In Haunt

The first in the series of ‘Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2’ interview articles on the HAUNT Manchester Blog – seeking to interview each of the members of the festival’s panel discussion, which has been organised by Julian Holloway (Lecturer in Human Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University) on behalf of HAUNT Manchester, and he will also be Panel Chair.

Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2 follows on from its 2018 debut, still continuing at the same venue of The Peer Hat, falling on the Saturday 2nd February 2019 (panel taking place 3pm - 4.30pm). Whilst the wider festival will explore Folk Horror culture and creativity of all kinds including performances, music and film, the panel discussion will be in front of an audience, with academics and experts discussing topical themes in the genre.

The panellists will be Julian Holloway himself (Manchester Metropolitan University) who is also Chair, Andrew Michael Hurley (novelist and author), Chloé Germaine Buckley (Manchester Metropolitan University), James Thurgill (University of Tokyo), Darren Charles (Folk Horror Revival) and Morag Rose (The Loiterer's Resistance Movement and University of Liverpool). This interview article focuses on Julian Holloway.

Julian Holloway is organiser and chair of the Manchester Folk Horror Festival panel, his interest in the genre informed by his work as lecturer in Human Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University, as well as his own creative endeavours, which currently includes playing in hauntronica and experimental rock band Flange Circus.

Human Geography after all has its haunted and horror-tinged edges, as Julian explores through his expertise in the geographies of religion, spirituality and the occult. With past research involving everything from ‘On the spaces and movement of monsters’ (with ‘Gef the talking mongoose’ being a point of focus) to ‘Locating haunting: A ghost-hunter's guide’ and even looking further at ‘Ghost tourism and infrastructures of enchantment’, Julian’s work often explores location from fascinating alternative perspectives.

Another area of Julian’s academic interest lies in sound and its potentially haunting and horrifying properties.  He has considered how sound-based methods link to place-making and an example of his research into ‘The sonic impress of and the story of Eyam, plague village’ demonstrated this, to chilling effect.

Yet it isn’t just researching sound which inspires Julian, but creating it. Playing guitar, keyboards and also programming as part of the band Flange Circus allows him to delve further into the depths of sound. The band’s debut album ‘Abandoned Glow’, which was released in 2017 on Future Noise Recordings was also produced, mixed and mastered by Julian himself. The music explores varied and often intense themes, including the destruction of environments, disassociation and human identity within it, opening up impressive sonic soundscapes which invite further thought. Coupled with the band’s aesthetic which carries a key theme of distortion – the recurrence of animal-headed beings and warped human figures for example – Flange Circus have an enchanting quality.

Here at HAUNT Manchester we spoke to Julian Holloway to find out more about the panels, his interest in folk horror and musical passions:

What does it mean to you to be involved in the upcoming Folk Horror Festival and why do you think an event like this is important?

“I was asked by HAUNT Manchester to organise a panel for the Folk Horror Festival and I jumped at the opportunity. I was upset to miss the first festival so being asked to contribute to the second was an honour.

“There is a lot of interest in all things Folk Horror at the moment and Nick at AATMA and The Peer Hat has done an excellent job bringing together some of the key practitioners in the music field… I’m very excited to see both Hawthonn and Heartwood Institute as I’m a big fan of both of them! These sorts of events are important in not only showcasing some of the talent in the area of Folk Horror, but also providing a space for creative dialogues to open up.

“My job was to try to match the brilliant line-up of bands with a panel of similar quality. And thanks to the help of some others and the generosity of the speakers, I hope I’ve achieved it.”

Is there a straightforward definition of ‘Folk Horror’ – or is part of its appeal the exploration of the term itself?

“No, there isn’t… and it’s a source of much debate! And that debate in itself is indeed part of the appeal. Adam Scovell’s book Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange does a good job at defining it through what he calls the Folk Horror Chain – where the themes of landscape, isolation, skewed belief systems and morality, and something being summoned, link together to make the folk horrific and strange.

“For me however, it’s more about a sense of both dread and enchantment with and in certain places and with certain types of cultural practice. This enchantment can be both wondrous, but also disturbing in the sense it jolts us from our mundane experiences of the world. So, for me, one of the best definitions I’ve seen is by Jim Peters when he says folk horror is the ‘sensation of being alone in the country lane at night, surrounded and unnerved by nature’. This makes folk horror a something rural, but I think this can happen in the city as well – and this is something we will be discussing on the panel at the festival.”

What sparked your own interest in Folk Horror?

“I’ve had a lifelong interest in the spooky, the weird and the occluded aspect of culture. The things at the extreme of our worlds and lives fascinate me. Also, I’ve always been attracted to what can be called survivals – those bits of the past that persist despite the apparently rational and planned spaces we live and work in. For me these survivals are haunting in that they defy rationality and we’re never sure where they originated from, what they might mean or how they survive.

“For me folk horror takes all those interests and explores them artistically, whether that be film, music or art in various forms. This is all summed up in the ending of The Wicker Man which unnerves me every time I see it – and I’ve seen it many, many times. How can this event come to pass? How and why can a community do this to an individual when it belies all that a supposed enlightened society and culture holds sacred? How do such practices survive? For me that’s folk horror.”

Can you tell us a little more about how your own work connects with or is inspired by themes in Folk Horror?

“My academic work has explored issues of haunting, the occult and alternative belief systems from a geographical perspective. The centrality of landscape in folk horror is therefore what connects my geographical interests with the genre (if we can call it that). I’m particularly interested in sonic geographies – how sound makes and shapes places and our experiences of them. At the moment I’m therefore interested in how the themes of folk horror are experienced sonically and how artists use sound to evoke that sense of unnerving and strange rural.

“I’m also in a Manchester band called Flange Circus. We’re fascinated with all things spooky and try to generate a sense of unease through our music…with a dash of humour in case we end up sounding pompous. Our first album Abandoned Glow has the horrific, the disturbing and the unnerving present in each song. We’re currently writing our follow-up and the themes of folk horror are taking a much more central stage – although it won’t be a folk album…we like synths and loud guitars too much for that.”

Why is engaging with Folk Horror culture important do you think?

“As a geographer, it is important as it says something about how we engage and understand with people and places. Folk Horror says a lot about landscape and the eruption of something unknown that can both delight and scare us – this is something that we need to chart and understand. And I think there’s a politics here as well… too much of our lives are given order by routines, authorities and forces mostly beyond our control. So, if we can revel in the unknown and the enchanting we might be able to see the world a little differently. From this hopefully progressive change might be summoned.”

How would you encourage people to explore Folk Horror – and how about locally here in Manchester?

“Find a copy of John Roby’s 1872 Traditions of Lancashire, grab a torch and provisions, and head to Boggart Hole Clough in Blackley. Make sure you go at night. Find a suitable wooded area in the park and read the story out loud. Guaranteed folk horror.

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