August could be considered an unusual month for Gothic activity, with explorations of the dark and mysterious often left until October. Yet this year’s Gothic Manchester Festival fell in August, co-inciting with the International Gothic Association (IGA) Conference right here in the city and showcasing Manchester’s Gothic credentials to a worldwide audience.

Spanning from the 1-5 August, 2018’s festival took the theme of ‘Gothic Hybridities’, exploring how the Gothic draws on a range of aesthetics, influences and emotions to create its own fascinating culture.

Running annually, the Gothic Manchester Festival is brought to the city by The Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Festival events celebrate the creative culture of Manchester and the array of local talent, as well as how this connects to Gothic themes and can inspire others to explore the genre further. In 2017, it explored ‘Gothic Style(s)’ and in 2016 ‘The Gothic North’.

Although IGA delegates had been in the city since the 31 July, the festival events began shortly after on the 1 August with the very unique ‘Scoring Fear: An Evening of Classical Music and Gothic Horror Film Scores’ at The Stoller Hall.

This was a particularly special occasion, as it featured the BBC Philharmonic playing a range of horror and Gothic film scores, in collaboration with the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies. It featured a striking variety of pieces including Hans Erdmann’s Nosferatu (1922) – Eine Symphonie Des Grauens (A Symphony of Terror) - and James Bernard’s Taste The Blood of Dracula, as well as slight shift to the more rousing upbeat of the Addams Family Values ‘Tango’ from Marc Shaiman. The conductor was Jonathan Lo, and the whole performance was presented by Dr Matthew Sweet as well as Dr Matt Foley of Manchester Metropolitan University, recorded for BBC Radio 3’s Sound of Cinema which will be broadcasted at 3pm on Saturday 18 August. 

Thursday allowed even greater exploration of the more mysterious aspects of the city, with a ‘Gothic Manchester Walking Tour’ led by local guide Anne Beswick, starting out at Manchester cathedral and taking in a number of places of historic significance. On the same day, there was also special exhibition titled ‘Migrations’ from Miskatonic University. Set up at Manchester Met’s Special Collections and presented by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Dr Chloe Germaine Buckley, this was a showcase of transatlantic treasures telling their own tales of myth and superstition, as brought from the ‘Old World’ by New England travellers.

Thursday also marked an alternative birthday party for Frankenstein – considering that Mary Shelley’s iconic novel turns 200 in 2018. Penned when Shelley was just 19 years old, the book went on to inspire generations of people, hence why Fiona Sampson has since written Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein which she read from at this event, based at Manchester Metropolitan University. A stand-out attraction of the evening was a highly detailed Frankenstein cake from Conjurer’s Kitchen (which was red underneath when cut), as well as a wine reception – highlighting the great Gothic effort of the occasion.

There was also a seriously Gothic start to the weekend, as Friday featured GOTHIKA – a Vogue and Drag Club night like no other at The Great Northern Warehouse.  Starring drag icons Liquorice Black and Cheddar Gorgeous, as well as outrageous outfits and a range of performances, including dancing from Joshua Hubbard (House of Decay) with Sarah Hobson and Lenai Russel. This was a powerful celebration of the city’s Gothic heritage, making for a stunning and unforgettable evening. A candlelight club night came to life and much more besides.

Events also continued on into the weekend, with a number highlighting the inclusive aspect of the festival, thanks to family-friendly content features. This included a particularly popular Frankenweenie Black and White Party at 70 Oxford Street, incorporating a screening of the Tim Burton Classic with thematic decoration and refreshments.

The literary Gothic was also explored in light of the festival theme of ‘Gothic Hybridities’ with a Twisted Tales of Hybridity event at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation also on Saturday. Audiences gathered to see three thrilling authors: Rosie Garland, Helen Marshall and Laura Mauro, discuss their work.

With attendees from across the city as well as incorporating delegates from an International Conference, 2018’s Gothic Manchester Festival underlined Manchester’s ability to both deservedly celebrate and elevate the importance of the Gothic. With Halloween in The City and plenty more spooky goings-on due to unfold in October, the Gothic credentials of the area just keep on growing.

- By Emily Oldfield

Photo credit: Alannis Barnes