This is Spellbound – the queer-goth club night making waves

words Ed Charlesworth & photos by Michael Clark

It’s a dreary, Winters night in Salford, the streets are barren and the industrial landscape bleak.

I wind down through an estate, brutish winds pushing me forward towards my destination, the shadowy form of Islington Mill.

As I approach, I’m met by the low, throbbing hum of speakers, buried somewhere in the structure’s red brick bowels.

With one hand upon the door, I push it slowly ajar, the raucous wails of industrial rock and the heady scent of incense leaping out to greet me.

This is Spellbound queer-goth club

I’m in the right place.

This is Spellbound, a monthly queer-goth club night that has amassed quite a reputation since it’s debut one year ago.

So named after the Siouxsie and the Banshees trad-goth classic, Spellbound is a space that celebrates explicit queerness, a melting pot of music, art and unimpeded expression.

The founding father of Spellbound, Sky Isabella Robb, suggests that the event was a product of her own discontent with the Manchester queer scene.

“As a young, queer goth woman working behind a bar in Manchester, I began to feel as though there were a lack of spaces in which people could explore the macabre side of queerness. So I set out to create my own.”

This is Spellbound queer-goth club night

Flinging open its casket doors at 23:00 and barreling through the night until 03:00, the event is led by three back to back DJ sets, each focused on appeasing a different subsection of the evenings eclectic audience.

The first hour is spent under the spell of trad-goth classics, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, The Damned, it’s a delectable smorgasbord of dark wave essentials. The second and third, led by DJ duo Latex Sounds, crank up the intensity, heavy amalgamations of guitar noise and clanging metal stoking the homogenised mass of flailing limbs where once there stood a crowd.

The final hour of the night supersedes any previous notion of intensity.

Any persistent cobwebs are obliterated by the hard techno howl of young DJ AliOi, pumping out beats with such ferocity that the speakers seem ripe to burst and the floor close to splitting.

Monolithic baselines, feral percussion and mangled synths, AliOi mercilessly increases the tempo and the energy, whipping the audience up into a frenzy until Spellbound’s conclusion with the commencement of the witching hour.

Ali, who uses they/she/he pronouns, has been a fixture of Spellbound since its debut.

Though they now live in Manchester for University, during the events infancy Ali was living in a small, conservative town in Shropshire, commuting for two hours by train to play the event.

“Before each gig, because they start so late, I’d usually have been working a shift at my then part-time job, so I’d have to bring a tote bag stuffed full with my goth gear to work and then head in to Manchester to play.”

Ali’s own history with Manchester is tied closely to the history of the event.

As a young teenager they spent their weekends travelling into the city to hang around with friends outside of the infamous Urbis, in Ali’s words, “A place where a load of teenage goths got together and did drugs”.

Here, whilst Ali is transparent about the seedy underbelly of it all, they began to find some semblance of community.

It was a community outside of the confines of his small town, one that allowed Ali to express himself in ways he previously hadn’t been able to, and that encouraged complete individuality without regard for social expectation, “I could get away from the old, hateful people back home”.

Many of the same people that populated Urbis, Ali now recognises at Spellbound, with one of Ali’s closest friends from that time being Ross, now one half of the aforementioned DJ duo Latex Sounds.

Ali describes Ross, they/he, with affection, detailing how, after a period of distance, they ran into one another again at a friends house, still running in the same small circle. After reconnecting, Ross helped them to put together their first set for Spellbound.

“He’s like my queer dad”.

The sense of community Ali describes is central to understanding Spellbound’s allure.

Since its debut, the event has cultivated a diverse, loyal following, a joyful cacophony of individuals from across the spectrum of alternative queerness.

“There’s such a vibrant mishmash of energy”, says Sky Isabella, “the community is built up of so many wonderful, supportive people from all different cultures and backgrounds.”

This support was no more apparent then when Ali, recently struggling to maintain secure accommodation after financial issues, reached out to her followers on Instagram, asking for any available aid.

Within twenty-four hours, the group, comprised mostly of Spellbound folk, had donated enough money to keep him in the city for the foreseeable.

“It was mad. The community saved me. Without that money I’d have been heading back Shropshire… I think it says a lot.”

The community is similarly responsible for the events relocation to the stone-slab halls of Islington Mill, with the crowd of loyal, corpse painted patrons increasing to a truly formidable size, meaning Spellbound rapidly outgrew its previous host venue The Deaf Institute.

Spreading out within the catacombal mill, the expanded area has permitted for the establishment of a quiet room within the venue’s secondary exhibition space, Mirage.

Adorned with macabre art submitted for display by queer artists; Mapplethorpe-esque photography and ornate crucifixion scenes, the space eschews the chaos and intensity of the dancehall, instead being lulled into placidity by the soothing, dreamy tones of Cocteau Twins floating from a small CD player in its corner.

As I continued to navigate my way through the full-tilt experience of Spellbound, I initially sought out the room to sit and take a breath, finding a moment of respite before hurling myself back into the writhing tangle of bodies just beyond the doors.

However, as the night flew on, I began to find myself returning more often, seeking easy conversation with unfamiliar faces.

I got talking with Florian Mae, the second half of Latex Sounds, having just ten minutes before witnessed them emerge from a coffin beneath the DJ booth.

In honour of Spellbound’s first anniversary, the team threw a faux funeral for Florian, complete with a smoking thurible, weeping mourners and printed orders of service.

As the onlookers gathered around the casket, paying tribute to the beloved DJ, a hand broke through the mock-wood lid.

The deceased leapt up, springing from the coffin with more vigour than one would expect from a corpse, receiving rapturous snaps from the audience as the resurrected figure danced along to a throbbing backing track.

I asked Florian how long they’d been inside the stuffy casket, carefully stowed away below the stage.

“Since the beginning” they said, to my utter incredulity, the notoriously sweaty event having started over an hour before.

Like everyone I talked to that night, Florian was nothing but welcoming.

I bellowed my regards over pumping synths as someone complemented my shirt on the dance floor, I discussed the exhibited art with those sat in Mirage, I shared convivial small talk with a particular animated individual whilst waiting in line for the toilet.

Never before have I felt as comfortable at a club night, though referring to Spellbound as merely that would be to do it a grave disservice.

The separation between performer and audience member, leader and follower, so typical at events like these, is non-existent.

“There’s no elitism of any kind”, says Ali.

“There’s no ‘this is your place this is mine, I’m better than you because I have a set of decks’ kind of thing, which I think you see a lot with artists. We all listen to each other and support each other. It’s what’s made it such a great environment.”

There is no pretentious barrier between those on stage and those off stage, no preservation of an imposed hierarchical social structure, instead there is only an acknowledgement that everyone present within that space shares the same intent, to find community.

Spellbound is more than just a monthly club night, it’s a place for those relegated to the fringes of society to truly come together, expressing themselves without fear of persecution.

It’s a sense of unity, one that can only be achieved when judgement is completely removed from the table, and individuality is uplifted.

It’s a few, joyous hours in which queer people can be queer and goths, from across the entirety of the subcultures spectrum, can paint their faces with pride, rejoicing together in celebration.

As the witching hour drew close, and my hair grew damp with sweat, I headed for the exit. Just as I placed my hand upon the door, and the cold air rushed in to greet it, I turned, surveying Spellbound in all its debaucherous glory.

“What’s one more song?” I said, pulling closed the door and hurling myself into the crowd.

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