Substance is our new celebration of the North. Festival director, author and Observer journalist Luke Bainbridge explains what Substance is all about, and what it means to him.
Substance was conceived as a response to the vision of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’. A vision that too often neglects the role of art and culture in defining the identity of the North, and in powering its regeneration.
Substance is a chance for artists to define and debate their vision of the North at a time, post-Brexit, of changing and questioning national identity.
While most of the rhetoric around the idea of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ has centred on politics and business or infrastructure, anyone who actually grew up the North in the last three decades will tell you it’s the culture of the north that has defined its identity and powered its regeneration, civic and regional pride, and international reputation.
The Magnetic North kick off Substance this Sunday at The Polar Bear. Get your tickets here.
Growing up in Manchester in the 80s and 90s, I saw the city reinvent itself around me, drawing inspiration and confidence from its art and artists. Culture replaced cotton as the city’s greatest export, and the foundations for both its excess of civic pride, and its international reputation.
For many of us, the sweeping changes that have happened in forward-looking northern British towns and cities can be drawn back to the birth of punk and the knock-on ripple effect from 1976 onwards. When the younger generation suddenly realised that they could have a bit of the city if they wanted, and reimagine it in their own vision of the future.
Will Alsop summed up this when he said, ‘It was punk and acid house that made people in general visually literate. Punk made people aware that you didn’t have to accept the status quo.’
Danny Boyle echoed it when he said, ‘There are some great northern cities that actually aren’t beholden to anyone. And no matter how bad it gets, they will always regenerate themselves.’
Substance is about celebrating the culture of towns and cities across the North. Not just the bigger cities of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool, but from Hull to Rochdale, Skelmersdale to Middlesbrough. Substance is about reframing the conversation and put artists and cultural architects at the centre of any such debate, exploring how the culture of the north has defined its identity and how, in recent times, it has powered its regeneration, civic and regional pride, and international reputation.
This is what Substance aims to examine, explore, and to celebrate. Popular culture is special in having the capacity to afford a city the self-belief to be audacious. This is where we made things happen, this is what we have to live up to. How did we do this and where do we go next? At a time of changing and questioning national identity, it’s vitally important to recognise and explore how, when and what culture contributes to that identity.
We’re delighted to have the great Will Alsop speaking at the Substance launch event at Polar Bear in Hull. It was Alsop who first suggested the idea of a Super City stretching from Liverpool to Hull – a precursor to the concept of the Northern Powerhouse – and he will be revisiting that idea for us this coming Sunday.
We’re also delighted to have the magnificent Magnetic North (including Simon Tong from The Verve, Gawain Erland Cooper and Hannah Peel) playing live in the intimate surroundings of Polar Bear. The Magnetic North celebrating the mighty North, putting some Substance back into the idea of a Northern Powerhouse.
For more information and to join us at the Substance launch this Sunday, click here.