Chris Malpas chats to James Zaremba about grassroots music and good vibes
4 minute read
The radio station looks back on their time in the Baltic and forwards to another year in the Fabric District.
Gone are the days when any mention of Liverpool’s Fabric District was met with a blank expression or speculations about the derelict wasteland behind the TJ Hughes on London Road from people who’d never been there.
Well, maybe not completely gone, but those blank looks are now few and far between. It’s an area of the city which, until fairly recently, didn’t so much have a bad reputation as no reputation at all.
We can’t wait to see more exciting and innovative businesses come to the area
This sentiment is echoed by Melodic Distraction founder, James Zaremba, who’s observed the changes first-hand: “No longer do taxi drivers go, ‘Where?’ when you ask for a cab to the Fabric District.” Compared to 18 months ago when the radio station first left their established base in the Baltic, their new home has escaped obscurity and become a destination of its own.
When I asked about Melodic’s contribution to this regeneration, James is quick to celebrate their neighbours: “Other bars like Hopscotch Whiskey Bar and Round the Corner are favourites of ours.” This sense of rising together is an ethos carried over from their time in the Baltic, which James describes as: “So collaborative. We had such a supportive community of businesses and individuals around us. Very much, ‘can I borrow a cup of sugar?’ vibes. Everyone was so willing to share skills and knowledge.”
The bar itself is a hub for creatives and recently underwent its own transformation by way of a new glass box exterior to shelter patrons from the cold. “Just like radio, it’s a place to express yourself, experiment and get involved in something new,” James explains. A quick glance at Melodic’s events schedule proves this to be true; refusing to be pigeon-holed into becoming a straightforward extension of the radio station situated above, the bar has hosted dance classes, weekly board game nights, and even the premiere of a skate video – all good things for the area.
In the September of 2021, Confidentials.com ran a ‘Rags to Riches’ story on the Fabric District, and while a lot has changed since then, it was pointed out at the time that discussing the area solely in terms of regeneration can be reductive: the narrow perspective tends to overlook pre-existing businesses. It’s certainly trendier than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean it came out of nowhere. James shows an awareness of this, saying, “There is a Community Interest Group with some long-standing Fabric District residents steering things in a really positive direction.” Eighteen months on Melodic is still something of a new kid on the block.
The notoriously quiet month of January (James dubs Dry Jan “Lent for Millennials”) was filled with socials dedicated to loftier causes than flogging beer: “We’ve had an event called The Lad’s Room, which was a men’s mental health fundraiser. The night after we had The Girl’s Crib returning for their social. Their aim is to create safe space events for women and folks from the LGBTQ+ community. We really want to support events like this in the city, events that push for positivity while keeping things fun are what we’re all about.”
James goes on to explain why Melodic keeps their events free: “We don’t want money to be a barrier for folks who want to come down and enjoy live music in the space. We’re also all about giving folks their first chance to perform on stage (everyone has to start somewhere…) and we love seeing other venues in Liverpool pushing the grassroots side of the music scene too.”
Buzzwords such as grassroots and regeneration aren't always complementary. If popularity continues to rise and new business continues to emerge, it’s not difficult to imagine the Fabric District’s history being carved up into warehouse apartments for students and young professionals. This has happened with greater or lesser success with the Baltic where higher costs hinder grassroots venues from opening.
That being said, more people visiting the Fabric District could be a very good thing; it’s always encouraging to see unloved parts of the city enter new phases. I asked James’s thoughts on this, and he’s optimistic: “We can’t wait to see more exciting and innovative businesses come to the area. Parr Street are re-opening their legendary studios up here soon and that’s something that will definitely drive more footfall to the area.”
Melodic is hardly going to turn its nose up at the prospect of new punters, but there’s also the potential for growth in other ways. James claims, “We want to use what we have to celebrate Liverpool’s (and the North West’s) amazing music scene. There’s so much talent out there that deserves a platform. Our bar is only small but if we can give someone their first opportunity in music on stage then our job is done.”
Melodic Distraction has always been about bringing people together. Before they even had a space of their own, James and Co were thinking forward: “The original idea came from the fact that so many of our hosts and friends liked hanging out at the old Jamaica Street studio. We had a little yard out back that we threw BBQs.”
It is clear they’ve managed to distil that ambition for community in their Fabric District bar. There’s no reason why a new generation of independents can’t thrive there together.
Melodic Bar and Coffee Shop, Constance St, Liverpool, L3 8HB
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