We are extremely excited to be curating playlists for New Century Hall, a historic music venue in Manchester which recently reopened with a completely new look.
We chatted with Jon Humphreys, creative partner & co-owner at Sheila Bird, the independent design studio behind the renovation of the venue, and delved into the vision behind their design work as well as the music programming.
How did the redevelopment of New Century happen and what was your involvement?
The New Century redevelopment started when my business partner Atul Bansal was on a tour of the NOMA area and wondered why this building was lying empty, then decided to do something about it. We pulled together a team to create a business that could drive the project forward with us.
The business consists of like-minded experts in music, education, and hospitality connected by a shared passion to develop a community-focused place with a first-class design, food and drink, music, events, and education experience in one building.
We have a long-term ambition to support sustainable growth by creating a platform for nurturing new talent and fresh creative voices in the city - for many years to come.
What’s changed in the venue and what has stayed the same?
The building works across three floors; a music/events venue on the first floor, a bar and food hall on the ground floor, and a creative college in the basement.
The ground and basement were stripped to a shell and reimagined from the ground up to suit their new purpose. The venue upstairs was refurbished but has stayed the same as it was when it opened in 1963. This is a Grade II listed building and one of Manchester’s hidden modernist gems.
Features such as the original sprung dancefloor, unique ‘disco’ illuminated ceiling, wood-panelled walls and sculptural artworks have been kept intact. New technology now makes the place work even better. The illuminated ceiling has been rewired and is now interactive and the stage lighting and sound rigs are state-of-the-art.
Let's talk about The Kitchens space. What’s the concept behind it?
With a building of such heritage and existing modernist period features upstairs, it was important to make sure The Kitchens would feel connected to that, so we have brought some of the materiality of warm woods and colours into this space.
There are six independent kitchens offering everything, from pizza to sushi, as well as a central bar. We aimed to make the space feel warm and welcoming at all times of the day. People can just come to hang out and grab a coffee or enjoy a drink and a bite to eat before a gig in the evening.
Can you talk about the music identity of the space and your curation needs?
I wanted the playlists to be a bit different from the usual stuff you hear around town in bars and restaurants.
I didn't want the music to feel generic here, rather I wanted it to feel like there is a DJ playing and curating great tunes throughout the day at the times when there isn’t one.
Open Ear has delivered that brief really well. I’ve found myself sitting in the venue Shazzaming the music that's playing which is what I want the customers to do, to turn them on to music they might not have heard before.
The music has to suit the mood and time of day to create the right type of ambience - variety is key especially when transitioning from morning to night. Different genres and music from a wide range of eras with a few obscurities thrown in for good measure.
This is a venue with music running through its core so it has to celebrate music from all angles!
The artists and events that have been booked so far include some Mancunian legends as well as younger and international talent. What’s the thinking behind the venue program?
We didn’t want to replicate what other venues are doing. We wanted to focus on a diverse range of events that could appeal to a broad range of people.
It’s a really intimate and characterful space, so can flex to all sorts of events. We have everything; from family-oriented events to club nights. With a capacity of 1200 people, it is attractive to both up-and-coming artists as well as established names looking for a different type of space to perform in.
What has the local community's reaction been to the reopening of the space?
So far really positive. People love a story that involves restoring a piece of heritage. Some people come for the food and drink, some for the music, and some just to hang out, but whatever reason they visit they discover that there’s always more to come back for.
New Century Hall allows artists to keep 100% of the merchandise revenue. This is a powerful move in such challenging times.
It’s hard enough for artists to make a living as it is, and this is especially true for up-and-coming artists.
We just don’t think it's right for venues to be taking a cut from merchandise - at the end of the day, all we want is to support talent. There are other ways to make revenue that help the industry ecosystem without eating into one of the few avenues bands have to make money in this age of streaming.
Finally, which event are you most looking forward to?
Stereolab in November and Leftfield in December. Can't wait!
Photographs courtesy of New Century Hall