Attempting to decode the failures of Britain’s post-imperial trade policy, those that continue to echo through the port city of Liverpool, sounds more like a dissertation thesis than the idea behind a conceptual rave. To help navigate such a debate, you might expect to find the likes of David Olusoga, camera in tow, wandering the dock road, staring longingly at freight cranes glistening in the distance over Seaforth. It would be an apt starting point for explanation, at least.
When it comes to SEVENSTORE’s approach to the subject matter – purveyors of fashion dreamed up on the glitziest subterranean catwalks – it’s unsurprising they’ve attempted to reroute the debate through the abstract, rather than rest on the clichés of pre-watershed television. It’s a fascinating concept. One that leans on visceral emotion as opposed to dry-eyed academic research. Billed simply as CONTAINER, a series of three parties held in a secret location within the once industrial Baltic Triangle, there appears to be an emphasis on an exploration of the question rather than a quest for comprehensive understanding.
Yet, ambiguity can be a versatile and provocative substance when drawn from the furnace by a creative pair of hands. In this instance, SEVENSTORE has acquired the strength of four; those belonging to EVIAN CHRIST and his audio-visual collaborator EMMANUEL BIARD. At this phase the idea seems as elaborate as the Ellesmere Port native’s future-perfect music. But there’s clarity in the picture, if you take a step back. A narrative akin to the energy and anguish felt in Rothko’s prosaic brush strokes. In Evian Christ’s own words, Container will attempt to channel the “history of containerised global sea-freight” over the course of three secretive, invite only, raves. Better still, they’ll take place in a shipping container lined with high spec strobe lighting, an LED wall, smoke machines and 50 dancers – there to help absorb the 150 decibels cannoned out by the command of Christ (producer, not the son of God – though, at times within the container, this is questioned).
For concept alone, the designated mobile phone number tasked with guarding the secretive whereabouts – and guestlist spaces – is likely ringing off the hook. For all of the escapist sentiment, though, it seems like Container is attempting to take a sincere, leftfield route to realist understanding. An acknowledgement, at very least, of certain features of our post-industrial lineage, and the prescribed feelings that can be shared between an abrasive post-industrial history and an abrasive 170bpm soundtrack. To round off the pre-flight information for this mission to the next solar flare, Evian adds: “[Container will follow] the story of a country with an unsustainable and ever-widening trade deficit; of a city whose industrial sites were replaced with monuments honouring the speculations of international financiers; and of a culture which services this ongoing state of affairs by holding itself accountable to an unsolvable set of moral values.” All there’s left to do is step inside.
It’s the night of the first event. While the back story offers more pre-attendance intrigue that your average four-to-the-floor warehouse rave, there’s no knowing how this storyboard will be processed; firstly, by Evian and Biard, second, by the sensory receptors charged with withstanding an intensive, strobe-lit history lesson focussing on freight trade in neoliberal Britain, and its socio-economic impacts.
With a prized guestlist spot secured, messages are passed through the waves by SMS to provide the lucky few with coordinates to the container, resting in the Baltic. Time of departure is clearly outlined. Total flight time is only two hours, so prompt arrival is required. There’s to be no easing towards euphoria. A foot to the floor driving style seems like the instruction.
Bodies are fluttering in the space surrounding the container. There seems to be a conjecture of excitement and nerves. What lurks within remains top secret. The high, rusted walls guarding the site provide a restless seclusion; 50 bodies together floating in an outdoor airlock until the hatch is opened. The container does little to draw attention to itself from the outside. Its monolithic presence is interrupted only by two Perspex doors which offer a small glimpse of the toxic green hues glowing within. Aside from that, all is left to the imagination – for now.
Tension isn’t relieved with the opening of the doors. In we go, shuffling, as though searching for an unfamiliar light switch kept in complete darkness. For those hoping for minimal challenges to the senses, spirits are crushed; the switch is under the controls of Biard. The French visual artist isn’t renowned for designing lights for the local switch-on at Christmas. Tonight, he’s here to make the music as 3-D as humanly possible; music that will be spanning a spectrum of trap, happy hardcore, trance and gabba. This isn’t going to be a breezy, Close Encounters-esque optical conversation with the 50 Earth-dwelling guests. Eyes and minds are going to be borrowed and contorted.
To start the music is spacey, the lighting warm. Such is the perceived obscurity of the setting, phones clamber to capture what they can. Smoke perforates gradually, suffocating all clear vision. As the music rises, all that can be seen is puppeteered by Biard. It’s as though kaleidoscopes have been fitted to the eyes. The brain flickers between weightlessness and anxiety as it tests the waters of spectral pool in which it’s willingly entered with 50 other souls.
The sound system offers glitchy waves of trap and off-kilter rhythm as Evian moves into his stride. There’s a chalky smell that climbs up the nostrils as our own microclimate is filled with an ozone layer of smoke. When the lights cut, offering momentary respite, the darkness in which you’re left feels like hours rather than seconds. It’s an inviting darkness. The cortex proceeds to take inspiration from the resting light show and colour the emptiness on its own accord. Ambient intersperses with energetic; the musical incongruency only adds to the disorientation as the sun beams strapped to the wall and ceiling reignite. It can only be described as watching a rainbow-soaked solar eclipse through a pair of opaque sunglasses. A rush of colour flies past the eye but detail of the picture is left entirely to the imagination. If the glasses are removed, the iris will be scorched from your eyes, it seems.
The container is completely packed but it feels like there are fields of space surrounding every attendee. The lighting has the ability to transcend the body beyond those dancing inches away. It becomes introspective; a questioning of not just the psyche, but humanity (so the note says on my phone… perhaps I’m dazed). There’s a sort of celestial camaraderie shared among the chosen 50. Not one body aggressively bumps into another, somehow. All that is telling of another’s presence is the occasion “whoop” or cheer as Evian grinds the gears of this airborne shipping container.
The soundtrack is warped for the most part: paired with the light show, it works the mind into an obedient liquid, happily shifted into whatever shape the colours suggest. It feels though the eyes are watching the scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey where Dr David Bowman is hurtling tough the space and time continuum wormhole, except it’s playing at 10 times the speed and your nose is pressed against a cinema screen. To close, the set ramps up to its highest BPM, temporarily transforming the container ravers into gabba enthusiasts. And with that, the set closes, the lights come up and smoke billows from the Perspex doors. There as strong a sense of relief as there is a fading euphoria. We all made it through.
I’m left unsure on whether I understand the UK’s trade deficit any better. But there’s certainly been hopeful thought provocation. In many ways we have no idea what’s in these boxes when they arrive at ports. They can only offer potential intrigue. We simply look at the words Hamburg Sud, China Shipping and think noting other. There no inkling that the world’s account balance it is tipping from side to side before our eyes. We have no engagement with these economic building blocks.
The idea of Container breaks beyond the four rectangular walls which we step inside. It tells the story not of how these containers are shipped and traded on a daily basis, but how we, ourselves, reflect the same process. In the post-industrial city, we are the highly valuable commodity, the commerce. We box ourselves into self-constructed containers of aspiration, expectation and anxiety, just because the nature of the capitalist western economy says so. Dancefloors, nailed to economy, are no longer an escape. Through placing ourselves in a blinding box with 50 others, you come to see this.
Who knew a two-hour strobe examination could prove so metaphorical, so scathingly political?
Container takes place for the final time in an undisclosed space in the Baltic Triangle on 15th December. Text SEVEN STORE to 0777 677 0707 to find out more details.