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The Best Small Music Venues in Manchester and Salford

Manchester and Salford’s cultural identities are indebted to their musical history, but they continue to write it to this day.

With small music venues under threat of redevelopment and rising business costs, the venues below stand strong. Selected with love, these are the many faces of Manchester and Salford’s grassroots live music scene.



Soup Kitchen

best small venues manchester

31-33 Spear Street, Manchester, M1 1DF

   

Just off Stevenson Square in the Northern Quarter, Soup Kitchen is a multi-award-winning canteen, bar and music venue.

Its 200-capacity basement is a beacon for alternative electronic club nights and innovative live music, having stood vigilantly while its contemporaries have come and gone (RIP Roadhouse).

Soup Kitchen is an eminent port of call for cutting-edge artists on maiden international tours and established cult acts alike. More high-calibre than high-profile, this venue has seen Sub Pop band Metz, Stones Throw rapper/producer Jonwayne and XL’s enigmatic King Krule all pass through. In fact, practically every acclaimed independent artist to touch down in Manchester in the last 10 years has played at Soup Kitchen.

The venue is truly an enduring feature in Manchester’s live music landscape, and one the city’s culture will be forever indebted to.



Eagle Inn

best small venues manchester

19 Collier Street, Greengate, Salford, M3 7DW

   

Situated on the Manchester-Salford border just down the road from the MEN Arena, the Eagle Inn is a classic British pub dating all the way back to 1848.

More than simply a backroom, its 80-capacity gig-room annex – complete with a fireplace halfway up the wall, mezzanine balcony and sculptured eagle bas-relief – presents one of the North West’s most distinctive, intimate and authentic performance spaces.

The Eagle Inn boasts a stacked events calendar all year round, including shows from local and international underground punk/garage bands and singer-songwriters, to alternative electronic nights, comedy, theatre, and spoken word events. Mercury Prize-nominated Fontaines D.C., Manchester’s own Spring King and countless other breakout bands played here in their formative years.

You can practically pick a gig at random at the Eagle and be guaranteed to discover something you never even knew existed. It’s a crucial (and thankfully thriving) part of Manchester’s DIY music scene.



Band on the Wall

best small venues manchester

25 Swan Street, Manchester, M4 5JZ

   

Band on the Wall, so named because musicians in the 1930s performed on a ledge halfway up the wall of the venue, is hands down the home of jazz, soul and funk in Manchester. We daresay the venue has seen more performances from Grammy-award winners than the Grammy’s themselves. Just a few of these are Robert Glasper, Bill Evans, Lalah Hathaway, Snarky Puppy, and PJ Morton.

The venue also hosts some of Manchester’s most beloved and long-standing club nights, like Craig Charles’s Funk & Soul and Mr. Scruff’s Keep It Unreal – a monthly vinyl-only set from the veteran Ninja Tune artist and DJ, which lasts a cool six hours or more.

Beyond offering an unrivalled performance space, a pristinely balanced sound-system, and an impeccable selection of the world’s most gifted musicians, Band on the Wall is also partnered with Brighter Sound – a charity dedicated to nurturing young talent by hosting workshops with established artists. Past collaborators include Kendrick Lamar, Imogen Heap, and Bugzy Malone.



AATMA

best small venues manchester

Stevenson Place, 1st Floor, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester, M1 1BE

   

AATMA, once a derelict former textile mill, stands in the former place of KRAAK Gallery behind an unmarked door down a narrow alleyway off a side-road in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

This relative inaccessibility is telling – you usually need to dig a little to find the kinds artists and club nights that wait behind its steel door.

Comparable only to Islington Mill on this list, AATMA is a raw, untouched performance space with little operational intervention. It’s in every sense a grassroots, DIY, community-led venue, routinely hosting anything from abrasive electroacoustic sound-design installations to dream-pop art rock, or any other subgenres of subgenres you can imagine.

AATMA offers a true home to the weirdest of all noisemakers. Whether they’re your thing or not they add authenticity and nuance to Manchester’s cultural scene.



YES

best small venues manchester

38 Charles Street, Manchester, M1 7DB

   

Now Wave, the organisation behind YES, should be given the key to Manchester for their contributions to its nightlife. No other promoter has had the foresight or means to bring the musical innovators they have at such a scale to the city.

So trusted and implicit is Now Wave’s understanding of the artists Manchester wants to see perform, any gig poster bearing their concentric circular iconography can be considered a mark of quality assurance.

After booking thousands of artists and curating stage line-ups for Parklife and Warehouse Project over their 10-year tenure, Now Wave opened YES in 2018. With as much of an eye for detail as an ear, YES features a beer hall, an open roof-top terrace, a 250-capacity all-pink-everything gig room and a basement club.

With Tim Burgess, Hot Chip, Mike Skinner, Gilles Peterson, and Mercury Prize 2019 nominees Black Midi having already made appearances at YES, Now Wave’s faultless curation has ensured the venue has quickly become one of Manchester’s most iconic and forward-thinking performance spaces.



The Deaf Institute

best small venues manchester

135 Grosvenor Street, Manchester, M1 7HE

   

Its ironic name aside, The Deaf Institute has been a staple of Manchester’s grassroots music scene for the 11 years its occupied its home just off Oxford Road.

Inside the Grade II-listed building you’ll find a 300-capacity gig room under a dome skylight. The room features unreserved seating in the bleachers at the back, a decorative stack of hi-fi speakers over the bar, and a balcony overlooking stage-right and the dancefloor, over which a giant mirror-ball is suspended.

Deaf packs more personality into this tiny space than venues 10 times its size and dutifully ensures its live bookings follow suit. Thousands of artists have performed in front of its velvet curtain, among which are The xx, Grimes, Johnny Marr, Omar Rodríguez-López, Todd Terje, Tame Impala, The 1975, HAIM and Caribou. We could go on, but you get the idea.

This little music venue has become a powerhouse for live music and club nights in Manchester, uniting indie rock, electro and alternative hip-hop artists alike.



Islington Mill

best small venues manchester

James Street, Salford, M3 5HW

   

Islington Mill isn’t just a small music venue. It’s a living, breathing, ever-changing artistic community – a place where the boundaries between artist, venue and fan disintegrate.

Funded by Arts Council England and Salford Council, it’s run by a series of eternally revolving custodians, each of whom are entrusted to imprint their vision onto the Mill for as long as their residency lasts, before handing it over to the next.

Operated with the spirit of a commune, Islington Mill is home to over 100 artists, 50 independent creative businesses, a peer-led art school, an artist-run B&B, and multiple performance spaces – the largest of which is their 300-capacity ground-floor performance room. Some of the near-mythical artists that’ve shaken its walls are Death Grips, Oneohtrix Point Never, Sunn O))), Tim Hecker, Earth and Shabazz Palaces.

Stepping into the Mill for live music is no isolated experience either. An ornately detailed textiles project might hang from the ceiling, a striking art installation might occupy the gallery space or a sculpture the courtyard. There’s a distinct ambience to the place, and you sense you’re only catching a glimpse.

Islington Mill is a rarity wherever you are in the world. It holds fast against homogeneity and dedicates itself to preserving and nurturing the subversive, the experimental and the individual as if they were sacred.

For a full map of the small music venues in Manchester and Salford – as well as those that’ve sadly closed over the years – take a look at our Small Venues Index.

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