So we made it, just about. As per the government 'roadmap' out of lockdown, yesterday saw most of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions lifted in England. That means once-simple joys in life, effectively banned for the last 16 months, are back. These include standing at the bar with a drink, meeting as many people inside as you want, and dancing to amplified music.
Many of Manchester's finest venues have already got the ball rolling. Hidden's doors opened at 12.01AM Monday morning for the team's first session in a year and a half. Many spaces are asking for proof of double vaccination, a negative test or natural immunity for entry, so it's vital to check requirements in advance.
The idea is to keep crowds and staff safe at a point in time when responsible action is crucial to make sure an already-beleaguered industry doesn't close again, either as a result of overall infection spikes, or on an individual basis because employees need to isolate. As has happened with a number of bars and restaurants in recent months.
But despite uncertainties, this week should be a real cause for celebration — a culture torn apart by pandemic rules is finally resurfacing. From everyone here at Finest, we want to say thanks for the perseverance, hard work and belief that has gone into reopening. Not least given the events industry spent much of last year psychologically, emotionally and logistically traumatised.
From here the responsibility lies with everyone to act for the greater good, from those on the floor to those in the green room. That means staying home if you feel unwell and testing before heading out. And there's plenty to head out for. Before the world shut last year, Manchester was in rude nightlife health, with a wealth of great places to get stuck into and a vast amount of talent calling this rainy old town home. Here are five of the best artists from our city, then, and where to catch them this coming weekend.
Where: Open Circuit @ The Tallyrand, Levenshulme (Friday 23rd July);
TWH Presents Studio 53 1/2 @ The White Hotel, Salford (Sunday 25th July)
Conor Thomas will be familiar to regulars at that garage in deepest industrial Salford, given his Death of Rave parties melted brains there on several occasions. He returns to said stomping ground on Sunday 25th July for the final furlong of The White Hotel's 53.5 hour party, but you can also catch him in the back of Levenshulme hangout The Tallyrand two days prior, joined by Open Tapes' Jack Lever and Arcade of Blank Mind note. Whichever you're at, expect nothing but forward noises from the Faktion and Boomkat Editions boss.
Where: Meat Free @ The Progress Centre, Ardwick (Saturday 24th July)
Yant has been on our radar since making an awkward date better on a Thursday night in the Soup Kitchen a couple of years back, closing the Northern Quarter basement with high-energy 'proper techno' that bores into your private mind palace by way of spiralling synths. March's 'Contravention EP', on the SK_eleven imprint run by German-born British-based electronic heavyweight Setaoc Mass, is well worth checking out in terms of productions, but you can catch him in full DJ effect on Saturday afternoon for the outdoor return of Meat Free, one of Manchester's most beloved sessions.
Where: Studio 53 1/2 $HOTTA Rave @ The White Hotel, Salford (Saturday 24th July)
Whether she's playing ambient at a listening party in Nam, or building unifying, rousing dance floor sets spanning tech to garage at Partisan's old venue on Cheetham Hill Road, Annabel Fraser never disappoints. Selections are on point no matter the weight, striking the perfect balance between journey and party with effortless ease. Simply put, she's exactly the right choice for Saturday night amid The White Hotel's marathon run.
Where: B.L.O.O.M. @ Soup Kitchen, Northern Quarter (Friday 23rd July)
Phoebe Valentine's resume is nothing short of impressive, blowing away crowds from our shared hometown to Dimensions Festival in Croatia. Self-described 'head chef' at B.L.O.O.M., something of a latter day Soup Kitchen institution, her sets are always brimming with next level electro, techno, acid, rave and the noises between, creating a sense things could go anywhere once she's in the booth. The first time back in control of her own party, at its spiritual home, should be memorable.
Where: Salute presents @ Yes, Oxford Road Corridor (Saturday 24th July)
Salute's musical perspective is all about leaving attitudes at the door and focusing on good times, melding together beats under influences ranging from filter house to UK garage in a relentlessly smile-inducing assault. The Vienna-born player is firmly on the ascent, which is why Yes have handed him programming reins for the entire night this Saturday. He's invited Lxury and Gemi to join, which should give an idea as to what this will sound like — up front, and unapologetically positive.
Where: Hit & Run: Freedom Friday @ Hidden (Friday 23rd July)
With drum 'n' bass continuing to experience a huge resurgence in the UK right now it would be remiss not to include one of Manchester's most promising purveyors. Rohaan's attention to detail is staggering, not least at the percussive end of things, as productions on labels like Division, MAD Zoo and Deadbeats show, with the approach continued through to sets that touch on UK funky, dubstep and IDM.