Warp20 (Sheffield)

[Before I begin, please note, I'm no expert on Park Hill Flats and until this week I knew nothing about them, so forgive me if you know more than I do and I have got any facts wrong.  I think the following is fairly accurate though...]

Park Hill Flats, Sheffield

Park Hill Flats, Sheffield

Park Hill Flats were built in the late 1950s to re-house entire streets of people from one of Sheffield’s poorest slums into “streets in the sky”.  The scheme attracted a lot of attention, both nationally and internationally and was considered a pioneering project. However, within 15-years or so the level of poverty had not improved, and the high concentration of people meant that the level of crime and overall living conditions were if anything worse than the days when the slums were at ground level.  Many of England’s (visually, at least) similar high rise residential blocks have since been pulled down, but those in the Park Hill area were given Grade II listed status in 1998.  Since then there has been a move to renovate the flats, but at present they are in a curious state.

Now in 2009, while some of the neighbouring blocks of flats have been gutted with a view to renovation, the bulk of Park Hill estate is mostly unpopulated, and boarded up, with just one wing still being occupied by tenants.  This wing, and three unpopulated wings, form a horseshoe with a grassy embankment sloping down into the curve.  This accidental amphitheatre was chosen by Warp Records for a cinematic event as part of the label’s 20th anniversary celebrations.

Sitting there at Park Hill Flats for this evening of Warp Films I couldn’t help but feel I was experiencing something I’ve never experienced before, and may never do again.  There was a juxtaposition I couldn’t get out of my head between what I was watching and listening to, and where I was.  On the one hand this was a rather ordinary, unexceptional setting, and yet it was a bold, adventurous move by Warp to hold this cinema event there.  This idea rather sums up the Warp ethos – grounded in reality, yet forward thinking, adventurous, and very much Out Of The Box.  The quite captivating artwork produced by Dan Holdsworth for the Warp20 series of events and releases also captures this spirit.  It’s the most striking visual art I’ve seen in a long time, with a strange What Is it? and Is It Real? purple shape seemingly hanging in mid air over a very normal setting.  I was at once delighted and flabbergasted to learn, when speaking to Warp in their temporary shop this weekend (at the same site as their original shop in Sheffield) that yes indeed, these photos are all real, and the Object does indeed exist and now resides in their London offices.

Warp20 by Dan Holdsworth

Warp20 by Dan Holdsworth

Anyway, Warp Records.  It was in 1998 upon first hearing Boards Of Canada that I started to pay close attention this Sheffield-born record label.  Now celebrating their 20th anniversary they returned to their mother city to mark the occasion.  As I was staying at my grandma’s house I didn’t go to the all night concert at Magna; I thought it would be poor form to stroll into hers at dawn and spend the rest of Sunday asleep…actually who am I kidding?  I don’t have the stamina for an all-nighter; I’m just using my grandma as an excuse for going home at 11pm!

The film showing at Park Hill Flats however, was a marvellous occasion.  I’ve been looking forward to seeing the All Tomorrow’s Parties film for a long time, and it didn’t disappoint.  I recognised some scenes from having been there then, and wished I had been at some of the occasions from which I was absent.   (I’d been speaking to a chap called Rob before the film, and it was only after a few minutes that I discovered he was a member of 65 Days Of Static.)  Seeing the ATP film, and some of the fine music videos from the Warp roster on a big (and inflatable?!) screen was a surreal treat.  I can’t help wondering what the few remaining Park Hill tenants made of these as they watched from their balconies.  If any of their children were watching, expecting to see pop videos their lives will probably never be the same again after watching Aphex Twin‘s Come To Daddy, Squarepusher‘s Come on My Selector, Grizzly Bear ‘s Two Weeks, or Flying Lotus‘s Dance Floor Dale.  I bet there were a few bedroom lights left on in Park Hill last night, and that’s just because of the music that was blearing out, never mind the visuals!  But hey, that’s Warp for you!

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