Long Live
Manchester Rave

May 2023

Words by Kamila Rymajdo
Photos by Peter J Walsh courtesy of Museum of Youth Culture

From the ‘80s heyday of Hacienda, to its forward-thinking new beginnings, we trace the legacy of the Manchester rave scene.

Manchester has a long association with rave culture, most often linked to the infamous Hacienda nightclub. Opened in 1982 in a former yacht showroom, it built on the success of the city’s Factory Records, famous for releasing the music of Joy Division, New Order and the Happy Mondays. Modelled after New York nightclubs discovered by Factory Records boss Tony Wilson, it wasn’t an immediate success but it did eventually prove to be pioneering in scope, aesthetic and musical direction.

Today, it’s the Warehouse Project that’s picked up the mantle. Launched in 2006 by Sacha Lord, and Sam Kandel – two promoters who were both previously involved with another Manchester mainstay, Sankeys – the superclub boasts some of the longest lineups and biggest acts in the world. It also puts an onus on catering to every taste – on any given weekend you can catch acts as wide ranging as Peggy Gou, Chic and Megan Thee Stallion, while its seasonal approach and changing location means it continues to evolve.

The rainy city, as Manchester is often called, is also home to smaller venues that are catching up with the reputations of those two behemoths. Clubs like Salford’s Hidden and The White Hotel and the Northern Quarter’s Soup and Band on the Wall, have carved out their own lanes by pushing back against the mainstream. Meanwhile, there are venues that have found a way to survive through challenging times – Eastern Bloc was once the city’s prime record shop, but with declining sales, it became a café and then a late-night spot where up-and-coming DJs could practice their craft.

There are also spaces that, whether owing to gentrification or economic downturns, have been forced to close, but equally played an important role in shaping the city’s nightlife. In the early 2000s, Oxford Road’s Music Box and Jilly’s, Rusholme’s dilapidated Antwerp Mansion and Piccadilly Gardens’ sweaty basement Roadhouse were the prime spots catering to the city’s- thousands of students, as genres like drum & bass and grime found their northern interpretations. Meanwhile on the other side of town, South was where Clint Boon singlehandedly kept Manchester’s indie scene alive.

As much as venues have shaped Manchester rave history, so have club nights. The 1990s arguably saw the birth of the city’s most iconic events, from LGBT-celebrating Flesh, where Manchester DJs Paulette and Kath McDermott cut their teeth and became the Hacienda’s first female residents, to Mr Scruff’s soul, funk and disco playing Keep It Unreal, which has been going for an eye-wateringly impressive 23 years. A refuge for ‘homos, heteros, lesbos and don’t knows’, 1997 started Homoelectric has become so popular, it can now pull in enough punters to host an annual festival – Homobloc.

The mid-2000s were turbulent for club nights however. While the police enforced Manchester’s own version of Form 696, pushing many Black music nights out of the city centre, the Warehouse Project’s exclusivity contracts wiped out most other electronic music promoters. At the same time, it forced nights like Swing Ting, Hoya Hoya and Hit & Run to get creative with their booking policies, inadvertently creating an even more exciting club scene as organisers turned to local DJs, thus incubating the city’s latest crop of talent.

Amongst many other important points on its timeline – clubs like Konspiracy and later on, Islington Mill, Manchester is home to players who aren’t always celebrated as they should. DJs like Hewan Clarke, who’s often been omitted from the documentations of the Hacienda, reggae-aficionado Mikey D.O.N, or hip-hop-spinning DJ Silva, are unsung heroes who have contributed to the city’s nightlife as much as more celebrated figures like Mike Pickering, Graeme Park or A Guy Called Gerald. Clubs like the Reno and nights like Black Angel are also often under-celebrated but were vital spaces for Black and mixed-race ravers.

More recently, Manchester has become a city where promoters and venue owners are increasingly thinking about accessibility, with four-storey YES leading the pack when it opened as a fully wheelchair accessible venue in 2018, while Under One Roof is a rave for adults with learning diffabilities. In turn, cooperatively owned Partisan started putting on nights so that community and activist groups could use its space for free, while collectives such as RebeccaNeverBecky and All Hands On Deck are putting on events teaching women and non-binary people how to DJ.

Aside from all the era-defining venues, club nights and acts that the Manchester scene has birthed, there is also something special about the city’s rave scene, that you don’t often see in other places. If you go to a Social Service night at the Greatstone Hotel, a Red Laser Disco in Six Trees or Supernature at Kable Club, there’s a unique sense of inclusivity, where ravers in their 40s and 50s dance alongside newbies barely turned 18, that is perhaps born of the fact that Manchester has such a long clubbing history. Long may it continue.


Kamila is a co-founder of SEEN, a new Manchester-based music magazine, created by global majority and marginalised communities. You can order it via the SEEN website