Depot Mayfield, The Warehouse Project

For many young people in England, September 2021 marks a period of change. Some will have passed the two-week bracket required for double vaccinations to be placed into full effect, and the country, seemingly, has rapidly shed the quietness that blanketed its cities and towns during its third lockdown.

September also marks a turning point for the live music industry. Festivals that made the decision to continue on this year have taken over fields and gardens across the country this month. Ravers have stepped back onto the dancefloors, and in the north, Manchester institution The Warehouse Project has made its comeback.

What a comeback it’s been, too. Every year – save for its fallow year in 2020 – the Manchester extravaganza has been a cultural highlight for ravers across the UK; a legendary series of parties that draws on the city’s rich musical heritage, whilst also staging titans within electronic music and firm favourites of the underground scene. There’s been surprises along the way too, as in 2019 WHP hosted a reunion of the original Sankeys Soap residents, 13 years after the venue shut its doors. The broad, sprawling line-ups are revealing of the team’s ethos: more is, quite simply, more. After the long absence of raves and live music, the programme certainly doesn’t disappoint with Megan Thee Stallion – an international blockbuster act – announced as its headliner.

Inside the dark, immense warehouse space of Depot Mayfield, parked opposite Piccadilly station, Jordss begins the night as support, followed by underground and fashion favourite Shygirl, Princess Nokia and north London rapper Tion Wayne. It’s a strong line-up to start with, and anticipation for Megan runs high as the audience chant her name during Wayne’s set. When Megan appears on stage, she makes it clear it’s going to be a night of “real hot girl shit”, and launches straight into rapping the lyrics to Fever highlight Realer. A money-loving hustler’s anthem about “rich bitch shit”, Megan’s entrance sees her dominate the stage on her own from the beginning – her stage presence, and star power, can be felt. There’s a boldness to her voice with the way she raps and doesn’t miss a word whilst crossing the stage in tall, black combat boots, pointing at the audience. She’s dressed in a red diamante-studded ‘Stallion’ shirt – true to Megan’s style, she’s representing herself – red hotpants and a corset. Hot girl shit, for real. The crowd, too, has turned out; eyelashes are on, nails are done.

The set runs though Megan’s oeuvre of deliciously fun sex anthems, ranging from Freak Nasty on 2018’s Tina Snow – the more raw alter-ego of the Houston Hottie – to crowd highlight Simon Says. The crowd erupts to Megan’s twerking and dance routine highlights whereby she’s flanked by a crew of Hotties. Of course, there’s the Cardi B smash WAP, performed live in the UK for the very first time. It’s a moment when the lockdown-defining track rings out across the warehouse; a hit single that arrived precisely when levels of collective thirst (for single people whose sex lives were dormant, anyway) were at an all-time high. The summer of 2021 is nearing its end, when it’s yet to truly begin for many people. But live, WAP and Savage capture the prevailing mood: lockdown is over, let Hot Girl Summer begin. Oh, and bring a mop, would you?

Towards the end of the performance, Megan’s command to “drop that shit” before each track and crowd-hyping questions of where the hotties are start to feel slightly overused. However, it can be read as a sign of an artist testing the waters with a new audience following her swift ascent to stardom. Earlier in the set she tells the crowd it’s her first performance in the UK since 2018. A lot has happened since with the Houston rapper sparking TikTok dance crazes to tracks such as Body, releasing Good News, telling the nation to “protect Black women” on SNL, and writing a diss track about Tory Lanez after he was charged with shooting her. The audience interactions are balanced with Megan asking two rounds of fans from the crowd to dance with her on stage, and she later names the second group the Twerk Team. “Ok! Ok!” she says, acknowledging their skills.

As she wraps up the set, the rapper tells everyone to put their middle fingers up for the haters, and for those who try to control women’s bodies. This month, strict abortion laws were signed in Texas – a marker of how women’s rights are continuously threatened around the world. During the lockdowns, it’s perhaps been a difficult time for self-love, too, with “be kind to yourself” becoming a widespread mantra online. Megan’s entire show feels like a natural celebration of sex and the self; of loving “crazy, curvy, wavy” shapes, “big titties” and “lil’ waists”.

The next day, Megan would go on to perform at Parklife dressed in a glistening outfit complete with red sequin suspenders and garters. And the next day, she would continue on to Wireless. The Warehouse Project, too, is set to follow Megan’s show with Repercussion Festival, with acts such as Jayda G, Ben UFO, Josey Rebelle and Kampire on the programme. WHP’s comeback couldn’t have felt any more fitting for the times – or like a much-needed post-lockdown remedy – by hosting a star at the beginning of her run of UK shows. One who will, no doubt, continue to consolidate her reign after a year of career-defining moments when the world was watching on, but locked down. If anything, she’s just getting started.