Andy Stamatakis-Brown on Cottonopolis

Andy Stamatakis-Brown weaves club sounds into his cotton mill-inspired Manchester Jazz Festival performance

Feature by Michael Waugh | 18 Jul 2017

The press release for Cottonopolis, Andy Stamatakis-Brown’s project commissioned as part of the Irwin Mitchell mjf originals strand of Manchester Jazz Festival 2017, dubs the performance a celebration of "the city’s proud past". It was somewhat fitting that we sat down with Stamatakis-Brown to discuss the composition on the morning after the horrifying bombing at Manchester Arena, surrounded by media reports of the city’s communal spirit in the face of devastating loss. Cottonopolis, a multimedia piece that draws on the industrial and musical history of the city, feels even more necessary in the wake of last night's event.

Cottonopolis is described as an audiovisual experience that explores "iconic aspects of Manchester’s colourful past; its role as the power-house of the industrial revolution, and as the happening heart-beat of the dance music scene." A 12-piece jazz performance, the composition connects the lines between Manchester’s historical centrality to the cotton industry and the house and techno music of the city, as well as fellow post-industrial cities like Detroit and Chicago. The repetition in this dance music, initially inspired by the automaton sounds of factory assembly lines and work stations, is the key inspiration behind the concept.

Stamatakis-Brown, a familiar face on the Manchester jazz circuit through his membership in Haçienda Classical, Gypsies of Bohemia and his own Andy Stamatakis-Brown Trio, applied for the commission after watching a video of the last working cotton factory at a museum in Burnley. Watching the looms spinning, which he notes was "an amazing spectacle", he explains that he began to hear rhythmic patterns in the machines. "I immediately started going 'Oh there’s a groove going on there, and there…' Kind of like industrial grooves. And then I made the link, 'Oh that’s where house and techno music came from,' and the idea developed from there." The idea was to combine the noise of a 19th century mill with the atmosphere of a contemporary club night through the prism of jazz composition.

In recent years mjf originals has been a platform for much-lauded performances from artists such as Anton Hunter, Ben Cottrell, and John Ellis and Antony Barkworth-Knight, with Stamatakis-Brown stepping out of his comfort zone for his upcoming contribution to the series. When we ask him about the commission his first response is one of gratitude to mjf for awarding him the opportunity to make Cottonopolis a reality: "I’m really pleased. This is the highest profile thing I will have done under my own name; the festival has been really supportive and mjf is an amazing outlet for creative musicians in Manchester." 

He is careful to note that he is first and foremost a jazz musician and fan, and that his background is not in house or techno. "I’ve never been into going clubbing, so there are elements of this project that are different from anything I have ever created before." This might seem contradictory given that he's developing a composition built on dance music’s relationship to industry, but notes that his time as a member of Haçienda Classical has provided significant inspiration. "Haçienda Classical has been a big influence, in that I’ve started to play some dance music which I’ve never done before. Watching the crowd’s reaction at Haçienda Classical shows has given me insight into how people respond to that sort of music, and so the grooves that I heard in the cotton mill video will be a facet of the performance to a certain extent."

Sonically, the composition combines these tight dance music-inspired grooves with the improvisation expected of a jazz gig, and when we speak Stamatakis-Brown explains that the majority of his writing to date has been focused on the tighter backdrop that will "provide a platform for the other musicians to do their thing and be expressive." He notes that, among the 12 musicians drawn from the Manchester Jazz Collective, there will be two drummers, emphasising the importance of rhythm to the piece. "I’d say that 80 percent of the time people could dance to it if they wanted to – I don’t know if they will! Some people might just want to listen to it."

There are multiple references to the industrial sounds of the cotton industry throughout the performance, both visually and in terms of the composition itself. "I’ve recorded a lot of source sounds at the Museum of Science and Industry, and they’ve fired up all of their looming cotton weaving equipment. They’ve got a loom with a shuttle that goes back and forth. All the sounds of those machines will be captured and played electronically. Some of those will be incorporated as actual drum sounds for drummers to play on an electronic kit."

Augmenting the club aesthetic will be DJs from Space Cassette and projections from founders of the now-defunct Norvun Devolution club night. Stamatakis-Brown aims to offset the music with visuals of people using the looms in the museum, inspired by witnessing a woman there visibly 'playing' her loom like an instrument. "There’s going to be a beautiful crossover of the source material projections of the looms working alongside a live stream of the musicians playing their instruments. So images of someone playing the keys on a saxophone or me on the piano will be overlaid with the looms working."

The concept of the night is a very literal experience of people dancing in a club to actual sampled sounds and images of working life. Stamatakis-Brown wants to replicate the experience of going clubbing and create sonic and visual connections between dance culture and the industrial workplace. He notes that "dance music is completely tied in with its cultural placement – friends of mine who are into dance music don’t listen to it at home. They listen to it when they go out," and he is hopeful that the realisation of Cottonopolis as an immersive, multi-sensory event will reflect that.

While the performance is not going to be a house or techno event in the traditional sense, Stamatakis-Brown tells us that "it should feel like an alternative club night; it won’t be like a banging Ibiza mega-party, but it should be quite fun," and he has fittingly selected a venue (which, at this point, is being kept strictly under wraps) that "provides just the right balance between the workhouse and the club environment."

Although Stamatakis-Brown is focused primarily on Cottonopolis for the foreseeable future, he continues to tour with his other groups over the summer. What is most exciting, however, is his determination that if Cottonopolis is well received he will look to reproduce the event. "It will massively depend on the reception it gets, and how the musicians feel playing it, and how I feel about it, but I’ve put more hours into this project already than anything else for one gig, so being able to put it on again would be ideal." Given its celebration of Manchester’s industrial history, and the importance of community reflected in its clubbing culture, that doesn't sound like a bad idea at all.

Cottonopolis takes place at a mystery location, Manchester, 3 Aug
The Manchester Jazz Festival runs at various venues in Manchester, 28 Jul - 6 Aug