Support club culture during lockdown by walking these routes in Bristol

Rhys Ostler-Watts tells us about Liminal Routes: Mixtapes for the City, a series of situated audio mixtapes made for lockdown by some prime selectors

Tell us about the project – what it is, and where the idea came from.

It’s a kind of exploration of the phenomenon of ‘going for a lockdown walk’, with each mix being a local DJ’s expression of their lockdown experiences and their relationship to the route they have chosen.

Right, so this is what we’ve called ‘Liminal Routes‘, a series of mixtapes to accompany walking routes across Bristol. Teresa (a good friend of mine who is a Professor of City Futures at UWE) pitched the initial idea to me back in December. We both miss the city’s nightlife and dance music culture and wanted to do something to reflect on how it has been affected by COVID closures. The project connects to Teresa’s work on sound and cities and she was keen to work with me given my familiarity with the city’s underground music scene. So I worked primarily on the artist selection and liaison, as well supporting overall project development. The concept itself was inspired by Lecken, a party crew from Berlin, whose “techno drifts” she participated in last summer. While “techno drifts” are random, freestyle walks that people do together, while listening to a playlist, Liminal Routes is a more curatorial affair whereby mixes made by local artists are paired with specific walking routes. In a way, it’s a kind of exploration of the phenomenon of ‘going for a lockdown walk’, with each mix being a local DJ’s expression of their lockdown experiences and their relationship to the route they have chosen.

Musical variety was important too, and I think we did a good job of selecting artists who cover a range of sounds.

What does the name ‘Liminal Routes’ mean?

The ‘Liminal’ bit tries to articulate the strange experience of being stuck between two realities – the pre-COVID world, which we miss, and the post-COVID world we’re tentatively looking forward to. For now, we’re stuck in the twilight zone between these two worlds – socially restricted and with not that much to do – it’s really been quite disorientating. Then the ‘Routes’ bit refers to the routes that have become familiar to us over the past year; all the walking we’ve been doing, out of necessity, as a means of coping with the restrictions. So there you have it – Liminal Routes: the soundtrack to a life half-lived in lockdown!

How were the selectors chosen?

We wanted to involve artists who, as well as being top selectors in their own rights, also do great things to cultivate the city’s dance music scene. For example: you’ve got Chez de Milo who has just released an EP on Bristol’s own Futureboogie label and who, in non-COVID times, runs cosmic club night Club Blanco. Then there’s Danielle, who works at the mighty Idle Hands record shop in Stokes Croft and is involved with Mix Nights, a great initiative encouraging women and non-binary people to get involved with DJing in Bristol. So, in these different ways, the artists we’ve chosen all represent different aspects of Bristol’s nightlife and strong community spirit.

Musical variety was important too, and I think we did a good job of selecting artists who cover a range of sounds – there’s Sunun’s old-skool jungle, dub & soul flavours, Ellie Stokes’ chuggy electronics and Tilly’s off-kilter wave sounds. Then you’ve also got Ranks’ conceptual take on walking from the city into the woods and Ngaio’s more upbeat party vibe. There’s all sorts in there and we’re really chuffed with how all the mixes turned out.

Why is Bristol a good place for this project?

Primarily because Teresa and I both live and work here so it made sense to start somewhere familiar. Beyond that, Bristol is perfect in two ways: firstly, there’s such a variety of urban and non-urban environments which make for some really interesting routes and mixes – rivers, lakes, parks, woods, streets, city views, the harbour, the M32, Bristol’s got it all! Secondly, and this is a blessing and a curse – you don’t have to go far in Bristol to find an abundance of talented artists who are willing to get stuck into projects like this – whittling down the list of artists to just seven was actually quite tough.

There’s such a variety of urban and non-urban environments which make for some really interesting routes and mixes – rivers, lakes, parks, woods, streets, city views, the harbour, the M32, Bristol’s got it all!

What do you hope people feel while they’re walking and listening to the mixes?

On the website there’s a little personal preamble to the mixes from each of the artists where they describe what the route and mix means to them and hint at what listeners can expect on their journeys. Ultimately though, it’s not for them (nor us) to dictate how people should react to the mixes, hopefully the music speaks for itself!

Which was the first walk you did? What made it special?

I live around the corner from the start point of Tilly’s Bedminster route in Vicky Park so as soon as she sent her mix through, I downloaded it and gave it a road test. It was a nice moment, to experience our faint whiff of an idea materialise into something tangible! It’s a proper good mix too: reflective, bizarre and delicate at times – all too familiar lockdown sensations…

What has the reception to the project been like so far?

It’s early days but so far everyone we’ve shared it with has really embraced the idea. Even though people are largely fed up of COVID/lockdown discourse, I think there’s definitely an appetite to experience something conceptual while art galleries and venues remain closed. We’re hoping to boost the presence of Liminal Routes by hosting some sort of communal listening walks over the summer, if restrictions allow. Bristol and Bath Creative R&D who funded the project also have other ‘digital placemaking‘ projects we may integrate with in the future.

I think there’s definitely an appetite to experience something conceptual while art galleries and venues remain closed.

What’s next for the Liminal Routes team? Can we expect more mixes?

Besides the collective walks, we’re thinking of branching out to other cities – particularly Berlin where Teresa has connections. Together with colleagues at UWE, she’s also in the process of setting up Resonant Ecologies – a group of artists, scholars, curators, creative producers and technologists who are interested in sound, cities and public space. The group will be holding a series of events which will kick off in the coming months with Liminal Routes featuring as a part of this ongoing work.

Hopefully we can all go back to the clubs, pubs and bars soon enough though. Then over time, as lockdown walks gradually turn into a distant memory, the Liminal Routes project will naturally become a sort of time capsule… a small snapshot of life from the Year the Clubs Stood Still.

Listen and walk along to the Liminal Routes mixes.

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