The shop window of the newly-opened All Saints store on the Hayes is full of beautiful, antique sewing machines. They sit there in nice rows, neatly aligned and dormant, subservient to the window aesthetic. Once individual icons, their sole function now is just dressing for the multi-million pound St David’s 2 complex. Their heritage equally pawned and ignored as customers head for the cash-till.
Okay, they’re probably not antique anyway, they’re probably snap-fixed in Spitalfields and have less milage than Katie Price’s typewriter. But looking at those sewing machines on the weekend felt like standing outside the Point just a year ago, pondering the future of Cardiff and the embarrassing cultural death that seemed to be conspiring against it.
The Coal Exchange already closed and the Point served with a noise abatement order that would ultimately contribute to it’s closure, it felt like a solemn question mark hung over the head of everyone who loves dipping their daps into the city’s music venues. With the craggy spires of St David’s 2 emerging above the horizon it seemed the city couldn’t give a shit about our heritage. Shut down, decay and move on – like Cardiff always has done (look at pictures of the old decaying docks in the seventies for instance, and compare it with Bristol or Manchester; history you can still see and touch).
Cardiff doesn’t love us, you see. They won’t close a tiny, cobbly lane for Swn Festival and having shown little support for the Point are prepared to lose yet another venue in the Globe. But like the beautiful suckers we are, we love Cardiff. We fight to keep the Vulcan open; we put our hard-earned into Kruger and 3 Syllables gigs; we sit and watch the colours change in Bute Park. We buy chips on Caroline St, but we put the wrappers in the bin. We suffer the closure of a venue, or the loss of a promoter, but we move on; or we stand up and do it ourselves.
The small team of people behind Cardiff Arts Institute, which opens this Thursday (5 November), love Cardiff in exactly the same way. They’re the usual suspects, the people you always see at gigs; or putting on gigs. The ones at the till when you arrive and the ones paying the bands when you leave. They probably still bear the scabs of all those venue closures; fall-outs with bar managers; £800 shortfall for that Portland band they brought over who everyone said they would catch but never turned up to see. But like fingers to toothache, they keep coming back for more. “Ouch! Passion must prevail!” they squeal.
Cardiff Arts Institute (or CAI) is backed by 580 Ltd – the folk behind Field Day, London’s Amersham Arms and Lock Tavern, Bristol’s Start the Bus and the Adventures in the Beetroot Field club nights – but it’s this team of usual suspects that are likely to make it a success. Led by the creative minds of Milgi and Secret Carnival, perhaps the most exciting and welcoming thing about CAI is its participatory policy. To “Offer a platform to encourage collaboration, participation and activity,” as the first point of their manifesto states (yes, they have a manifesto!).
Setting up a venue with the likes of 580, it would have been so easy to leap ahead on an ego trip, and possibly they might have even succeeded. Yet by actively encouraging collaboration, CAI can pull together the best of Cardiff for the benefit of Cardiff. Yes, that may seem very utopian and we’ll have to see how things go over the next few months but one thing is for sure – they are highly serious. Tickets prices are likely to be as little as £2 or £3, or even free (such as the BLK JKS show on 27 November) and the venue’s first month line-up is certainly an eye-opener: Jon Carter, Andy Votel, Monotonix, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Bethan Elfyn, Decimals, plus some great nights like Flux=Rad (John Rostron and Jen Long), Wonky Disco (Kruger) and Gas Station Bop!. And that’s not to mention the ridiculous launch night they’ve put together (full line-up below).
Sometimes you’re faced with the grim reality that what Cardiff needs, Cardiff never gets (“I want doesn’t get!” as my nan used to say), but this autumn of 2009, something does feel a little different. The Coal Exchange has reopened, Millennium Music Hall is pulling in the likes of Annie Mac and Ed Banger’s DJ Mehdi, the Vulcan has been saved (for now), and hopefully the same will be true for the Globe. Swn have just put on their finest festival yet. And even the doubters (including myself) are secretly proud Cardiff is attracting the kind of investment that brings an All Saints to the city (I mean, have you seen the clothes in Zara?).
Just spare a thought for those sewing machines.
Cardiff Arts Institute, 29 Park Place, Cardiff opens on 5 November at 8pm. The full line-up for the weekend launch (5-8 Nov) is:
Cate Le Bon, Jon Carter & Friends, Joy Formidable, Moneyshot, Bob Bob & Marana, Tomb Crew, the Apples, Six Toys, Samba Galez, Matt the Hat, Kaptain, Wonkey Disco (Kruger DJs), Casper (Bloggers Delight) and The Institute DJs.
Entry is by invitation only – email email@example.com
That CAI Manifesto in full:
We aim to:
- Offer a platform to encourage collaboration, participation and activity.
- Stimulate and innovate in our city.
- Forever evolve.
- Help make it happen.
- Discover new ways of thinking through interaction, communication and union.
- Nurture and celebrate new talent.
- Use no artificial colours or preservatives.
- Stay up late and break the rules.
- Listen to you: firstname.lastname@example.org