the sign up. Then we’d take it down again straight after the show finished. It was never a marketing tactic or anything like that, but we just need to keep things a mystery because that’s part of the surprise when you come in.”
As mentioned, the Kazimier site on Wolstenholme Square – and the centre of the superclub universe which was Cream, next door – is now being redeveloped. I hate to ask Naughton whether the experience has been traumatic, but I pluck up the courage and pop the question. To my surprise, he is rather more sanguine about it than I expected.
“It was always written in the stars really. There was a whole ownership saga over the building – it just felt like a really long episode of The Thick of It. The owner kept changing and it was chaos. We knew it was going to happen so we couldn’t really invest in the building, which was a real bummer because we care a lot about production values and experience. It would have been lovely to have carried on building loads of things in the club as we’d always done.
“We’d already moved our workshop out of town to the north docks in 2014 purely because we needed somewhere way bigger. But then we started falling in love with that zone and the buildings we were in – we were thinking we definitely wanted to do something up there. We weren’t thinking it was going to replace the club, it was more just the idea of doing sporadic events. And then I guess it was during the second half of last year when we knew the fate of the club and when it was going to happen, that’s when we realised our new venue should be the derelict building next door to the workshop.
“So that was when it started crystallising. We were still focused on the Kazimier and putting out a great programme there, but on January 1 we knew we had to crack on with this new space. In the end, I think history will prove that the Kazimier closing was probably a good thing for us, but obviously it’s dead sad for us. I miss it. We miss that room a lot.”
We all do Liam, we all do.
Enough blubbing though. How does a creative enigma like the Invisible Wind Factory begin to take shape? Are there firm plans for the future?
“Our shows are the heartbeat for everything we do,” says Naughton. “So it was OMPHALOS that was a catalyst for getting the venue open in this case. It was about creatively establishing who we are again. By stepping into that fictional world we could say who we are, what our future is, what we want to do. The story was a bit of a metaphor. We’re an artist-led organisation so we never really plan it all on paper, we just step into the space, follow our creative process, don’t try and answer all the questions straight away. To be honest we only got the keys two months ago so it’s all happened quite quickly.
“On the first floor we’ve made 18 artists’ studios, and by doing that we realised there’s a little corner that would make a nice café, so we’re going to do that. And by doing a show there, we’ve realised the real potential of it as a sort of canvas. It could be a mega warehouse theatre really, we could be making shows on a really serious scale. But we’re self-funded, not subsidised, so there’s a whole other thing we need to plan which is how we get the Invisible Wind Factory to be the dream playground of the future that we really want it to be.”
Naughton speaks quickly, almost breathlessly at times, clearly exhilarated at the prospect of nudging the Kazimier’s relentlessly inventive spirit in a new direction – this time in a part of the city where money-led regeneration has yet to encroach. I wonder if the Invisible Wind Factory’s presence is about to change things – and whether this time, the dangers can be swerved.
“It probably will happen,” he says, “but this time we’re here from the start. We’re a bit savvier now, a bit older, and we know a bit more. We’re willing to contribute to the story of how the area can develop.
“I think there’s a really great opportunity in that zone, particularly the ten parallel streets bookended by the Peel Holdings development area, the Titanic Hotel and the Tobacco Warehouse project. In that middle zone where we are, there’s some amazing derelict buildings and it could genuinely be a bit of an artistic village – but not just by name. It could house small makers and bespoke creatives, artistic collectives, artist-led and producer-led galleries – it could be really special and I think Liverpool has an amazing opportunity there. Who knows what it could be like in 15 years’ time?
“I think it will happen. It’s just a question of how.”
In the face of such optimism from someone at the heart of a creative organisation that achieves as well as dreams, I can’t help feeling excited about what’s to come for the north docks. Whatever happens, I’m sure this inspirational organisation will be moving, shaking, doing its inexplicable but irresistible thing. And before you know it, the people who know will be spreading the word.
There really is nowhere quite like the Invisible Wind Factory.
Invisible Wind Factory production images by Ben Morgan
Kazimier closing event on New Years Eve 2015 video: