The brave hearts of
Manchester is currently at the heart of something, well, with heart
After a wave of nationwide club closures this past year, from Plastic People in London to the Roadhouse in Manny, for a club of the sheer size of Hidden to open, and all financed independently, makes the jaw drop somewhat. Consecutively managing to fill the 600 capacity venue, the owners have achieved something incredible, given that the new Sankeys warehouse is just down the road, and the Warehouse Project inhales most of the student population every weekend of the winter months.
Hidden’s success lies not in its VOID sound system, although it is pretty good, nor in its unique location, in an artfully redeveloped warehouse on the edge of the city centre, but in something that a lot of venues overlook in search of ever-elusive profits – a carefully considered booking policy. You’ll find no bullshit nights here, only the best underground events the city has to offer. Undoubtedly, the residencies ride off the back of these nights’ successes in smaller venues. So rather than finally taking the chance to earn a buck, promoters like Meat Free and Love Dose are continuing to operate on a break-even ethos and more than that, are giving back to their supporters through incentives such as pay-what-you-like entry fees and half-price tickets for those on low incomes.
However, as much as these gestures are a reflection of the promoters’ belief in democratising the dance floor, it’s also an indication of the changing trends. That Hidden is described as a superclub is in itself a reflection of a shift within nightlife and while Hidden’s atmosphere evokes the good ‘ol days of the Haçienda, it is a much smaller space. Even though less people seem to be going out, new club nights are emerging all the time, perhaps a reflection of young people’s entrepreneurial spirit when faced with rising unemployment and ever-decreasing opportunities. Even this year’s ban on selling laughing gas, has left youths with one less way of legally earning outside of the hostile aboveground economy with its zero hour contracts and below living wage salaries. Hence it is no surprise that these promoters are bending over backwards to be competitive and remain relevant, even if, paradoxically, it’s all happening with more than a subtle nod to socialism.
Manchester, of course, is the perfect place for the trialing of such incentives, what with its strong attachment to leftwing politics and once upon a time being the home of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. But what about promoters in other cities? Leeds feminist club night Slut Drop told me that for them it’s just financially unviable to practice pay-what-you-like or give a percentage of tickets away, as their priority is female DJs getting paid properly, even when they make a loss. Murkage Dave, who co-runs London’s Tonga with Mike Skinner, and was previously at the helm of Manchester’s Murkage says, ‘I’ve been on my get money socialist shit since my Manchester days, we were always giving out our rider to the punters and letting them wander in and out of the DJ booth, it was all about no barriers. Now that I’m back in East London and linked up with Skinner we’ve kept that ethos, and added unbilled secret guests into the mix too. In the last 6 months we’ve had Giggs, Kano, Big Narstie, Jammer, Bonkaz and many more pass through Tonga without lifting the ticket price from a fiver.’
My own experience of running a club night is that it is very difficult to turn a profit, so to be committed to giving back in any way takes a lot of drive and fearlessness so to be committed to giving back in the way Meat Free and Love Dose do takes a lot of drive and fearlessness.
The upside of the risks Hidden’s promoters take to ensure people can continue to party even when they’re skint or in-between jobs makes for the kind of euphoric reassertion of belief in humanity that MDMA can only sustain for so long, and this is what makes the parties at the venue so unique, like the hug-fest at last month’s Love Dose, where at the end of his set, one of the headliners, Kosme, ran out onto the dance floor to be embraced by the promoters, owners and punters alike. While the Mancs exhilaration was undoubtedly due to the Frenchman’s incredible set, humble Kosme was certainly not basking in his own glory. You could see his appreciation at being invited back to this very special party, who the DJ and everyone who goes to Hidden knows, are, alongside the other promoters at the venue, doing something incredibly selfless for their city.