A highlight of every odd-numbered calendar year, the biennial Manchester International Festival is back this summer (29 June – 16 July 2017) featuring eighteen days of world premieres, collaborations and special events by internationally-acclaimed artists.

Described by The New Yorker as “probably the most radical and important arts festival today” the festival will reveal its full summer line up on Thursday 9 March, so ahead of that announcement we’ve asked members of the team here at Marketing Manchester to describe some of their favourite MIF moments.

10x10, MIF15: Jonathan Gough, Communications Executive

“For many the idea of twelve hours of techno (at times at nose bleed pace) in a derelict train depot doesn’t conjure visions of art and culture yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. Music has the profound gift of evoking boundless emotion and this one off event between the Warehouse Project and MIF intertwined the finer sounds of house and techno to summon feelings of elation among its revellers and create a faultless clubbing and artistic experience.

At this point in time I had been working in Manchester for just over a year and had never experienced MIF but had been a regular attendee of WHP since 2008; as soon as the event and line-up was announced a friend and I from London (a fellow techno enthusiast) immediately purchased tickets. 

Arriving at Mayfield Depot I was taken aback by the size of the space, it was a dark cavernous building which looked almost post-apocalyptic, the perfect companion to the intense, chest rattling sounds emanating from the speakers. The afternoon began with a playful and uniquely blended collection of house, techno, disco, electro and everything in between, from the eccentric and supremely talented DJ Koze. The second room was a pitch black tunnel, only illuminated by the customary splatter of psychedelic visuals and all present were treated to expertly crafted sets by veterans Maurice Fulton and Octave One; however the best was yet to come.

As night fell on the vast main room and light no longer crept in through the corrugated windows Detroit techno royalty both old and new took to the stage. Kyle Hall the prodigiously talented heir to the throne is a supremely gifted musician, his own productions are something to behold and his live performance didn’t disappoint; a joyous assault to the senses of lush and expressive selections.

Rounding off the night were two techno visionaries with few equals in the genre; Carl Craig, a relentless innovator and one of Detroit’s most influential techno exports and the enigmatic ‘Mad’ Mike Banks, a founding member of Underground Resistance (UR).The headliners opened with UR classic Knights of the Jaguar and they continued for the next couple of hours with relentless dancefloor shattering techno that fully warrants their reputation as two of techno’s most admired artists. The techno sound that was cultivated in abandoned spaces across Detroit has always been warmly embraced by the city of Manchester and this occasion was no different. It was a fitting end to see two of the genre’s founding fathers perform so skilfully to a community they have had a major role in creating; you felt very much a part of an innovative and forward thinking culture.”

The Skriker, MIF15: Poppy Marello, Digital Executive

“Having only moved to Manchester that year, MIF15 was my first ever experience of the International Festival, and it was certainly an experience I’m unlikely to ever forget. I’d been to the Royal Exchange Theatre before, but had never seen it set up in the way it had been set for “The Skriker”.

The staging was unique, and the Royal Exchange was turned into an old and tired chamber filled with bare wooden tables, at which many of the audience sat. From the very beginning, the performance was eerie. Hairs stood on end, and it wasn’t a comfortable experience – but art to me should do that, take you out of your comfort zone.

The performance took us on a fractured journey through the modern world, whilst dipping into the historical underworld which lies beneath it. ‘The Skriker’ adopted a pun-filled poetic language within the underworld, and the riddled tongue was portrayed with little effort and such grace by Maxine Peake – who led the cast for her returning performance at Manchester International Festival.

The collision of the ancient fairy story and portrait of a fractured England is something I have never seen before, and I’m 90 percent sure I’ll never see again. The ensemble of equally weird and wonderful ghost-like features that supported the leading ladies were brilliant, and very odd, and it’s definitely a performance I will remember for a long time.”

The xx, MIF13: Andy Parkinson, Communications Manager

“I moved to Manchester from London just after MIF11 and remember being hugely disappointed when I found out that I’d missed Björk’s Biophilia residency, so when it was announced that The xx would do an 18 date run at MIF13 it was a no-brainer to join the scramble for tickets. It turned out to be my first MIF experience, and was one that is difficult to forget. Ticket instructions said to meet outside Victoria Station where groups would be escorted to the secret location.

We were led down under the station and through a network of disorientating tunnels arriving at what can only be described as white box room with the band waiting in an sunken area in the middle. People shuffled around the edge of the square making the perfect one-deep audience. Anyone who attended will surely remember what followed as one of the most powerful and personal gigs they ever experienced as the band played an emotionally charged set with every moment taking place within a couple of meters.

The performance was so utterly mesmerising that few people noticed that the ceiling of the ‘white box‘ had lifted as the music became ever-louder until a climax moment when the “walls” – actually just cloth – dropped to reveal that we were stood in the depths of an cavernous old hall – in fact, the new Stoller Hall at Chethams School of Music prior to its construction.

To use the word “Goosebumps” seriously underplays the impact and aftershock felt after the gig. I still struggle for the word to accurately summarise it almost four years later…”

The Crash of the Elysium, MIF11: Tim Manley, Marketing Manager

“In the early 2010’s, with two small children, getting out to theatre shows that usually started at 7.30pm (the witching hour in my house) was a distant dream. I remember sitting in the office as colleagues talked about It Felt Like a Kiss, Punchdrunk’s immersive theatre production from MIF09 and wondering when I would again see such a memorable performance.

My dreams were made a reality when Punchdrunk returned in 2011 with a production made for families AND adults, The Crash of the Elysium. Could you imagine a better combination? Progressive theatre, performance art and Doctor Who!

I remember the start like it was yesterday. We stood in a plain exhibition room at Mediacity, set out like a museum gallery while a deliberately dull curator lectured us about a model ship in a display case. I had been bigging up this show for months and my kids looked at me as if to say “Dad, what another bag of old rubbish you’ve dragged us too!” (and not for the first time!). Then the doors flew open, in rushed the space marines and we were transported to a world where our mission was to save the Doctor from the threat of the weeping angels.

My favourite touch was how they separated the adults from the kids so that we all still felt part of it but the kids were in the driving seat – making it happen. The attention to the detail of the experience was superb. There were three actors in the performance, one of whom seemed to stay mostly with the kids. After talking to some friends who had been to an adult only performance we discovered that there were, in fact, only two actors. The third was what I later called the “pastoral” officer – there to comfort and support the younger audience members – helping them to get the most from the show and stop them running back to their parents. Superb!”

It Felt Like a Kiss, MIF09: Valerie Essien, Sector Marketing Communications Manager

“It Felt Like A Kiss left me traumatised and I believed I had experienced the American nightmare. An innocent walk through Quay House, admiring the set design, the creative use of lighting, sound and props in an otherwise derelict space subtlety turned sinister. Jogging soon turned into a sprint to escape 'the horror' and inevitably survive. 

At the start, I was merely an observer, gliding from room to room with my pack. But moving through empty 1950s American style bedrooms, to 1960’s kitsch living rooms where things didn't feel right, and then entering a blood strewn dentist's practice with operating tools in view, I questioned why I was there.

Suddenly, we, the observers became the hunted. The longer we stayed in this darkened, false reality, we forgot it was theatre and felt afraid. At first we smiled at volunteers dressed as 'Jason', and pointed at their mock chain saws. 

Was someone lying lifeless on the floor ahead? On second look, they gave chase. I wanted to get out but we faced a myriad of rooms: hastily abandoned high school changing rooms; chilly underground hang-outs; long corridors; a maze. I was petrified. Running towards the exit screaming, I pushed one of my pack aside leaving him bruised. Outside we laughed hysterically. We were amazed. Eight years on, It Felt Like a Kiss is still one of the most exhilarating, terrifying pieces of immersive theatre I have experienced. For those reasons alone, it was pure genius.”

Elbow & The Hallé, MIF09: Karen Moore, Marketing Manager

“I was lucky enough to know someone who worked at The Bridgewater Hall in 2009 so was first in the queue for tickets as they went on sale a few months prior to the event. If I remember rightly, tickets sold out in record time.  I’d been a fan of Elbow for several years and had seen them in concert before but never in collaboration with an orchestra. It felt like an exciting opportunity to experience something special, hence my desire to grab tickets!

The Bridgewater Hall was such an appropriate setting for the performance. It was grand and imposing on one level, but somehow familiar and local on another. Perhaps that was enhanced by the combination of Elbow as a local band (from Bury) and one of Manchester’s world-famous orchestras, the Halle.  There was a fantastic vibe amongst the crowd arriving – the anticipation was palpable.

For me the combination of the orchestra with their classical music influence and ‘pop’ music was something special and totally unique. I distinctly remember during the song Mirrorball they lit up an enormous mirror ball in the centre of the hall – it made the whole room sparkle which was magical. The other stand out moment was the performance of Elbow’s biggest ‘hit’ to date - One Day Like This – the whole crowd always sings every word of the chorus at every Elbow gig I’ve been to and this occasion was no exception – with the added bonus of a full orchestra supporting the band!

The atmosphere was incredible, I love that it was a ‘one-off’ and it was distinctly ‘Manchester’. It most definitely earns its place in my list of top five gigs ever.  It also holds a very special place in my heart as I went with friends and my parents. Elbow were one of my dad’s favourite bands – especially poignant to me now he is no longer with us.”

JS Bach | Zaha Hadid Architects, MIF09: Rob Kelly, Membership Executive

“The ‘MIF moment’ which sticks in my mind is a lunch break visit to Manchester Art Gallery across the road from my job, at the time, working in the Town Hall Extension. The event was a futuristic music hall created by Zaha Hadid Architects to showcase, in the words of the festival, ‘breathtaking accounts of Bach’s 18th-century masterpieces’. These were performed by three soloists: pianist Piotr Anderszewski, cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and violinist Alina Ibragimova. The event I attended was a free of charge lunchtime concert performed by students form the Royal Northern College of Music and even though I am no authority on either contemporary architecture or classical music it massively exceeded my expectations and created a lasting memory.

I have looked back at some press coverage and images from the event to see if my recollections of the concert match with the reality. It does not. In my mind the capacity was much smaller and the material used was a bright white plastic or perspex (it was actually swirls of white fabric). But I guess this is not important.

What I experienced was a wonderfully intimate performance in a swirling white futuristic pod which contrasted with the jet black rows of chairs. In my mind the capacity was at the most 100 people; the fact it was almost twice that is credit to the architects in creating such a unique space.

The event was full to capacity and I went back to work with a spring in my step and it had not cost me a penny. Every MIF offers some great free public events and my advice to anyone flicking through this year’s brochure would be give it a go and get involved.“