Voices of local activism from the past are brought into the present in a new musical project live-streamed from Manchester Central Library.

Archives+ and Central Library are giving free reign of the region’s collection to local artists Pops Roberts and Philip Howley in a new commission called Demo Tapes. 

Demo Tapes brings together the voices and sounds of the North West, captured in the archives, making new and original work that’s centred around the theme of protest. The first piece, ‘Give Yourself’, is already online, and presents listeners with a collage of voices from local activists from the past backed by a heady track composed by Pops and Philip. 

The two artists are now taking their work further with a performance of Demo Tapes live-streamed from the Central Library tomorrow, Tuesday 13 July. 

Special guest Ríoghnach Connolly will also perform new works in response to the sound archives. 

Phil reflects on the process, saying that he “found Listening to the archive incredibly fascinating. It’s so funny how everything seems to change but nothing actually really does. Hearing the voices of dissent striving to be understood or heard, just to voice their unhappiness was really emotional for me.” 

Pops also added: “I loved the power of the main section and wanted to counteract it with a more loving reminder. The core of protest for me is power and compassion going hand in hand really – making kinder changes for people in the present and the future. There is so much in the archives to choose from so the work continues!” 

As part of Demo Tapes, Pops and Phil have been leading music-making workshops for young people based on the archive at Brighter Sound (Manchester) – along with similar projects in Morecambe and Liverpool.  

The workshops continued the theme of creating music in response to voices of activism, and the result will feature during the live-stream and also be added to the archive. 

You can catch the gig on 13 July 6-8pm via the Reform Radio live-stream.

You can also explore the archives yourself, and listen again to the live-stream, at the North West Sound Heritage. There you can hear stories of political involvement, queer creative response, anti-nuclear protest, climate change, industrial protest and mass trespass.  

Cllr Rabnawaz Akbar, Manchester City Council’s executive member for neighbourhoods, said: 

“Manchester has always been recognised as a cultural beacon, and the music of our city is why we are recognised the world over. But Manchester also has a proud history of local activism that is committed to social change, and this has continued into the present. 

“We are delighted that Demo Tapes has brought together those two traits intrinsic to our identity in a celebration to inspire the present. Archives+ has played a vital part in preserving those voices of the past, and this event will be a great way to inspire the present.” 

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is a UK-wide project from the British Library aiming to preserve a collection of over 6.5 million recordings from across the UK, varying from music, to radio, to spoken word.  Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is now in its fourth year, and Manchester Central Library has been playing a major role in bringing the project to life.