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How Manchester became the home of the UK's biggest queer rave

From down and dirty club sessions at Homoelectric to the UK’s biggest queer rave at Homobloc, Manchester is the UK’s new queer clubbing capital.

2019-11-05

Photography: LJK Photography

It’s official. The crown for the real queen of queer clubbing in the UK goes to… Manchester!

Even London - exempting a handful of edgy nights - is now dancing with its back firmly against the wall compared to the northern city’s rabid embrace of the mirror ball.

Front and centre of Manchester’s queer clubbing explosion is Homoelectric, which has been pioneering the edgiest sounds in the dingiest clubs since it first swung its doors open over two decades ago.

“I’m a slightly mental, ADHD dysfunctional music lover who still believes in it,” says the club’s founder Luke Unabomber as we discuss Homobloc, which is set to be Manchester’s biggest ever queer rave and is taking over the massive Depot, slap bang in the middle of the city, this weekend.

10,000 people are set to descend on the warehouse venue for quite simple the most sickening queer club event ever. Róisín Murphy and Crazy P perform, with clubs like Horse Meat Disco, Little Gay Brother and Adonis present. There’s a DJ set from Robyn, joined by modern legends like Honey Dijon and Seth Troxler. Doyenne of the north Cheddar Gorgeous will be just one of the many drag queens on hosting duties.

But Homobloc didn’t arise from nothing. Homoelectric prided itself on being the queer underground answer to Manchester’s generic Canal Street-focused gay scene.

Today, several venues into its evolving life, the club’s new home is at Hidden club, nestled in the rather rugged Cheetham Hill area of the city. It’s a dark, dirty, monthly throw down of the dirtiest tunes from the freshest DJs for a crowd that embraces every gender, sexuality, identity under the rainbow.

Even the city’s local news outlet, the Manchester Evening News, had high praise for Homoelectric’s location: “Cheetham Hill is THE knock-off capital of the UK, a new Government report reveals,” said the paper in 2016.

Sounds like the perfect place for the gays to get nasty…

What was the journey like from when HomoElectric was born to the first idea for Homobloc?

When HomoElectric started twenty-two years ago, I guess it was just subconscious un-thought about reaction to the dominant mainstream. The Manchester gay village had become very commercial, like a tsunami of beige-ness. There was little creativity. So we set about putting is right. Homobloc I guess is a natural reflection of a wider mood. From about five years ago there have been so many amazing queer nights in Manchester like Meat Free and Kiss Me Again, and most of them were happening in shitty little basement clubs in the twilight zone on the edge of the city in Salford, Strangeways and Cheetham Hill. But there was no master plan. There's this whole thing about clubs and DJs and even people being brands. We don't even have a marketing team. We don’t plan out the ‘brand’ and its business development, it’s just everything happening slowly by osmosis - serendipity is the right word. The idea was there, but Homobloc didn't really happen until about a year ago when suddenly the possibility came alive. Synchronicity happened in Mayfield Depot, which is a quite remarkable, beautiful warehouse building. Despite its size, there was a real continuity to everything we've ever done. It’s dirty, raw, it isn’t shiny, it had the right feel and seemed like the perfect moment.

What do you think brought on the resurgence of Manchester’s club scene in recent years?

I think we've never tried to be fashionable, we're not trying to be something we're not. That probably explains why we're still here. But things have changed so much in the last five years. It's just been a real explosion in smaller gay, queer clubs. The world’s become very toxic and politically so aggressive that I think there's a real need for people to escape for six hours, once a week or once a month, and I think a lot of these queer clubs coming up are reactions to this pretty vile world that we live in at the moment. There's a real togetherness that I've not seen in years where, you know, the big bears, the trans, the gay, the lesbian crowd are coming together and there's much more unity than there’s ever been. Homobloc is a reflection of that, you know, people don’t want to be competitive anymore. There’s a need to stick together.

Clubs in the UK tend not to have longevity. After three or four years crowds get bored and they move on, they go on to the next thing, or the venue inevitably shuts down to become redeveloped. But Homoelectric is still here and relevant over two decades on.

There were periods of fallow time when we stopped doing nights when one of the clubs burned down, one shut down, one moved. We've had a nomadic journey throughout, there's been periods of two years of inertia, when nothing happened. I always believe when you do things off piste, and you're not trying to be something where people comfortable are in that space, it always has life in it because you're not trying to be something you’re not. I’ve been clubbing all my life, since my teens going to Manchester during the acid house years, and I was in Berlin last weekend. I love it. There's a natural inclusivity in Manchester, a diversity of immigrants like London, it's just part of the DNA where people stick together and I guess Homoelectric is a reflection of that, where it is the maddest mix of people. Where we're at the moment in Hidden club in Cheetham Hill, it’s a rough old area a bit like Dalston in London twenty-five years ago. But when we moved there, the first person who turned up was a drag queen from Berlin via San Francisco called Buttons, bless her who has since passed away, and then this guy from Blackburn who turned up in a not very good dress. And I was like, “This is great. It's going to be fine.” And it was the greatest mix of people that probably explains why it's still there. We weren't trying to be fashionable, it wasn't trying to be the next thing. It just slowly mutated in a variety of different basement clubs throughout Manchester in the last twenty years.

With Homobloc you’re bringing together some really big DJs and club names. Often the gay scene can be a bit uncooperative, competitive even.

I'm no spring chicken any more, I've met a lot of people on the way. I went to school with Luke Howard from Horse Meat Disco, over the years I've met so many people from around the scene that have become friends and, to be honest, it was just people we know and we’re not really competitive, I always think things can co-exist. If you look at the greatest time in the Northwest, there were huge commercial branded clubs like Cream. But to me the underground was still exciting because those things could just coexist. They don't have to compete. It’s a gentlemanly thing, a honourable thing that you talk to each other and do stuff together.

The rave culture of the ‘80s and ‘90s gave way to the superclubs of the ‘00s. Now things seem to have settled back into going underground. 

I remember going to Ibiza fifteen years ago, and I was like, “Wow, so everyone's perfect. Body perfect. It feels there's not a lot here.” There's no warm way that people dance. And I felt like something was lacking. I know it sounds corny and crazy, but there was none of that in the room. And I think, I think there's a reaction against that, you know, there were these big festivals, where everything felt so generic. There's no love to it. So, I think, yeah, in this big vacuum where things are so toxic, the one thing people can do well is unite in some shit garage in Cheetham Hill until six in the morning where no one's going to judge you. And no one's going to make you feel uncomfortable. And I think that's important because things are different. I think there’s been a rule book for a long time what you have to do, how you have to look, and I think people are just tired of it.

Homobloc will be taking place on 9th November – sorry bitches, tickets are now sold out! Homoelectric is monthly at Hidden club, Manchester.

All Out volunteers and R3 Soundsystem gogos will be at Homobloc collecting donations to support LGBT+ communities facing violence and discrimination in Poland.