Rhythm & Values: Jess Miley

R&V is a mixed series of long and short investigative reads focusing on those within the Northwest scene that are having to move to their own rhythm to make waves in the industry. Here we highlight the practices and experiences of these rulebreakers to show where the industry can change for the better, and why we should value what they’re doing.

Jess Miley is the General Manager of The Invisible Wind Factory (IWF), a multi-faceted venue under the umbrella of the Kazimier collective, a rather large hidden gem nestled in the Ten Streets area in the North of Liverpool. Miley sits down with us to talk about the challenges of making a high-capacity non central venue work, offering insights into the Northwest gig economy and how her and the team are helping to further nurture the increasing diversification of Liverpool’s music scene. Miley started her career at IWF with a random disco shift, in which we’re all familiar, and since then worked her way up to the position of General Manager. Miley says, “I knew from that first shift that this was the environment and the people that I wanted to surround myself with.” This role has given Miley the responsibility of keeping the venue in check, helping with the ‘concept to completion’ of independent projects, cultivating a creative and safe space for all to express, and sometimes even making pizzas for the masses.

With the capacity of IWF topping out at 1200 comes the complex yet creative operation to keep a venue of this size running under the increasing pressures of a precarious entertainment economy. Though difficult, Miley has great faith the team at IWF saying “I am part of an amazing team, everybody works so hard to get these projects off the ground.” Many venues tried to keep their heads above the water during and post-Covid and had to get creative with their spaces, most notably Wales’ largest independent music venue in Swansea called Sin City who literally sold their floor to keep the roof over their heads. They tore up their floorboards, sectioned it off into 6x3 inch blocks, burnt their logo into it and sold the nostalgic memorabilia that had been danced on for 40 years by the generations before. Being closed for two years, IWF needed something creative to keep them from being another venue added to the pile lost to the pandemic. This meant getting creative with the versatile space they had available to them. One of the most successful projects that Miley played a part in was the Rollerdrome. Not only did the roller-skating scheme generate the steady financial support that the grassroots venue needed, but it also provided a space for people to enjoy themselves safely.

Many grassroots venues are having to pack up across the country, with the Covid fallout and rising energy costs identified as the main culprits and gentrification also playing a considerable role in poking holes in cities' cultural fabric. The owners of the original Kazimier, now Kazimier Gardens, are no strangers to the troubles of being muscled out of theirs, and so many people’s, stomping ground for the purpose of redevelopment. Miley harks back to the days it was still open saying “I went to the Kaz Club a few times, probably underage, and it was boss just the way it was, but we’ve found a new home and we do love it.” Though offered this new site to continue their business after the Kazimier was forced to close, it is an all too familiar and bitter pill to swallow seeing yet another independent venue’s cultural value overlooked. With backwater contracts of profit driven projects and expected post-developmental noise complaints forcing venues into history, gentrification has poised itself as a pervading silent killer of culture.

Despite the undercurrent of doom and gloom it is the cohesive support and admiration these independent venues have for each other that should fill any onlooker with confidence for the future. Naturally, most businesses pose themselves competitively against each other, but Miley speaks fondly of the other venues surrounding them, illustrating how they are a stronger force together in order to defend the creative spaces they’ve built. Miley says “Of course we all want each other to survive, we’re a really close community and we love to see the amazing line-ups and events [of other local venues]. We were all so chuffed that after Meraki famously painted ‘THIS IS A NIGHTCLUB’ on top of their roof to stave off developers, and that it drew enough attention and the development fell through!” Miley also mentions her staunch veneration for both the stalwart and budding venues surrounding IWF, including Quarry, Spray Shop, Ten Streets Social, Melodic Distraction, North Shore Troubadour, Blackstone Warehouse and then some. Though these creative spaces have already been built and have set sturdy roots into Liverpool’s cultural foundations, Miley mentions some fears for what the future brings for the area. “We’re scared for what the new Everton ground will bring, ultimately the cost of rent will go up in the area for those that live nearby and that means the rent for venues increasing the cost to run all these great spaces.” Though the Everton stadium is in and of itself an exciting development for Liverpool’s fiercely supported football community, ultimately, a project of this magnitude can overshadow the needs of those nearby and potentially spell financial trouble for the venues trying to navigate an already taxing environment to thrive in.

It is the projects that Miley has been a part of and the future projects her and the team are working towards that will help continue the growth of the venue in more than just a financial manner. “People just aren’t going out as much anymore, they just don’t have the same money to spend that they used to, so we’ve had to really focus on securing our future.” The effects of the economic pressures surrounding the gig economy are notably cyclical. With the cost of living going up, so too has the cost of running a venue and the cost of touring for the artists. With artists having to charge more to cover expenses and make a living, paired with the problem of the national energy crisis, the cost inevitably lands in the laps of the audience. Miley points out “We would love to be putting our own shows on all the time, but it is just not the economy for it right now, so we’ve settled on a handful of in-house events/projects that we’ve been working on as well as what we run alongside. We’re just trying to stray from the mainstream line-up to provide new flavours and exposure for both the people and the performers, which is a risk given they’re lesser-known names, but we want to bring diversity to Liverpool and deserved attention to these artists with the nights we’re putting together ourselves.” Given the economic uncertainty, it could be argued that it isn’t the right time economically to be putting underrepresented names and communities on the bill rather than the well-known names on the circuit, but this is the unwavering vision of Miley and the team and they’re already making tracks. 

To counteract the hesitation potential patrons might have to spending their money on tickets, Miley and the team have understood the task of elevating that expected experience by bringing some homegrown North-Western talent front and centre. One of the team’s key intentions is to pay homage in a way to the original Kazimier by bringing some of its old spirit to the new space. Noting this Miley says, “I grew up going to underground clubs like Corsica Studios and later on of course to bigger clubs like Berghain, but it was the tone of the more intimate events that interested me, and I think that’s what we’re trying to conjure, some of the original Kazimier.” The team’s first attempt at upholding their promise has been the recent success of the Amorphic Jazz Club at the Kazimier Gardens Stockroom, an event that would have been an undeniable staple of the original Kazimier calendar. Following that, right round the corner on Saturday 1st April is their awaited second round of Cosmolopolis, a hand-crafted coupling of Liverpool’s Plush and Manchester’s Space Cassette, providing a platform of some of the best native DJ’s of the North West.

When asked about the future, Miley chirps with a solid smile: “I’ve got big plans which I am anxious to execute, but I just want to make some really nice big queer parties because Liverpool are missing them on that bigger scale” going on to sternly state: “I want to focus on raising the platform for queer, trans and non-binary DJ’s right here in Liverpool.” It was clear watching Miley speak about expanding and exploring her vision of elevating the queer scene in Liverpool, that this is where her personal focus lies. She continues saying, “Being an openly gay woman in the industry, I’ve certainly been to nights around the UK, and it’s simply not been a nice vibe and I’ve not enjoyed the experience. I would hate for anyone to feel this way at any of our events so I want to focus on eventually creating a larger-scaled queer focused event, or events, in Liverpool where I know I’d want to be and feel I could fully express myself, and feel represented.” This is a clear mission with a firm drive towards diversity and representation that is clearly already in action. With Miley’s precise and competent capabilities and the team’s insatiable creative potential, I for one can’t wait to see what this collection of people has in store for Liverpool.