Reflecting on Manchester Pride 2018

When someone says ‘Pride’, words like colour, celebration, glitter, party, inclusivity, death-drop spring to mind. Although all fabulous assets, it is easy sometimes to forget that Pride is at its core not only a hyper-saturated 3-day bender but an age old social and political protest. Music, particularly rave culture, has always been a driving force in Pride’s momentum of resistance; binding, protecting and platforming those who found themselves at the very fringes of mainstream society. The club night ‘Flesh’ at the famous Hacienda nightclub in Manchester set the precedent for a new twilight mode of celebrating queer identity, one that was steeped in dance-music, drugs, secrecy, community, and no-holds-barred expression. It seems odd to me then that these days, at least at first glance, musically speaking Pride seems to be most heavily indebted to mainstream pop chart culture. This year at Manchester Pride, the likes of Rita Ora, Sigala and Alexandra Burke featured on the main stage. Don’t get me wrong, I have no particular vendetta against “popular music” and actually Pride is one of the few occasions were I am actually quite happy to shamelessly dance along to Rita Ora’s ‘Anywhere’. But I do think it’s important to remind people that Pride still represents to many in the world of music, a time of protest and resistance; And also a nod of recognition towards the LGBT community’s crucial role, past and present, in paving the way for so many of today’s leftfield and underground cultural movements.

‘The Big Weekend’ is only a fraction of Manchester’s Pride celebration. What follows is a list of some of this year’s best, what I have called, “off pride” music and clubbing events:

Bollox Queer Pride @ The Deaf Institute

Bollox is the self professed “daddy” of the queer alt Manchester scene, spawning many of the city’s now infamous club parties, exotic drag characters and leftfield communities. Their music policy seems to be loosely based around dirty pop, punk rock, electroclash, smash hits and retro hits, but in all honesty the only rule seems to be that there are no rules at all. Expect the unexpected would be an appropriate motto for the Bollox collective, a place where Joy Division co-exists with Donna Summer and Kylie lives peacefully with Nirvana. This Manchester Pride, Bollox showcased amongst others, Manchester legend Kath Mcdermott, a well known resident at the infamous Hacienda club night ‘Flesh’ in the 90s and with the later developing queer collective, Homoelectric.

Come As You Are @ The Refuge

The Refuge, located in the old Palace Assurance building, has not even made it to its 2nd birthday here in Manchester and yet at this year’s Manchester Pride it became, despite the rather dear drinks prices, the beating heart of the Pride party happenings beyond Canal Street. “Come As You Are” was the mantra for the weekend and from Friday through till Monday, Refuge kept the good tunes flowing in its stunning open air courtyard. Friday night featured an all night set from Manchester regulars Horse Meat Disco, and for the remainder of the weekend the decks were manned by representatives from the best of Manchester’s queer clubbing collectives.

Homoelectric @ Hidden

Homelectric began in 1998, one of the many explosive schemes to be detonated by Luke Unabomber, the man behind ‘Electric Chair’ and the aforementioned ‘The Refuge’. Since its conception it has always been seen as a purposeful antithesis to the commercialisation of Canal Street. Homoelectric borrows a very Berliner style clubbing attitude creating a unique Manchester space for misfits, queers and oddballs.

This year Homoelectric brought techno connoisseur Erol Alkan to Hidden, one of the growing number of converted warehouse clubbing spaces in Salford. Joining the fro was also Leeds’ own Michael Upson, head honcho of the legendary gay club night Love Muscle, which has now made its home at the workers’ co-op Wharf Chambers in Leeds.

High Hoops presents Octo Octa @ White Hotel

A stone’s throw away from Homoelectric’s thumping rave in Hidden, in the shadow of Manchester’s famous Strangeways prison, was an even grittier party at Manchester’s worst kept secret in the underground clubbing scene, The White Hotel. The party was hosted by High Hoops and featured acclaimed house artist Octo Octa and fellow American digger Lovefingers. The night was one of sweaty dancing, intense strobing and excessive amounts of dry ice. Queer Manchester icons Grace Oni Smith, Beau Blonde and Josh Hubbard could be found centre dancefloor keeping the energy high, tirelessly dancing all night long.

Red Laser Records’ Secret Rave

When the idea of ‘underground’ becomes a fashion in itself it can be hard to not be caught up in the tiresome and often pretentious hunt for authenticity. The now very ‘cool’ legacy of queer clubbing that Manchester stands in the wake of has created an odd atmosphere for fringe and underground queer collectives in which notions of secrecy and exclusivity contend with core values of community and inclusivity. Saying that, some secrets are certainly worth keeping.

Although not making any claim to be a ‘Pride event’ Red Laser Records’ secret canal side rave certainly rode the wave of positive queer energy that washed over Manchester over bank holiday weekend. Attracting a crowd of around 300 people Il Bosco pulled off another stunning feat of diy clubbing. Underneath a discrete railway bridge, deep in outer industrial Manchester, Bosco’s party continued from Saturday night into late Sunday afternoon.

Superbia Screening of BoilerRoom’s Fleshback film

LGBT history, perhaps in Manchester more than in many places, is intensely coloured by music, clubbing, and protest. It is also however, perhaps as a direct result of, shadowed by alcohol and drug abuse and the trauma such a lifestyle often brings about. As such it is crucial that events such as those curated by Superbia exist, in which revellers can find a space free from alcohol and drugs to celebrate Pride.

Superbia is a Pride affiliated charity that supports and funds LGBT events and curates its own cultural events, all free of charge and alcohol free. This year Superbia screened Boilerroom’s ‘Fleshback’ documentary; ‘queer raving in Manchester’s twilight zone’. Superbia in this screening, amongst many other fabulous cabarets, talks and exhibitions, brought a sober reminder of the unique heritage of Manchester’s queer music scene and created a much needed gap in the blindsighted hedonism of the weekend giving way instead to a moment of thoughtful memory.

Kiss Me Again @ Soup Kitchen

It might come as a shock to many that Kiss Me Again has only been running in Manchester for a couple of years for they already appear to be veterans in the gay clubbing scene in Manchester. Over the years Kiss Me Again have brought the likes of Midland, Debonair and Dan Beaumont to their den in the infamous Soup Kitchen basement and have swiftly demonstrated that they have perfected the art of promoting intimate, energised and carefree clubbing environments.

Kiss Me Again are frequently known to donate all their profits to the LGBT Foundation and this Pride was no exception. This year it was a family affair; there were no big names in headlights, just Kiss Me Again’s much loved residents.

Manchester is famous for its impact on the dance music scene and for forming a whole new clubbing mentality; it is also famous for its relentless fight for LGBT rights. These are not isolated truths. Manchester reached a point in the 90s, after a certain culmination of party and protest, in which music and clubbing enabled a series of spaces where sexuality was no longer a central issue. The music and clubbing scene which put Manchester on the map is indebted to the Manchester gay community who enabled those spaces. And the success of Manchester’s history of political protest for gay rights is equally indebted to the community of Manchester who felt the power of the music and clubbing spaces that queer people of all kinds inhabited. The Manchester today is still the Manchester of then, although a stroll down Canal Street can sometimes make that difficult to believe. It takes very little digging however to realise that Manchester’s queer music and clubbing scene is still very much alive!

For updates on Manchester Pride’s 2019 edition, head here

Words: Oscar Lister

Featured Images: Jack Kirwin, LJK Photography

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