A few months ago, Loose Lips announced a Manchester party to take place on March 21st, headlined by Bjarki and Inga Mauer. Getting some of the city’s finest involved, including Yant and Meat Free’s very own aalice and Lucy Ironmonger, there is no doubt that this would have been a night to remember. While we are currently unsure of the rescheduled date, all the elements which got us excited in the first place will still be there and will make our first dance at The Progress Centre even sweeter.
If anything, this period of collective uncertainty about the future has pushed me to revisit my past experiences. I miss seeing my friends, going to garages converted into nightclubs and listening to dance music on rib-rattling sound systems. I have been feeling nostalgic about the nights that were unique, when I saw artists that I had never seen before, or when I headed to a club for the first time because I knew the promoters were worth following there. Some of those memories were made while going to the Meat Free parties.
Whether it was when I lived in Liverpool and travelled to Manchester for the night, on the infamous 11:23pm last train from Lime Street to Piccadilly, or when I lived in south Manchester, getting an overpriced taxi to The White Hotel, the excitement of going to Meat Free was always uncontainable. Anyone involved in the electronic music realm will know how difficult it is to promote underground parties: time-consuming, risky, and expensive - not to mention the often saturated scenes in which people are trying to break through. In this day and age, many promoters end up giving up after a couple of years, but Meat Free has been running for way longer than that.
Meat Free is not like any other night - they are a long-standing event and a major contributor to the Manchester techno scene. This is thanks to aalice, Lucy Ironmonger, and Blasha & Allatt who have been running the parties for over seven years. I caught up with Alice to speak about it all.
If they were all trying to do a bit of everything at first, it evolved with time. “Over the years ,we’ve naturally fallen into roles that suit us best and it works. As well as being resident DJ alongside Blasha & Allatt and Lucy Ironmonger, I look after most of the press and marketing, which also incorporates the artwork and merch etc.”
Promoting techno parties in Manchester changed a lot in itself, and the scene has changed so much. “When we started out, techno wasn’t as big as it is now, so the competition has grown massively, but so has public appetite.”
Looking at how many events happening across two of the main Manchester clubs (The White Hotel and Soup Kitchen) are packed or even sold out week in, week out, this becomes very clear. The best part of it all is seeing how many promoters come to each other’s parties, over the years creating a very strong community feeling. “Even though you inevitably end up going head to head with a mate’s party on some nights, it is less about competing with each other and more about building each other up and supporting the scene as a whole”. The Manchester scene is healthy and well. Non-club spaces such as Limbo Radio where aalice holds a residency, are also a great reflection of the sense of community across the city.
Yet, Manchester is also being hit by a country-wide venue crisis. In the city, previous Meat Free space Mantra Warehouse and legendary club Sankey’s have shut their doors. What is particularly interesting about the case of Manchester is that, while this is happening, venues such as YES, Cotton Club, or now The Progress Centre, keep popping up. Alice is not too worried about the impact it can have on the scene. “It’s always sad to see a venue close down - especially when you know how much love and effort has normally gone into it - but these things are cyclical. Venues will always come and go in cities, and Manchester always seems to come back stronger.” The prospect of finally playing at The Progress Centre when this is all over is even more exciting.
Meat Free is not actually the only musical project that Alice has undertaken. A few years ago, she founded Under One Roof, an event which focuses on making raves accessible for adults with learning difficulties. “I basically just wanted to do something good. Meat Free has afforded me an incredible platform and some really amazing opportunities, and I am so grateful to the other girls for enabling those things but also so grateful to everyone who’s ever come to a Meat Free night. So it felt right to use that platform to help other people if I could and that’s how Under One Roof came about.” After launching it in Manchester, she has managed to organise it in other cities such as Liverpool, where it is led by Becca Frankland, and has also recently started a partnership with Headrow House in Leeds. “It’s exciting, but it’s quite hard to run them when you’re not physically there so I do want to be careful that any growth is organic.”
In seven years, Alice and the rest of Meat Free have achieved so much, and it does not sound like they are ready to stop any time soon. “We’re definitely not as young as we used to be! But what we may lack in youthful exuberance, we make up for in experience.” And it might just be this experience which could lead to the festival or the label that they have always dreamed of.
Ultimately, it’s their passion, along the tremendous amount of work they have put in which cemented their place in the Manchester scene throughout all of these years. “Despite having natural dips in our journey and times when we felt like giving up, we still have as much love for it today as we did when we started. In the past eighteen months, I think it’s safe to say we all really rekindled our love and passion for it. We’ve all had a lot going on in our own lives and it was really hard at one point to keep all the plates spinning, but I’m really happy that we managed enough energy to keep each other going and came out stronger on the other side.”
Decidedly, Meat Free is here to stay.