M meets… Dave Haslam

Thirty One is a collection of tracks from Manchester UK, featuring rare and exclusive songs from both established and emerging acts. The album has been curated and compiled by DJ/Writer Dave Haslam for The Factory Foundation.

All profits from the release will go to CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) a registered charity with its roots in Manchester. The ambition of Thirty One is to raise sufficient funds to enable CALM to run their national freephone helpline service: 0800 58 58 58 every night of the week, every day of the year. The helpline is currently open from 5pm-midnight on Saturday, Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays.

Thirty One is an amazing snapshot capturing the undeniable quality of the Manchester music scene. It features brand new material by artists with careers stretching back to the post-punk era.

M chatted with the compilation’s curator, journalist and former Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam.

How did you get involved in the Thirty One project?
Esther from Factory foundation originated the project, she had some personal experience of suicide in her family. I remember going to the launch event of CALM in Manchester five or six years ago. Esther approached me to ask if I would curate a compilation album to raise money for CALM. I saw it as an important thing to do, not only in raising funds but also awareness. We’re all a bit in denial right through society when it comes to mental health and when you look at the numbers of young men who kill themselves it is quite staggering.

I wanted to make sure the music choices were quality but also open to artists like Barry Adamson who grew up in Manchester but has since left the city. I didn’t want to make it nostalgic, I wanted to limit it only to artists who are currently working, get a spread of genres and to mix up big names with emerging talent.

There are some very big artists on the album, was it difficult to get people involved?
It wasn’t difficult getting Noel involved, it was an immediate yes from him. We’re not close pals but we know each other, he’s someone who remembers queuing up outside the Hacienda to hear me DJ. Elbow immediately said yes to being involved as did Bernard Sumner. People who were approached were very positive. A lot of artists are aware that some of the darkness in life that fuels their imagination is also something, that if not looked after and turned into a positive, can become extremely destructive.

It was easy to put the album together because Esther had insisted that I put on music that I loved. One frightening thing is someone turned around the other day and asked ‘when is volume two coming out?’. It has had great reviews, people have picked up on the message, on the music and the packaging of it. I wouldn’t want to take away from the charity aspect but it stands alone as an album of Manchester music. It’s a snapshot of what’s happening in the city now.

Do you think songs in themselves can make a difference to people’s health?
I think it would be a bit much to ask music to save people’s lives but at the same time I think that even in my own experience as a DJ that there is a positive effect of being part of a music community. The closest I’ve ever come to utopia is watching a dance-floor full of people enjoying the music and being comfortable with one another and celebrating life. So music does have mental health benefits but on the other hand there are so many negative pressures on people these days in this recession and period of long-term youth unemployment which affects young people’s self-worth and their ability to contribute to society. These issues aren’t something that music alone can sort but it can make a contribution.

As a DJ and journalist, what do you look for in a song?
I’ve leaned to trust my instincts, I tend not to look at press releases, photos or reviews. That certainly goes back to my days as a Hacienda DJ where you were expected to lead rather than follow, there was a lot of responsibility in getting the music right. In addition, I like quirky, passionate, original. It sounds odd but I like textures in songs. I don’t always hear the lyric or want to dance to it but there’s something about the atmosphere it generates and the creativity that appeals.

When you’re doing a compilation album you also look for things that will work together but at the same time will cover lots of different bases. One of the most fun parts of putting together the record was sitting down and programming it, I wanted it to have that old-fashioned quality where you put it on at track one and listen all the way through.

What changes did you witness and were part of during your DJ sets at the Hacienda?
Certainly the 1980s in Manchester was a period of change and as a DJ you reflected and fed into that. The biggest change was that people began to be interested. When I started there in 1986 the Hacienda had been a live music club, the city was known for Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths and The Fall and a lot of that punk attitude fed into the DJing but looking back it’s pretty odd to see how big it became. By the end of 1990, the bands that were connected with the club – the likes of The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays were on the front of the NME and magazines around the world every week and coaches were pulling up outside the Hacienda from everywhere in the UK. We certainly didn’t have any plan in 1986 of how to make that happen, it was all about acting in an unselfconscious way.

In terms of the rock/dance music that the bands were making, well, bands have always been going to clubs and absorbing various influences. The indie bands of that time could do nothing but absorb what was going on. I remember when Ian Brown and the Roses were still a relatively unknown band and one thing they had was that they were completely into music. Even if I didn’t have the most in common with Shaun Ryder, I knew that he and I could sit down and talk music until the cows came home. Everyone wanted to know what’s new, what’s different – not just house music but about what Sonic Youth were doing in New York and that kind of thing, there was that total hunger. It had the effect of turning more kids onto dance music, it was a new generation saying ‘This is us , there no barriers or ghettos’ and that powered that whole scene.

How do you think the web has affected local music scenes?
Obviously globalization and digital culture has opened up many ways for people to connect and artists to share their music and make money but also bands and musicians need venues, they need places to rehearse, to record, they need role models. Luckily for the generation coming through now, that infrastructure is fairly well developed in Manchester and the other thing that has developed is that people look to the city and expect a degree of quality from the music-making. The reputation is such that if you want to call yourself a Manchester band you have to put yourself on a pedestal with some of the greatest bands of all time. People move to the city now to make music, it acts as a kind of magnet  to creative people, so we’re getting into a kind of ‘virtuous circle’ where the good things that have happened stimulate more good things in turn.

What are you listening to at the moment?
Of all the new Manchester bands, Everything Everything are my favourite, I’ve been following them for years. I like Clock Opera, Metronomy. In terms of what I play on the dancefloor it’s stuff similar to that but more discofied. I tend not to think about whether something is new or old, I think that’s one of the great things about the internet – people get excited by discovering a ‘new’ old record as much as they do a ‘new’ new record.

You can read M‘s interview with Everything Everything’s Jeremy Pritchard here.

Find out more about the work of CALM here.

You can purchase Thirty One here.

Limited edition vinyl available exclusively from www.townsend-records.co.uk.