Interview and introduction by Emily Oldfield

Tucked down the backstreets of the Northern Quarter – on Faraday Street - you will find a seriously atmospheric music venue with an intriguing underground stage, off-the-wall music, a chilled-out vibe and plenty of passion: The Peer Hat.

Old English styled yet determinedly celebrating current grassroots musicians, The Peer Hat is one of the most active music venues in the city, with live music options downstairs nearly every night of the week. This varies from local bands and performances to DJ sets and live panels.

It’s even hosted an innovative series of ‘Manchester Meltdown’ gigs, curated by local legend Ian ‘Moet’ Moss, and also the ‘Manchester Meltdown Summer All Day Special’. As well as an experimental electronic music all-dayer coming up, The Peer Hat is also home to the Heart of Glass clubnight and this year will host the two-day Foundations Festival in December, which will also involve the HAUNT Manchester network ‘Black Christmas’.

On the ground level there is a bustling bar with plenty of friendly faces and a rustic, relaxed vibe – with wooden tables, drapes and even a comfy sofa. Forget pretentious venues and overpriced entries, The Peer Hat stands out for its warmth and accessibility. Much of that is thanks to the hard-working team behind it, with Nick Alexander the co-founder of the venue. HAUNT Manchester spoke to him to find out more…

What was the inspiration behind The Peer Hat and when was it established? 

“Well...necessity is the mother of invention. We're all musicians and we all needed to keep playing and keep being involved. We needed a place to play, so we made one. At some point during the gestation of The Peer Hat, I became fascinated by the idea of re-enchanting Britain - one street at a time. I was also moved by the lack of community, in a city renowned for its musical culture. I mean...if there was a community, I wasn't part of it! And that seemed, not only a shame, but a crying need, especially as times have grown steadily harder. So we resolved to create a community first and let the business follow it.

“Ultimately, we all need more is going to be saved from above. The NHS is crumbling, education is debt, housing is astronomically priced...our parents took some things for granted. We don't enjoy the same benefits. So...come together. So together we came, back in March 2017, when The Black Stage opened (minus a functioning ground floor bar). I was shocked, when the first musician to play was Thurston Moore. I suppose that was a good omen. The Peer Hat as we know it today, opened its doors in early September 2017.”

Do you aim for a particular genre of music or style in the venue? 

“There is no one genre that we favour, when it comes to outside promoters putting on shows. That would defeat the purpose of culture creation. It has to be a melting pot - by definition. My own personal preferences, are for anything DIY. The more ambitious, the better. I suppose I like to see music which creates an atmosphere. I certainly avoid booking anything that smells of the mainstream.”

What is the most rewarding thing about running a music venue? And the most challenging? 

"The most rewarding thing, is seeing Manchester, the people. Give them the space, respect them, welcome them - and they'll do the rest. The good times are always there, they're just obscured by the clouds of a culture which has become the antagonist. Death to culture... we've all got a job on our hands and it's nothing less than the re-invention of the lie which helps sell all the others. It can only start at grass roots...and maybe it never grows beyond grass roots. That's because there is nothing beyond the grass roots. Just mass-produced dreams.

“As for the most challenging aspect? That would be promotion of various bands. I'm of a nervous disposition in some ways. I don't like disappointing people. There's this sense that one is never quite good enough for those one entertains. And I'm just not that good at advertising - that is to say, I don't like to advertise. I think that's a British thing, but I don't know for sure. That's why the promotional stuff is handled by a mask. If one deals in potentially dark and overwhelming forces, one should rightly wear a mask.”

Do you think more support should be available for music venues - and if so, what would this be?

“Obviously I'd like to see more funding - that's the only support that counts; we can do the rest. There needs to be more recognition for venues which back artists at a cost to themselves. This city's ruling body (such as it is) is sadly incapable of recognising what made it great. Not mills. Not glass hotels. That achievement lies with the people who created magic in a capitalist graveyard - in spite of the utter indifference the monied have held towards them. I expect nothing from anybody outside of our community. The Arts Council considers venues and music funding to be ultra way down on its list of priorities - more concerned as it is, with the current agenda, culture wise, one which anybody can see and one which is ultimately divisive.”

Can you tell us about some particularly memorable moments?

“This year has been a blur. There have been fantastic artists and fantastic events...February's Folk Horror Festival was extremely fun and weird. The segue between musicians and independent film worked really well. When I saw everybody's faces...sat around...not enough chairs...laughing, smiling...enduring my panicked efforts to keep the thing functioning...I felt like the idea was coming off. It was a great moment.

“The first time one of our resident artists, Magic Paul unveiled his sculptures. Likewise, the moment Fruschian Void's wall mural began to take shape...all great. Birdstriking from China - how satisfied they were with the venue and their experience. The Manchester Meltdown events, which I think of as being instrumental in alerting a wide cross section of Manchester's scene, young and old to our existence. The Community afro-beat events...wild parties...I could go on, but this will look too smug and self congratulatory.”

Do you think people's relationships with music venues are changing?

“Everybody's relationship to everything is changing. Technology is a double-edged sword and it's usually wielded by the ‘haves’ at the expense of the ‘have-nots’. The challenge, as ever, is to treat ideas, valued places, concepts, nature - as people, to assign them person-hood. I think that's part and parcel of re-enchantment. If a forest, or a river, or a mountain, had the same legal rights as a human being, then we wouldn't be in the mess that we're in, financially or ecologically.

“I think a river in New Zealand has been granted just such a status. With this, comes authenticity - which the lack thereof, remains the principle threat of misapplied technology. If we can use technology in a fashion which promotes communication and facilitates organic, flesh-based interactions, then the change will be positive. This presumes avoiding a crash, which will make mobile phones less important than spoiled dog meat. As I said, we all need more friends.”

What are your plans for the future? 

“The local and independent juke box will finally happen - I've been promising it for ages, but it's tougher than I first imagined. Other, more boring problems present themselves. But it's a guarantee. Then the experiment can really begin. We're also keen to overlay different varieties of community over what we already have: perma-culture, for example. The possibilities are endless. The focus is on this little part of Manchester...upon changing the artist's relationship to their own self and what constitutes 'success'. Art belongs to the people. Oh yeah...keep making my own stuff too. You've got to keep some balance!”

The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday St, Manchester M1 1BE