Alt city guide to Birmingham

With independent art and street food scenes, and clubs and soundsystems bursting with bass, the second city has first-rate cultural credentials – if, like our writer, you know where to look

Creatively, Birmingham is elusive. Unlike many cities, it does not have an identifiable cultural DNA. It has never asserted itself as a centre of radical art or music. Local creatives offer various reasons why. Some take a quiet pride in that anonymity: “We didn’t shout as loud as people from Manchester, but that’s the nature of the city”, the techno producer Karl O’Connor, aka Regis, once told the Quietus. Over the years that modesty may have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but, even geographically, Birmingham is not built for self-promotion.

This “city of a thousand trades” has always been sprawling and granular. It is highly diverse socially and culturally, a city where the best restaurants (Jyoti’s) or music venues (Hare & Hounds), are often found in the suburbs – if you are willing to travel. Which not everyone is. For instance, attracting people from the city centre into the rave dens of neighbouring, post-industrial Digbeth can be difficult. Consequently, Birmingham club crowds tend to be dedicated and discerning, though, overall, the scene is relatively small. As Alex Wynne Hughes, co-promoter of the Shadow City parties, puts it: “A lot of people would say we’ve got our own thing going on.”

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