To my mind, Manchester has always seemed inseparable from its nightlife, much like that couple everyone thinks will never split up, only to be told that they’re going on a break. I spent so much of lockdown dreaming about the dancefloor. I mean that literally – on quite a few occasions I’d wake up, sure for a few seconds I’d been packed tightly in a crowd, until it would sink in that the club doors were still firmly bolted shut.
I mean it figuratively too. I would talk to friends about it over and over, lamenting ‘I can’t wait to get back out’ to sad faces on FaceTime and uncountable replies of ‘same’ as we kept our ears open for news. My eyes would be glued to the screen whenever characters of a TV show would shout at each other over thudding music, their faces glowing under red and blue lights. I thought about it so much I was worried that when we were finally allowed out again, Manchester’s nightlife would be irrevocably changed, and nobody would find as much love and joy there any more.
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But – and it delights me to say it – I was very wrong. When the doors reopened, there was one place I knew I had to get back to: SOUP basement, in the Northern Quarter. And when we finally made it in, it didn’t let any of us down. My shoes still stuck to the floor, the lack of windows meant time almost ceased to exist, and we twisted our bodies into shapes we’d struggle to recreate anywhere else. SOUP is an intimate, unjudgmental space; something of a rite of passage for those of us who love to dance and forget about everything else until the lights come on.
It’s special to me – it’s where I felt most welcome after moving from the suburbs and into the city, where I explored new genres of music, and where I met some of my closest friends and the person I’ve loved most in my life. One of the best nights since lockdown lifted was of course in that basement. On the first Friday of the clubs reopening, B.L.O.O.M. (Beautiful Ladies Organising Orgasmic Music) put on an unforgettable night where I was surrounded by faces old and new, smiles so wide I could see all of their teeth. I overheard smokers putting off going outside for a cigarette for fear of missing the next tune. Even queuing up to pay £5 for a pint I’d probably spill half of felt like a blessing.
Manchester’s nightlife scene has seen me through the most pivotal moments of my life. My first proper night out was at 42’s, a place legendary among edgier students, where I turned up wearing a pair of heels I’d bought in the sale of not-so-fashionable Dorothy Perkins. As it turns out, stilettos aren’t ideal for dancing and screaming along to Arctic Monkeys, but the £1 shots kept me going – and a kebab from Topkapi’s wrapped me up like a warm blanket in the taxi home. 42’s still stands today after securing funding to stay open, but we’ve sadly lost so many of the greats over the years. Oxford Road’s Sound Control, Rusholme’s Antwerp Mansion and Ancoats’s Sankeys are all sorely missed.
We have to hold on tight to all the amazing places we have left. Undoubtedly one of the finest nights out in Manchester is Homoelectric: a night for ‘homos, heteros, lesbos and don’t knows’, and getting to experience it during Pride weekend, at Hidden in Salford no less, was one of those events that I woke up from immediately wanting to relive, regardless of the hangover. I get lost trying to find my way out of that club every time, and that only makes it better, as if the place is urging me to stay. In a venue like this – one with loads of rooms and floors – even the stairs are an interesting place to be, whether it’s to take a breather, to use your phone to try and find your mate, or to talk to strangers about life’s big questions. Everyone is welcome, and it’s not just the people; the architecture helps create that atmosphere too.
It’s exactly the same in my fave place at the end of another Salford street, The White Hotel, which launched into a 52-and-a-half hour rave immediately after reopening their doors. On their opening Saturday we danced to Tom Boogizm All-Night-Long, and that was when I realised a piece of my heart would be there for ever. It was a night full of optimism, reunions, hope for the future and a lot of tequila – the exact sort of drink you want in that scenario, the type that burns your throat as you down your shot and rush back to the decks. If you pay enough attention, you can see the beautiful notes of DJ Miss Ridd on the walls and in toilet cubicles, a personal favourite of mine being ‘you’ll be reyt kidda’, next to a drawing of some flowers sprouting out of a beer can. It’s impossible not to believe her.
The city is sprawling and full of kindness. It’s always waiting for me, and you, and our contactless cards we’ll tap without any apprehension. Manchester is always ready to take us into the night and show us our people, let us get lost in the sounds that move us, and leave us with a camera roll full of blurry photos and messages we sent to the people we want to keep safe: ‘I’m at the front, I’ll wait here for you.’ There’s no wonder we can’t stop dancing.