“ My ambition today is to change your life.”
So began Dave Haslam’s Inspirer series talk to students of Manchester School of Art last week. Dave has worked for over 30 years as a DJ. He debuted at the legendary Haçienda in 1986 and since then has DJ’d worldwide (including shows in Peru, New York, Berlin, Barcelona and Italy).
Dave talked about the tension between the mainstream and the margins, his dislike of corporate bland everywheresville, and the need to look to the margins of cultural activity to find the future.
“Cultural significance is not measured by how big something is or how much money it makes. Real culture has meaning. It may be found within a fanzine that hardly sells or a band that no one sees. This is how culture works. The new things effervescing on the margins.”
When he DJ’s he purposely seeks out music from the margins. At the Haçienda he sought to play what no-one else was playing, buying records from small labels, records that no-one else was listening to yet (e.g. Acid House and Techno from Detroit and Chicago). The Haçienda started on the margins but grew and grew so that it became a 1500 people a night venue. He then talked about what it was like to go from the margins to the mainstream and then to see a new generation of pioneers springing up.
The point is not to be intimidated by the mainstream. In fact not fitting in/ being on the margins is an advantage – it is where the future lies. It is about being aware of the maverick activity that forms the rebellious underground and to find out how you, through this, can become a producer rather than a consumer.
Dave gave many inspiring examples of ordinary people who carved their own way including: Shelagh Delaney (who wrote a realist play that was on the stage by the time she was 18 and brought about a sea change in theatre), Linder Sterling (whose disruptive aesthetic found a voice in her fanzine ‘City Fun’ and was used by the Buzzcocks in their sleeve and poster design), Joy Division (who were so marginal that when Ian Curtis died in 1980 the Manchester Evening News only wrote a few lines and spelt his name wrong); the Chemical Brothers (who went from setting up their own club night at the Swinging Sporran to headlining Glastonbury); and Elbow (who hired an Australian themed bar to play acoustic songs in when they were not getting any gigs in the 1990s).
Dave urged students to be passionate to question everything and to “innovate, don’t imitate.” He ended his talk with the following definition:
“The power of the cell (‘not sell’); how a tiny group of disaffected outsiders can create a sensation, or a movement, or even change the world.”
Inspired by the lecture, third year textiles student India approached Dave for an impromptu tutorial and had this to say:
“I was attracted to Dave’s talk because of his experience of the Haçienda. I am currently responding to an external brief to create the ultimate Mancunian sofa and it was really useful to get his opinion on my designs so far.” (India De Sousa-Butterworth, Third Year Textiles in Practice Student)