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31st May 2024

Beats and Beyond: How Stage and Radio’s renovations could help amplify Manchester’s Electronic Music scene

Recent renovations at the historic Port Street venue, Stage and Radio, have firmly cemented its place as one of the true spots to champion electronic music within Manchester. An interview with their new ownership reveals all…
Beats and Beyond: How Stage and Radio’s renovations could help amplify Manchester’s Electronic Music scene
Credit: Stage and Radio Management

Words by Indy Gill

Establishing a permanent space that truly champions electronic dance music within Manchester’s city centre has always been hard – just look at the unfortunate end of South nightclub. A culmination of factors, ranging from the pressure to conform to popular cultures to soaring leaseholds, has meant that independent nightclubs have found it hard to survive within the contemporary rat race that is Manchester city-centre nightlife. The outliers commonly are found within the spaces geographically positioned outside the city centre, housed in gritty, industrial fixtures where music comes first – think The White Hotel and The Loft.

However, Wakil and his team at Stage and Radio are bucking that trend. With vigour. 

stage and radio
Credit: Stage and Radio Management

In a time of continual shutdowns within the live venue ecosystem, the star that shines brightly is placed in a hidden corner of the Northern Quarter, just off Great Ancoats Street – think a halfway house between SOUP Kitchen and Rudy’s Ancoats. The building and venue are a place of history and importance within the UK music industry. From its inception in 1946, the spot served as a champion for modern jazz sounds, led by legendary promoter Eric Scriven. Seeing the likes of Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald come through its doors, the history doesn’t stop there. Used within the 1998 iteration of Manchester’s ‘In The City’ showcase, the spot saw Muse and Coldplay entertain fans and industry names alike, with rumours that Chris Martin and the gang were scouted by a Universal Records scout at that very gig. 

Intimate electronic dance music venues are rare; they must be executed with absolute perfection. Otherwise, they risk their future to those with higher capacity monopolising support with the higher budgets, afforded to them purely through the sheer number of people they can welcome through the door.

However, when done right, venues like Stage and Radio garner cult followings – The Lion and Lamb in Hoxton or Starlane Pizzabar in Canning Town, both perfect examples within London. The Star & Garter historically provided Manchester with that intimate setting; now with Stage and Radio, The DBA, and Eastern Bloc, all provide intimacy to no detriment.

Credit: Stage and Radio Management

The venue has been on the market since 2019, but once it was financially viable, the new ownership did not fret at the chance to take over. Wakil and I took a trip into its basement club space, the gem of the venue. Welcoming the likes of Amaliah, Willow, & Zap to the basement club space since its reopening, and with big-hitters such as Hodge and Ploy on the way in the coming months – the programming of the space is top-notch. Not succumbing to the temptations of ‘safe programming’ takes some doing, especially within the context of the current economic climate.  

One step into the area and the differences are monumental: from the rotation of the booth to a revamp of its visual displays and lighting, and last, but surely not least, a recalibration of the sound systems. Stage and Radio’s management seems to have hit the nail on the head in this iteration of the club space. After fixing resonance problems with the Void Acoustic system caused by repositioning, raving reviews (quite literally) have been heard across the community.

With the booth’s adaptability to collapse for use by bands, the basement does not limit its potential usage in comparison to its previous iteration. Even considering this, this does feel like a perfect storm for an intimate and well-renowned dancefloor to be established. Time shall tell how this prediction pans out, but with additional plans forthcoming for the basement soon, this might just turn into one of your favourite dancefloors in the city.

stage and radio
Credit: Stage and Radio Management

The CROP Radio space saw its launch in late March, with a 15-hour live stream kicking off things how they mean to go on. Local heroes such as Henzo, NIIX, Korzi and more hopped along for the ride. With an amalgamation of collectives taking over the space in its infancy, Wakil and the team are aiming to establish a consistent programme for the radio within the upcoming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for this!

The spot hopes to gain the trust of the Electronic Dance Music community as a go-to community hub. This is something the team feels has been missing in Manchester in recent years, with SOUP Kitchen previously holding that mantle. Again, we can look to London’s blueprint for these spaces and how well the community champions them in continual support – Balamii or Kindred Radio come to mind. Wakil’s thoughts below highlight this sentiment amongst leadership…

“Our aim is to create that community hang-out space … somewhere where all the heads can know, if they come down to Manchester, this is the first place to set foot in. No matter if you’ve just got in before your gig elsewhere, or you’re coming to see family, you know you will pop down for one at some point here.”

stage and radio
Credit: Stage and Radio Management

A pressure all small venues have been feeling is the impending financial burdens that rising costs of energy, leasing, and a general economic slump impacting consumer behaviour. Sacha Lord’s five-point plan to save hospitality has been an interesting development. One point that seems to have widespread approval is Lord’s suggestion of a reduction in VAT, from 20% to 12.5%. This reduction would put the country in line with many of our European counterparts and give many small venues the respite they need in the current economic climate.

It is no surprise when Wakil runs the figures, we see the fiscal benefit it could provide to many venues up and down the country, even if it is for a handful of months. One does ponder what the future for many of these intimate spaces is, but this one is here to stay. With the weather finally realising we are on the cusp of summer, a trip down Port Street is calling your name!

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