In Haunt

Festivities frightful and fun-fuelled in equal measure were unleashed at HAUNT Manchester’s ‘Black Christmas’ event on Saturday 15 December at Northern Quarter venue The Peer Hat – part of the grassroots music and culture festival Foundations 2018.

‘Black Christmas’ was curated by HAUNT’s Creative Director Helen Darby – bringing a diversity of dark cultural offerings, with both a ‘Spoken Word’ and ‘Cabaret’ section.  HAUNT Manchester is after all informed by researchers from The Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, The Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage and the Encountering Corpses project (all at Manchester Metropolitan University) and in partnership with cultural organisations and businesses from across the city, has already explored the city’s mysterious side through an array of articles and events.

From 12pm onwards doors were open, with a team of ‘Zombie Elves’ (Lucy Simpson, Spencer Meeks and El Afzal) offering ‘satanic mince pies’ and other delights, whilst the man behind Manchester’s Hungry Dog Emporium of Curiosities Johnny Woodhams, transformed into ‘Satanic Santa’, ready to host the day’s proceedings.

The aesthetic was both Gothic and glamorously grotesque, with the venue decked out in HAUNT’s own festive bunting, black tinsel and even a Christmas tree complete with skull décor.

Foundations Festival’s series of thought-provoking panel discussions continued downstairs until 3pm, featuring three discussions – chaired by John Robb and Emily Oldfield – exploring topical issues affecting the city’s grassroots as well as underground music culture. Once the panels drew to a close, the crowd who came into The Peer Hat bar were treated with an array of HAUNT Manchester ‘Black Christmas’ delights.

The ‘Spoken Word’ section began, using a specially-assembled stage in the corner of The Peer Hat bar area and introduced by Satanic Santa himself. First was dark poetry from HAUNT Manchester’s Helen Darby and Emily Oldfield, exploring themes of excess and emotional intensity at Christmas in particular. This was followed by spoken word performances from Angela Blythe, Dom Conlon and Jai Lythgoe – each performer bringing their own alternative insight and inventive writing to the festive season.

The ‘Spoken Word’ section was finalised with a reading from Rosie Garland – poet and author of Manchester-based Gothic-inspired novel The Night Brother, who has been recently made Writer-in-Residence at John Rylands Library and who HAUNT Manchester interviewed here.

Following a short break, the second section of ‘Black Christmas’ was underway with a ‘Cabaret’ selection. First to the stage was model and performer Lethal Gem, whose powerful and provocative performance of ‘Teasing the Grinch’ brought a bold energy to proceedings. Lethal Gem is represented by Rogue Model Management and a prolific alternative model in Manchester and beyond, winner of Miss Alternative 2018.

Lethal’s performance was followed by evocative poetry and piano accompaniment from Violet Blonde - a Trans Buddhist, artist and poet based in Manchester. Her emotive words encountered themes including rape and exploitation, highlighting that poetry can be a crucial form of self-expression and added a real sense of poignancy.

Then, following another short break, there was a further feature from Lethal Gem – this time a high-energy Rocky Horror ‘Balloon Pop’, combining creativity, Christmas and musical cabaret all in one. A surprise was also in store – as when the balloons surrounding Lethal Gem were popped, glitter flew out into the audience.

There was also an appearance from Liquorice Black – a Manchester drag Queen and part of The Family Gorgeous, who brought a Gothic-inspired Christmas performance complete with a musical feature, dramatic stage presence and even a black turkey!

The final performer at ‘Black Christmas’ was Manchester-based dancer and choreographer Joshua Hubbard, who left an impression with intense movement and a dark, expressive visual element. Joshua is no stranger to expressive routines inspired by darker themes; having already performed to a packed crowd at Gothic Manchester Festival 2018’s GOTHIKA ball.

Other highlights of ‘Black Christmas’ during the course of the day included venomous verse (as well as presents!) from Satanic Santa himself, plus an entertainingly alternative take on the ’Twelve Days of Christmas’ song, which became ‘Twelve Days of Gothmas’ and recited to great applause.  The Peer Hat upstairs area also featured an array of artwork from Manchester Gothic Arts Group, which added a special intensity to the nature of the event.

‘Black Christmas’ came to a close at 7pm, underlining that diverse culture and dark themes can be explored and enjoyed at Christmas time – with an importance placed on celebrating alternative and under-represented creativity. It was delivered with thanks also to the RAH! (Research in Arts and Humanities) team at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Thus ‘Black Christmas’ not only marked a Gothic-inspired Christmas party, but HAUNT Manchester’s first Christmas.

Photography: credit to GedCamera




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