Manchester's cool in KL

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The Independent Online
IT IS being dubbed "Cool Mancunia" - a trade mission from Manchester to Kuala Lumpur, which unashamedly capitalises on the notion of exporting popular culture.

The cream of Manchester's DJs, bands, designers and restaurateurs will fly to Kuala Lumpur, or "KL" as the Mancunian delegation refers to it, next month to build stronger trading and cultural links following the Commonwealth Games handover last month.

Those leading the promotion of Manchester also have a wider and more ambitious agenda: to create a new image for the Commonwealth - and the Games which the city will host in 2002. "This is about cross-fertilisation of cultures," said Tony Wilson, the former Factory Records mogul and manager of New Order. "People think the Commonwealth is not as important as it used to be but, with the end of apartheid in South Africa, it stands a very fair chance of becoming the most interesting group of non-aligned countries in the 21st century. There is, after all, a waiting list to join."

The Malaysians have already shown a penchant for the city; Kuala Lumpur boasts Manchester United's biggest supporters' club outside Britain and 15 per cent of the city's overseas students are Malaysian.

No one in Manchester can really pin down what lies behind this fascination, though many young Malaysians were attracted by the "Madchester" pop culture scene that reached its height in the late Eighties and early Nineties.

Indeed, the importance of popular culture in the link between the two cities was recognised at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, when a live satellite link to Manchester showed 10,000 people packed into the city's Albert Square for a free concert by James and New Order.

The trade mission to Kuala Lumpur will feature a club night, fashion shows and broadcasting seminars.

Paul Heathcote, the Michelin-starred chef of Manchester's award-winning restaurant, Simply Heathcote's, will be serving up canape-sized portions of fish and chips, wrapped in the Manchester Evening News, and cottage pies at the fashion show reception.

Young fashion designer Matthew Williamson will be showing his clothes, and the Underground Shoes label, which has recently developed outlets in Malaysia, will also be in the party.

Lis Phelan of Marketing Manchester, which helped put together the trade mission, is unconcerned at Malaysia's recent economic downturn.

"This is a key market and we are confident of a recovery," she said. "If you have got ongoing business relationships with a country, you don't pull out."