Vanishing: 'There’s a lot of thinking about some of the left-behind places and spaces of the North'

Born as a spoken word-cum-avant noise project whose first album emerged from work staged during Hull’s year as UK City of Culture, Vanishing is the brainchild of Gareth Smith.
Gareth Smith aka Vanishing. Picture: Der FotoautomatGareth Smith aka Vanishing. Picture: Der Fotoautomat
Gareth Smith aka Vanishing. Picture: Der Fotoautomat

An electronic musican, who formerly worked with the Manchester-based artist Lonelady, Vanishing has re-emerged this month with a new record, Shelter of the Opaque, described as “an album to aid listeners navigate the modern city”.

Smith, a Hull native who now lives in Manchester, says the project has evolved over the past seven years. “It’s now a floating ensemble of people, so I’m always working with some people I’ve worked with before but also a few new people in the mix.”

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Music was not Smith’s first calling. In fact, from the age of 16 he worked as an apprentice toolmaker. “I was always into music but when I left school studying, going to college didn’t seem to fit with where I was at,” he explains. “I wanted to earn some money and go to watch Hull City play as often as I could… But I did go to university later on (to study English and philosophy).”

While doing the apprenticeship he bought a guitar and started making music with some friends. “It was important to me but it wasn’t the centre of my world. Towards my mid to late twenties I started to become much more serious about getting somewhere and I suppose trying to develop a bit of an artistic practice based around words and music. It’s developed over the years into something that’s got other elements to it. We’ve done some work with dancers and films.”

The initial sessions for Shelter of the Opaque took place in Rotterdam more than six years ago. Smith says: “It sounds difficult to justify it taking so long, but we have had a pandemic in the middle and sometimes things just take a long while. We went to Rotterdam in late 2017 we just had an opportunity to go into this studio and experiment for 10 days or so and the work that we came out with, which is the electronic music that underpins the whole record, I thought was so good that we’ve got to do something with this, but there was so much of it, it was crazy. It took a long while to sift through it all and find things I thought could tell a story.”

“Rather foolishly” deciding to embellish the electronic jams with improvised strings before they’d been properly sifted further slowed things down, he admits. “After you’ve been doing it for a year or two, you go, I might as well try to make it as good as it can be rather than try to bash it out.”

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In between he made another album which extemporised on his first record, 55°N, 5ºE. That had told story of his great grandfather George Henry Smith who died in the Dogger Bank Incident of 1904 when Russian warships mistook a fleet of British trawlers for the enemy and opened fire. That took just two days. “It was something vital that I needed to do to prove to myself that not everything has to take this long,” he says.

On Shelter of the Opaque Smith reflects on the changing urban landscapes he’s witnessed around the north. As well as Manchester, they worked at the Birkenhead Observatory and in Rotherham and Bradford.

“I think I’ve tried to capture some kind of genuine reflection of what it is to be making stuff at this moment in time,” Smith says. “There’s so much turmoil going on, I’ve tried to think about that, but also really place it within the spaces which I’m operating in.

“There is quite a bit on the album that’s about the changing shape of Manchester. I’m not against change and I’m not against things being as they were previously. But the thing that I was concerned about was how does all this change make sense to the people who are living here. So there’s a lot of thinking about some of the left-behind places and spaces of the North I’ve moved through.

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“I think there is a lot of politics in there, but it’s not party politics. I’m not trying to project a political identity, but I am trying to unpick in a poetic way some of the wider injustices that I see and feel passing through different places of the north.”

Shelter of the Opaque is out now. Vanishing plays at Partisan, Salford on May 23 with more gigs to follow.