Exit Innerland: Mark Peters on the conflict between local pride and national identity

Mark Peters, Billinge Hill, March 2018

“Economic and identity crises are constantly repeating global themes and to not explore and compare ideas at this stage in history I think would be a wasted opportunity.”

Mark Peters is talking about why he decided to shift the map references of his debut solo album, Innerland. Previously an introspective invocation of the physical and mental landscapes he was forced to revisit when he moved back to his hometown of Wigan in late 2016, earlier this year he opened it up to artists from elsewhere in the UK (Moon Gangs), Germany (Andi Otto; Ulrich Schnauss), Poland (Olga Wojciechowska) and the United States (Brian Case; Odd Nosdam; E Ruscha V; Jefre Cantu-Ledesma) to rework and reimagine as New Routes Out Of Innerland, demonstrating a sense of inclusiveness and openness that seems very much at odds with current political developments in the UK.

“I wanted to hear how the different atmospheres of the tracks were reinterpreted by artists with varying cultural and geographical mindsets,” explains Mark. “It’s exciting to find out what someone else hears in your music and I really love where these ‘new routes’ end up. They start off at the same point as the main album, but then jump back and forth between dimensions, occasionally hinting at the originals before soaring off once again.”

The international theme wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision beforehand, but more a case of praxis makes perfect.

“It was mainly due to the fact that these eight artists were the ones we felt would be the most interesting from a musical point of view,” admits Mark, “but as the mixes started to arrive in tandem with developing political maelstroms, an interesting parallel seemed to be occurring. If there is a wider theme with Innerland, it’s the reconciliation between the personal and the universal, and these reworkings showed this idea being translated the world over. Basically, in the face of globalisation, what does our home mean to us? Is it possible/preferable to return to a colloquial existence? Or is that too now something to lament through the prism of nostalgia?”

He doesn’t explicitly mention the 2016 EU membership referendum, which saw Wigan turn in a vote that was 63.9 per cent in favour of the Leave campaign – the biggest majority in the whole of the Greater Manchester and Merseyside area – but it’s abundantly clear that the looming shadow of Brexit made its mark on both the original and reworked versions of Innerland. Because it is wordless, it is clearly not an explicitly political record, but without a context music is nothing, and so it is still very much a product of its times, and the strange mix of personal and political feelings that Mark’s return home to Wigan stirred up. 

It’s a reminder, too, that this is a record that is very much concerned with real places and real people. The imaginary map on Marc Jones’ acclaimed Ordnance Survey-inspired artwork perhaps obfuscated this, but Innerland is not some Scarfolk tourist guide or a highfalutin exercise in hauntology; there are no half-remembered half-truths about a future we never wanted, instead pertinent echoes of an almost-forgotten past hewn from rock and earth and flesh and blood.

May Mill in 1982. Photograph by David Devine

“Something just struck me upon my return to my hometown,” Mark explains. “The titles on the record are old places that are fading from memory or are in a state of decline. May Mill, for example, was a former cotton mill that was used to make carpet fibre. It was my favourite place when I was young. The mill itself had been knocked down in 1980, but the small reservoir that cooled the machinery was full of pond life and there was old abandoned equipment that you could climb on; literally playing in the ruins of the industrial revolution.”

But it was the destruction of these dark, satanic mills – as well as the closure of the coal mines that George Orwell visited when he was writing The Road To Wigan Pier in 1936 – that had inadvertently set in motion a kind of misplaced and malignant nostalgia. Conflated with a deep mistrust of people from as far away as Bury (such as local MP, Lisa Nandy) let alone Brussels, this goes some way to explaining the town’s Brexit vote, but not why this unsettling groundswell in national pride seems to have had no impact on people actually caring about the places they claim to want to protect so much.

“To some degree, there’s a lack of pride in our local heritage that seems completely out of step with contemporary themes of ownership and supposed national identity,” concludes Mark. “There is a dilapidated manor house a 20-minute walk away from my house. Parts of it date back to medieval times, but it’s under lock and key and the local attitude is that it’s merely a relic of the past. One day it will fall to the ground and the estate will be built on. Maybe that’s a perfect metaphor for the inevitable demise of western dominance: how can you fight for what’s yours if you don’t even know what that is?”

Innerland, Ambient Innerland and New Routes Out Of Innerland are all available now from the Sonic Cathedral Shop