By Aidan Cross

Often known for 'Madchester', Fac 51, The Haçienda and Acid House, Manchester’s club culture is not widely associated with Goth as a cultural or musical movement. Yet the city has a very strong and rich history of Goth clubbing and subculture, and so to overlook its Goth clubs would be to overlook a huge part of Manchester’s clubbing heritage. A  consideration of the past and present reveals a wide range of venues, events and memories:


As the Punk movement – which had its home in Manchester in clubs such as Electric Circus and The Ranch – faded towards the end of the 1970s and the burgeoning fusion of glam, disco and electronica that came to be known as the New Romantic era blossomed, Pips on Fennel Street could be said to have been Manchester’s first Goth club. Or it was at the very least a prototype of later Goth clubs, for the term 'Goth' was yet to come into usage. Pips was essentially the Northern equivalent of London’s legendary Blitz Club, and was an underfloor venue with steps descending below street level.

First opened in 1972 (close to where the Corn Exchange stands), by the end of the 70s the infamous Roxy Room at Pips hosted a club night that played the likes of David Bowie, Roxy Music and The Velvet Underground alongside the emerging electronic bands of the era. These included  Depeche  Mode,  The  Human  League,  Gina  X  Performance  and  Gary  Numan,  while Post-Punk bands such  as  Bauhaus  and  the  Banshees -  who  would  later come  be considered quintessential Goth bands - were also played frequently. A local band known as Warsaw played a gig there, changing their name on the night itself to the now more recognisable Joy Division, giving the club iconic status. Make-up, glitter, hairspray, androgyny and extravagant costumes – usually home-made – were the very essence of Pips.

Pips was also the first club at which DJs Dave Booth and Alan Maskell took to the decks, and became their springboard to the Goth club culture of the 80s that they would hold together. During the 80s, as ‘Goth’ became recognized as a movement in itself, these two DJs played a succession of clubs that attracted a Gothic clientele and played the likes of Siouxsie, The Sisters, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode et al. Sadly, Pips closed in 1982 (it then became Konspiracy, a short-lived non-Goth club that later got shut down).

Berlin Club

One such club with a strong Gothic clientele was Berlin – another basement club, on King St West – as hedonistic and decadent as its city namesake, playing host on Thursday nights to the ‘Private Road’ night, a fusion of Goth, Punk and Psychobilly. Berlin regular Kevin Birchall recalls, “I always remember it being busy and quite sweaty. I never saw any trouble on the nights I went, which was unusual in the early 80s, and always a good atmosphere because people would dance as soon as they walked in.”

The clubs Berlin and Cloud 9 (later mentioned) both closed in 1986.

Placemate 7, The Playpen, Legends, Devilles, The Ritz

By the mid-80s, Goth was so predominant in Manchester’s club culture that there was something in town for Goths every night of the week except Sunday. Other clubs hosting Goth-centric nights included Placemate 7 on Whitworth Street, The Playpen (now 42nd Street) on a Tuesday, The Ritz on a Monday, Legends (now Fifth Avenue) on a Thursday, and on Wednesday, Devilles on Lloyd St – famous for its bucking bronco ride. Dave Booth and Alan Maskell DJed in all these clubs and built a vibrant, decadent and mesmeric Gothic nightlife in Manchester. Many punters could be found by day in shops such as Afflecks Palace on Oldham St and The Cave on Cross St, buying clothing to alter and modify in time for the evening’s clubbing shenanigans.

Cloud 9

For many the ultimate Goth night of the mid-80s was Saturday night in Cloud 9, off Cross Street opposite the Royal Exchange. Cloud 9 regular (and later Sin City DJ) James Lacey recalls:

“A typical night in Cloud 9 was a cacophony of colours, smells and sights. I walked in for the first time in late 1985 with my hair freshly dyed black and feeling ready for what Manchester’s nightlife had to offer, yet when I walked in I was amazed at the wonderful sight in front of me and I quickly realised I was quite tame in terms of fashion and style!

"Boys looked like girls and girls looked like exotic creatures… Copious amounts of make-up were a pre-requisite. Inside everyone stood out yet no one stood out, as everyone had made such an effort to have their own style, moulded around the belief that anything went. Hair was big, very big in Cloud 9 and the stench of hairspray and perfume overrode the sweat of the heaving bodies entwined on the dancefloor… There were no prima donnas, everyone just went to have a good time and enjoy being part of something unique.”

The Banshee

In 1987, shortly after the closure of Cloud 9, the Banshee club opened on Oxford Street, and quickly achieved iconic status, becoming Manchester’s answer to London’s Batcave. While most previous clubs had played a mixture of Punk, New Romantic and Rockabilly alongside the Goth, the Banshee was pure Goth with a capital G.

Located in a dingy basement club, the Banshee played the likes of Bauhaus, The Sisters of Mercy, Sex Gang Children and Spear of Destiny. The regulars sprayed their hair high, and backcombing, PVC, latex, high heels, black make-up and white facepaint were in abundance. Banshee regular Jennifer Stevenson recalls: “the most gorgeous Goth lads and girls, hair crimped and backcombed and make-up on. They looked so pretty. So cool. On the way to the Banshee people would stare and think you looked weird. But once at our destination we all looked amazing. The place stunk of beer, cig smoke and hairspray.”

The Banshee lasted into the 90s, surviving several changes of venue after moving to a location near Piccadilly and later to the biker pub Swinging Sporran (later Retro Bar), and is fondly remembered by regulars to this day. Despite closing in the mid 90s, for many, the Banshee remains Manchester’s definitive Goth club.

Jilly’s Rockworld

While the Goth scene stagnated somewhat in the 90s, it refused to die, and stayed very much undead at Jilly’s Rockworld. One of Manchester’s most infamous nightclubs, Jilly’s is best known for Rock and Metal, but this does a huge disservice to the club’s diversity – particularly its Goth room, which thrived from the 90s right through to the club’s closure in 2010. Jilly’s Underworld was initially located – in the tradition of Manchester Goth clubs – in the building’s basement and was largely segregated from the main club (punters who had paid entry on the door had to pay extra to enter the Underworld). The Underworld pretty much picked up where the Banshee had left off.

When the basement of Jilly’s was converted into a separate club called the Music Box, the Goth room moved upstairs, but lost none of its atmosphere and style. It adapted to the rise of Industrial music and Futurepop, and in the 00s, EBM and Cyber, with UV lights and clothing, coloured hair extensions and glowsticks prominent for the remainder of the club’s lifetime. Prominent bands of the EBM and Cyber genres such as VNV Nation, Apoptygma Berzerk, Goteki and Hocico were played alongside vintage 80s Goth and New Romantic classics, and the Goth scene itself became the epitome of diversity. Jilly's Rockworld was open from 1989-2010.

Sin City

By far the most prominent Manchester Goth club of the 21st century has been Sin City, begun in 2002 by local Goth/Punk legend Scoot Trash. Held in the basement of the Retro Bar, it was to become Manchester’s longest-running Goth night – still going strong today with a loyal clientele at its new home of Zombie Shack off Oxford Street. Many old Banshee regulars can be found at Sin City, having lost none of their youth and zest for nightlife over three decades. Sin City is very much keeping the Gothic legacy of the Banshee, Devilles, Cloud 9 and more, alive.

Goth in Manchester Today

While Sin City continues to live up to its name amidst the increasingly tame nightlife of Manchester, there are still other nights for Goths in the city – ArA, a goth night notable for being held in a church of all places (Sacred Trinity Church off Blackfriars Street in Salford) has been running for almost as long as Sin City and maintains a loyal following. In addition, new nights such as Anointed, operated by the team behind AnalogueTrash Records and DJ Sevigny, play a mixture of Goth and New Romantic alongside Electronic and Industrial.

The halcyon days of non-stop nightly decadence and hedonism may be gone, the club culture and the extravagant make-up and costumes may have been watered down – but Goth is here to stay, and it retains its firm standing in Manchester’s club culture. There continues the hope that maybe someday, in the not too distant future, there can and will be something akin to a revival of Manchester’s Gothic heyday.

Photos with thanks to James Lacey and Aidan Cross