Bringing the same visceral energy to music, movement, poetry and performance, Blackhaine has proven himself to be a vital new voice. Listen to what he has to say.
For multidisciplinary artist, MC and choreographer Tom Heyes, Blackhaine is both an artistic alias and shorthand for the “dark, hateful place” that his work is channelled from. Approaching sound, image, movement and poetry with the same visceral energy, Heyes seeks to transform the grey, bleak landscapes he associates with his birthplace of Lancashire and his native Manchester into sites of creative catharsis, elevating stories of depression, deprivation, substance abuse and small-time gangsters into vital transmissions from Britain’s darkest depths.
At once confrontational and intimate, Heyes probes the limits of rap machismo, street poetry, experimental dance and, ultimately, what it means to be an artist from a working class background. He offsets aggression, braggadocio and nihilism with intense vulnerability and unrefined honesty, a dichotomy with which he is able to bring together a dizzying array of influences, from Moor Mother and Playboi Carti to William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Stripping away convention, Blackhaine seeks to replace his own limitations, both physical and emotional, with an armour of a paler shade.
Alongside All Choreographers Are Bastards, a “deconstructive project” and art collective that includes the artists Joseph Reay-Reid (Bruxism), Joss Carter, Louis Ellis, Nathan Goodman, Sam Brown, Liam Morgan and Tim Merrifield, as well as frequent collaborators Rainy Miller and Rawtape, Blackhaine emerges among the vanguard of Manchester’s art and music scene. Heyes recognises this as a new movement exploding from the city, one that cements it as one of the most thrilling creative capitals in the world.
For the first Fact Residency of 2021, we have explored the unique practice of this singular voice, an artist who continues to make himself heard in whichever crowd he turns his attention to. Listen to what he has to say.
Blackhaine Presents: DID U CUM YET / I’M NOT GONNA CUM
We open the first Fact Residency of 2021 with DID U CUM YET / I’M NOT GONNA CUM, a collaborative work from Blackhaine and iconoclast artist Richie Culver. Taking its name from Culver’s now infamous canvas work ‘Did U Cum Yet?’, itself a wry reference to the inherently masturbatory act of posting art on social media, in Blackhaine’s video work we see the coming together of two artists that share working-class roots and a commitment to low culture, as well as a belief in the transcendent potential in creative expression.
The film introduces his collaboration with Culver, which “explores two narratives, one as a monologue from a small town drug dealer, realising his life has no meaning”, and another from Heyes himself, as he stares down from the top of Preston Bus Station as he contemplates the inevitable. Inspired by a trip to Barcelona, during which the artist experienced a spiritual epiphany while performing on a rooftop, his lyrics delve into this dichotomy. “When I grew up in Lancashire, you would constantly hear about people throwing themselves of the roof off the bus station. I felt the detailed, inspiring landscape of Barcelona really contrasts with the emptiness and moors you can see in Preston.”
Stitching together footage gathered in Preston, Barcelona and Salford, where Heyes shot in an underground car park “to represent a kind of purgatory, as if I had fallen through the pavements into a hellish place once I’d taken the leap”, DID U CUM YET exists in the tension between climax and anti-climax, a mode of frustrated oscillation that Blackhaine enters into mid-air, as he intones “Drifting, falling, dancing”, at once the fleeting thoughts of a soul trapped in limbo and a more general description of Heyes’ instinctual art practice.
Blackhaine Presents: Transmission (Nothing Urgent, Surreal, or of Meaning)
Filmed back in March of last year, on the night that national lockdown was first announced across England, Transmission can be understood as just one of Blackhaine’s broadcasts from nowhere, a black box recording from the wreckage of his own body on the M65. Whilst on location in Blackburn, Lancashire, conducting research for a solo piece entitled FOUR THOUSAND HOLES IN BLACKBURN, Heyes went out onto a bridge stretching over the motorway for an impromptu performance.
Standing on the precipice, drifting across “M65 lanes”, through “steel town smoke” and over “trains and steel that vibrates”, with Transmission, Heyes weaves together a kind of industrial machine poetry, his double-tracked vocals stretching and contracting, squeezed under chilly dub pressure. The machinic drive of his words is made manifest in the monotonous delivery of a text-to-speech program, which Heyes uses to cloak his most lyrical passages.
Transmission was made in collaboration with All Choreographers Are Bastards, a collective founded in Manchester in 2018 that includes the artists Joseph Reay-Reid (Bruxism), Joss Carter, Louis Ellis, Nathan Goodman, Sam Brown, Liam Morgan, Tim Merrifield and Blackhaine himself. Heyes describes ACAB as “a deconstructive project”, with Transmission existing as a product of their subversive approach to group art practice.
Blackhaine Presents: Womb
‘Womb’ marks the melancholy close to Armour, a collection of five tracks that Blackhaine describes as “an opus to inner city environments, long nights, heavy mornings and lost months.” Rising producer Rainy Miller moves from orchestral ambience, through cavernous bass experiments, to elegant drill variations, each track pinned to the ground under the weight and heft of Heyes’ raw and piercing delivery.
The EP was written during a time of restlessness and upheaval for Heyes. “The early start of 2019 I was working at one of the train stations in Manchester”, he explains, “drinking heavily and not sleeping/having attacks due to the pharmaceutical drugs I was taking.” He recollects vicious mornings, “when your kidney feels like a piece of coal”, and it was from this physical and spiritual malaise that Armour was borne. “It’s an autopsy of my own body,” he admits.
The ghostly visual was created by Rawtape, a self-described “Director/Editor from the North” and one of Blackhaine’s key collaborators. After filming the striking monochromatic visual for ‘Blackpool’ on a gas tower in north Manchester, the filmmaker wanted to make a contrasting companion piece. The result is a shifting patchwork of looping movement and GAN animation, courtesy of Bel Docherty, reproducing footage taken of Heyes in a studio and arranging it into a moving montage; an assemblage of instinctual movement and digital manipulation.
Blackhaine Presents: I’m Only Here
In this Fact Original Commission, Blackhaine closes out his Fact Residency with I’m Only Here, a live performance of two new tracks that sees Tom Heyes linking up with rising producer Rainy Miller and Joshua Inyang of longtime Fact favourites Space Afrika. “Manchester feels so alive at the moment,” says Tom Heyes of the collaboration. “Space Afrika, Rainy Miller, Rawtape, Croww, Iceboy Violet, Acre, and many others contributing to the scene.”
I’m Only Here serves as both a state-of-the-nation address and as an evocative rumination on it’s hidden depths, at once ferocious and reflective. Inspired by his experiences on Manchester’s infamous Bury New Road, Heyes maps out a sort of nihilist psychogeography, telling grim tales of misty ring roads, dark Travelodge rooms and valleys “that look like a rib cage.” These motifs form part of a larger narrative, a deep dive into a dingy Northern underworld, populated by desperate souls and small-time gangsters.
Space Afrika’s ethereal ambient passages are contrasted with Rawtape’s analogue grain and Rainy Miller’s deadly drill pressure, as Blackhaine channels tension in every syllable of his visceral performance. Fists clenched, head bowed, the pain and desperation of the murky underworld that Heyes shines a cold light onto is visible on his face, in the veins on his hands. Resolutely somatic, this is a place that Heyes has to feel his way through.
Watch next: Blackhaine Presents – I’m Only Here