In the last few years, the nightlife economy has undergone a revolution. Where once nightclub profits rarely fed back into local communities, organisers and venues are now using the club night as a tool for social change, embracing diverse line-ups, inclusivity drives and the idea of the club as safe space. Manchester, a city with a storied clubbing history, has led by example.
Although the city is nowadays best known for commercial successes such as Warehouse Project and Parklife, the DIY scene is simultaneously thriving at the heart of the northern powerhouse. Democratically run collectives are putting on quality electronic nights which prioritise an ethical ethos of community and inclusivity. One such collective is the rapidly growing worker’s co-operative Partisan. Their emphasis is on building a space for DIY, cultural and political events – they currently occupy a former synagogue in central Manchester, space which is “run by the people that work in it, with better levels of pay and better working conditions.” Tom, one of the collective’s founders, explained.
To the untrained eye, the Partisan building could be mistaken for any other dilapidated, inner city building repurposed into a bar/club/venue. Despite the run-down aesthetic, the collectively ran space is built on a democratic and economically just model. This means that it is owned and managed by the people that use it and put on/attend nights; profits from club nights are fed back into the community, subsidising other projects and campaign groups. One such project is geared towards the creation of a central housing network for greater Manchester homeless charities (now known as Greater Manchester Housing Action). Before the Partisan space, many housing groups in Manchester found it difficult to afford a space big enough for all of them to meet. The Partisan building has become that space, and therefore become a hub in a network characterised by collaboration and cross-pollination. “Manchester has a fragmented political scene: lots of different groups taking part in interesting activism around different types of politics but not talking to one another.” Partisan’s Kate, who is also an organiser of the Greater Manchester Housing Network, said. “Our goal is for Partisan to be a way to build a “utopian” discourse between the separate groups.” This merging of the cultural and political spheres, activism and the arts, makes the nightlife scene in Manchester deeply political at a time when it’s needed most.
Another collective having an impact on Manchester’s flourishing nightlife scene is Meat Free DJs. They started around five years ago by throwing ‘pay what you want’ parties.“The way we saw it was we were democratising dancefloors,” they Alice, one of the four women who run the collective told Crack Magazine. “People could come and see if they liked it and if they did they would pay. We still played banging techno, but it was a fun and liberal environment and, most importantly a really welcoming and safe space for anyone who wanted to come and enjoy themselves.” Accessibility and inclusivity are the guiding principles of Meat Free’s ethos.“ We saw someone in the Midlands had done an event especially for people with learning disabilities and we decided it would be a great addition for Manchester and created Under One Roof. The events have been run with the help of local self-advocacy group Manchester People First, and they’ve been amazing so far.” This year they have also nominated a “Charity of the Year” to whom they will donate a percentage of all profits, as well as donating their personal time to assist with web design and marketing. Their first nominated charity is Safety 4 Sisters – a grassroots Manchester-based women’s organisation which supports vulnerable migrant women who cannot access safe accommodation or welfare support, and who are experiencing gender-based violence.
This merging of the cultural and political spheres, activism and the arts, makes the nightlife scene in Manchester deeply political at a time when it’s needed most.
It’s not just parties generating change. Manchester is also home to art collectives challenging the status quo. Generic Greeting is one such art organisation – beginning in 2011 as a response to the exclusive nature of the art exhibiting process, they put on small exhibitions in nightclubs such as Joshua Brooks and Cord in the Northern Quarter. “We just wanted a place to exhibit our work and exhibit together, alongside work from other members of the collective,” Rich from Generic Greeting told us. “Not many of us were being asked to exhibit our work in any exhibitions at the time, so we just thought we’d put it on ourselves.” The group – made up of friends who work in the creative industry – avoids having a leader, preferring a flat hierarchy where democracy rules. While visual art makes up the majority of their exhibitions, the group also includes musicians, DJs and promoters, all of whom are also involved in putting on the exhibition launches. “This gives the exhibition openings more of ‘party’ atmosphere than some exhibition launches which often can be quite dry,” they explain. “Initially turnouts were quite small, but as word spread more and more people turned out for each event as a night in it’s own right.”
In a time when creative spaces are becoming increasingly privatised and commodified, when austerity politics is destroying public spaces and collective resources, these Manchester collectives are finding new ways to safeguard and nurture creative expression. By feeding back into the community, the ecosystem is sustained, communities transformed. Partying once more feels political.