The Gothic Manchester Festival cast a shadow across the city last month as it brought to Manchester everything from the dark and deadly to the weird and wonderful. The festival promises dark delights every year. It returned this year for its third reincarnation with a theme of H.P. Lovecraft and The Weird.
Manchester remains the festival’s natural home. Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes, Founding Member of Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, said “Manchester’s history, architecture and countercultural spirit make it a prime candidate for a festival designed to explore the alternative dark side of the city and to revel in its secrets. This is why I think it has resonated with Mancunians: the events consistently offer new, interesting and different windows into the city we think we know.”
The festival unites lovers of horror and academics of atrocity alike in their combined passion for all things Gothic. The festival’s events are diverse, ranging from a gothic club night to an academic conference on the topic of ‘What Lies Beneath’, and made complete by an army of knitted Cthulhae to be raffled in aid of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. Dr Reyes reflects: “The festival has always meant to tread the delicate line between the informative and the fun, and to bring the research we carry out at the Gothic Centre and at Manchester Metropolitan University to a wider, discerning audience.”
The festival opened with the launch of ‘Crafting the Weird’, an art exhibition by Manchester Gothic Arts Group and John Hyatt from the Manchester School of Art. The exhibition was described as “exciting and eclectic” and featured such horrors as a pentagram, and a jar of tentacles. MGAG’s work will be exhibited in Sacred Trinity, Salford, until the end of November.
Darkness and Light are resounding themes of the Gothic and the title of Dr Linnie Blake, Director of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, and Dr Reyes’ exhibition in the neo-Gothic grandeur of the John Rylands Library. The gothic pair showed guests various gothic manuscripts and novels from throughout the ages. Amongst the items on display are editions of classic gothic novels from the year they were published: The Monk from 1796, The Mysteries of Udolpho from 1794, and The Castle of Otranto from 1764. There is also a specialist anatomy case and books on galvanism, including one that inspired Mary Shelley herself prior to writing Frankenstein. The exhibition is open until 20th December.
The themes of classic Gothic novels infect literature even now. Twisted Tales of the Weird brought together three writers who have taken inspiration from the Gothic literature and Weird fiction. Helen Marshall, Timothy J. Jarvis, and the incredibly influential M J Harrison treated the audience to readings, Q&A, and book signings. At a later event, Kit Cox, author of the Major Jack Union series, collected an audience of steampunks in corsets, top-hats and tailcoats.
However, a different kind of outfit was needed at TentaculArA SpectaculArA. ArA is a monthly Gothic club night in Sacred Trinity church in Salford. Glamogoth took to the stage in sparkling skeleton suits, to create a quintet of cadavers that got the audience twisting their tentacles to the music throughout the church’s gothic surroundings.
Dr Blake explained how the legacy of the Gothic lives on, not simply as a literary genre or a fashion movement, but also a mode of being. Dr Blake, who described herself as “superstitious” following an incident with an astral spirit and a table with one leg shorter than the others, described the ‘gothic’ as an expression of society; a form which acts almost as a social commentary to express the fears and anxieties of contemporary society.
The central symposium, entitled What Lies Beneath, explored the uncanny, the unsaid, and the unseen. In other words, the horrors that lurk in the very depths of the genre. With a massive panel with a range of specialities, the conference explored all aspects of the gothic with many disciplines in mind, from literature, film and TV, to religion and psycho-geography to show how the Gothic is still very much alive (or ‘undead’) throughout contemporary culture.
Many of the panel have contributed to the first edition of the Dark Arts Journal, the launch of which was marked by the cutting of a very deadly cake. The Necronomicon, a book of dark magic from H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, was recreated in the form of red velvet and salted caramel. After the event, one guest concluded “a lot lies beneath”.
This was taken more literally at the Underground Mystery and Mythos tour with Jonathan Schofield and VAGUE, the roleplaying society at MMU. The tour took guests around Manchester’s subterranean spaces – and gave a few a bit more than they bargained for. David Riley, who participated in the organisation of the event with VAGUE, said “Our aim was to show the public a taste of gothic horror. Whilst Lovecraft’s works may not be as spine-chilling for modern audiences as they were at the time they were written, we wanted to give the audience a good feel for the ongoing horrors of the Gothic”. Guests embarked on a journey of cult magic and arcane atrocities, before being saved by the Men in Black in a modern twist.
There is nowhere where the permeation of the Gothic is more obvious than in the world of cinema. The Gothic Festival met up with Grimmfest for a screening of ‘Reanimator’ and ‘From Beyond’, with an exclusive Q&A with producer Brian Yuzna. Cinema was also a frequent topic in the festival’s grand finale: a Cthulhu pub quiz complete with squid ink cocktails. Richard Gough Thomas, quizmaster, greeted his “fellow cultists” in a cape and Cthulhu mask before delving into the watery depths of the Cthulhu mythos.
The Manchester Gothic Festival will be stitched up and reanimated next year with events on the theme of Frankenstein. Until then, the festival will return to its watery grave.
This event was also published in Humanity Hallow’s magazine.