Is the closure of Antwerp Mansion proof that Manchester is selling its soul?

  • Antwerp Mansion to close after council order.
  • The club is the most recent in a long line of independent venue closures. 

‘Take me out tonight / Where there’s music and there’s people / And they’re young and alive’, Morrissey famously sang. From the Northern Soul era to the Hacienda and the new young ravers of today, it feels as though Manchester has been famed for it’s nightlife and music scene since time begun.

If seeing international artists at a huge capacity arena is to your taste, or watching unsigned local bands at small, intimate venues is more your thing, Manchester wouldn’t let you down.

But, it seems with every redevelopment plan drafted for the city, a well-loved music venue closes its doors. Dry Bar and Sound Control – both valued music venues with rich histories – are two of the most recent venues to have officially closed, adding to a list that has been growing for some time.

Some argue that this is progressive change for the city. After all, old venues often make way for new venues and statistics show that Manchester still has more live music events and gigs per person than anywhere else in the country. But with a number of independent venues being sold to private property developers, is Manchester selling the soul of the city that many have come to know and love?

The largest casualty of late has been clubbing institution Antwerp Mansion. The Victorian house turned independent nightclub in Rusholme has become a home for much of the new musical and artist talent of Manchester.  Hosting live music for almost 10 years, the venue has become popular amongst students, young revellers and ravers.

“Antwerp was somewhere where everybody is accepted, as long as you bring ID,” laughs Matthew Riley, resident DJ at Antwerp Mansion. “There is such a broad range of people and the amount of solo ravers is amazing. It’s different from the places in town like Deansgate locks and factory, it was a place for different people.”

However, the club on Rusholme Grove will be forced to close permanently in under a month after it was issued a closure notice from Manchester City Council Planning Department.

“I think that Manchester City Council wanted Antwerp closed because they are scared of it,” says Matt. “They are scared of it because it is something that they don’t understand. I have seen some of the people that they sent to come and assess the place and they are so uptight. They don’t understand that Antwerp is not just a dirty mansion but it’s a place full of like minded people all there for a good time.”

Redevelopment is a large factor behind many recent closures across the city. Where Northern Quarter’s Dry Bar was sold with planning permission for a boutique hotel, Ancoats club Sankeys was sold with the intent to turn into apartments and Sound Control will make way for student flats.

“When you look at the closure of some of the venues in Manchester, I think it’s killing the identity of the city. It’s taking away the thing that most people love about Manchester. Not everybody wants to go to the mainstream places,” says Matt.

“I think it is a crying shame that so many places are being closed down to make space for the council’s plans. Sound Control and Sankeys were both sold off for property development and now Antwerp is closing due to technicalities.

“It all seems to depend on who is in the position of power in the council as to what happens. If we had some creative people to coordinate the nightlife of the city, then it could be done so well but we seem to have people in power who are too afraid of what they don’t understand and that is such a sad position to be in as a city.”

It can be argued that there are just as many new creative spaces with large investment being plunged in to venues such as HOME. But there has been a great decline in spaces that have been generally cheap or even free to hire and use, risking opportunities for young creatives to express themselves.

Though Antwerp acted primarily as a nightclub, the venue was often offered out to students of both Manchester Metropolitan and University of Manchester with discounts for student led projects. By day, the site offers a flexible and cost effective backdrop for photography shoots, music videos and fashion shows.

“Antwerp has been huge for the people who have used it as a platform to express themselves through their music,” adds Matt. “I have been a resident for various nights at the club for around 5 years and do it purely for the love of the music. I have played at venues all over the city and there is no place to play like Antwerp. “

“I’m very sad for the closure but I can’t help but feel like it was coming. I have spent some of the best years of my 20’s at Antwerp so I am devastated.”

The closure of Antwerp Mansion comes after an eight-month battle with Manchester City Council. The reasons come down to discrepancies over the original planning permission of the venue, in which the club is actually listed as a private members’ club. Unless Antwerp reverted back to an 11pm curfew, it would continue to run under violation, yet it can’t help but be felt as though the council have seen this minor technicality as an opening for gentrification.

There seems to be a clear dispute in Manchester between those who long for the nostalgia of the old and those who see this as a need for ‘progress.’

“The loss of all these places is a big one and it feels like the music and arts culture in Manchester is being pushed underground to a certain extent,” says musician and writer, Aidan Cross. “The only way this may not be a bad thing is if we see more venues pop up like the smaller ones in Salford.”

“When I moved to Manchester, the city was mourning over the loss off the places like the Hacienda. Things are always going to change but Manchester’s music and arts culture will always survive. It just depends on what kind of direction it will take and that may not be the way in which everybody will be in favour of.”

In Sound Control’s case, upon announcement of it’s closure, owner Andrew O’Dwyer said that he was confident the venue could move to a different location and pull in even bigger audiences.

But as larger musicians are picking and choosing where and how they create their music, it creates problems for independent venues who thrive on the support of regular visitors to buy tickets to events even if they have never heard of the artists performing.

Whilst Manchester City Council continue doing their best to mould the city in to their perfect vision of things and independent locations selling off their land to property developers, Manchester’s creative scene will continue to take a hit.

Preserving Manchester’s most cherished settings, from off the grid clubs like Antwerp to small bars in the corner of the Northern Quarter, is possible. But venues may have to adapt to the direction in which Manchester is going as they try to maintain their individuality.

The best way is to buy a ticket and support your local venues; with shocks like Antwerp, you don’t know how long they have left.