The most respected and best kept secret in MIF history has to be The XX in Residence 2013. Everyone I’d spoken to who had been would say nothing about what I was going to experience, the key to it’s success it seemed was in the mystery itself.
The meeting point was Victoria Station and with rumors of tunnels and underground abandoned arches myself and a small merry band of others walked through a “staff only” door and told in no uncertain terms to turn off our mobile phones, not silent. OFF. Then we proceeded down into the very bowels of the station. Sure enough there was a tunnel and indeed some arches. The entrance to tunnel two stirred interest as on the floor was a worn stencil that simply stated “XX” – it was like it had been there for aslong as the foundations themselves.
A left turn at the end revealed daylight and a familiar arch, all be it from a side I wasn’t used to being on (I lived around Victoria Station for 7 years so got a good idea on the geography around it) it then became clear that the first part of this best kept secret was the location, the very foundations of the new Cheetham School of Music Building was to be to destination.
A covered tunnel funnels us to a material doorway and upon pulling back the curtain there in the centre of a small room stood Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim & Jamie Smith. The central floor is sunken by a foot or so and is a complete light box with an ambient glow, the room is smokey and the light gives a desaturated haze to whole thing. There are less than 60 of us and we gather around the band, there’s plenty of room, no crowd, no interruptions.
And so they begin. Jamie and Romy perform what I can only accurately describe as a musical ballet with Oliver almost anchoring them in reality. The sound comes from above, the room is 360 degrees white fabric including the ceiling, projections begin to appear, light dances around the walls, fills the room the floor reacts to the music, ambiance turns to madness and light turns to dark, then the ceiling starts to rise. We’re not in a small room.
The songs flow one into the next with little pause, there is no applause at the end of each song, it some how doesn’t seem right to, like it doesn’t need it, we all know how good it is. The atmosphere is more a kin to that of the theatre than that of a concert, no-one sings along, no-one tries to sneak a picture it just wouldn’t be respectful, they’re not on a stage out of reach where a barrier creates a disconnection, these are musicians performing at their best so close you can hear them think, if anything we’re all on stage.
‘Shelter’ begins and the “room” falls apart, literally. The walls drop with loud disruption, the ceiling rises even more and Dorothy I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, the space is enormous. Some 50ft high and 30ft wide and there we are in the centre of this space so close to a band I had to step back as Jamie nearly caught me with his bass, light again dances around this now very different room and we’re so close to Romy that we can hear the twang of the guitar strings before the amp even has time to do it’s thing.
Then the ceiling falls on us, literally. The fabric hangs millimeters above my head, the band say thank you. And we leave. Did that just happen?