Manchester’s best independent music venues: SOUP

The red-hued venue just off Stevenson Square is more than a basement hideout for wide-eyed ravers

By Emma Davidson | Last updated 29 March 2023

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SOUP in Manchester's Stevenson Square. Image: Manchester's Finest

SOUP, a Manchester venue synonymous with basement bashes, global DJs and an excellent late night ramen menu, takes dancers and dwellers from day to night in spectacular fashion. 

Perched on the corner of Spear Street and Stevenson Square, SOUP’s glowing red neon signage is the first thing that draws you in. Once inside, you’ll find communal benches and a line-up of global ales, but there’s much more to this venue.

Originally opened back in 2010, Soup Kitchen first entered the Northern Quarter’s sprawling social scene as a hybrid cafe bar serving up daily pots of blended veg and a Sunday roast of A* quality. Its owners didn’t just specialise in affordable lunch deals, though. When day turned to night, the canteen space opened itself up to a wheel-in sound system and around 100 dedicated revellers eager to catch a glimpse of the bands and DJs found in the depths of the record bags of Boiler Room’s best.

Coby Sey performing at SOUP in March. Image: Manchester’s Finest

The move from ground floor bar to basement club came a little later. Its underground space was originally home to a martial arts gym before being snapped up by Soup Kitchen in late 2010. Debuting with a secret set from GZA of Wu Tang Clan, and the venue’s inaugural club night with DJ Space Dimension Controller, the space then grew into what it is now – a community hub with an eclectic mix of in-house and external bookings. Start as you mean to go on, and all that. 

“This cross section of styles is what the Soup Kitchen owners had always wanted for the space,” says Gaëlle Marquet-Le Coat, live booker and partnership development at SOUP. “A representation of the diverse local people, crews and promoters that the city of Manchester had to offer.”

In 2020, and still under the same ownership, Soup Kitchen switched its name slightly by dropping the Kitchen. Now simply named SOUP, Gaëlle tells us the venue still holds those values of community and accessibility strongly whilst maintaining a high level of quality in its events curation.

Above Club’s Oyster Mushroom sandwich is a big hit. Image: Manchester’s Finest

The basement venue is as stripped back as they come with decaying brick and the faint smell of empty cans of Red Stripe wafting through the air. It’s everything you love about a DIY music space. It’s not attempting to be ironic with its lack of aesthetically pleasing trinkets and murals. It’s genuinely dedicated to the events it holds and plans the space around them.

Nowadays, SOUP is synonymous with underground nightlife and avant-garde gigs that encapsulate the very best of the city and beyond. However, this isn’t to say that the food isn’t worth getting excited about. It’s currently being supplied by Above Club, formerly known as Rainy City Ramen. 

The full menu features traditional ramens and gyozas. Image: Manchester’s Finest

Making his debut in the hybrid venue, Above Club owner Tommy Spence has brought “plant-based good food” to SOUP with the chef drawing on his former ramen wisdom. Offering traditional dishes including Tantanmen – a Japanese staple made using peanut butter, soy sauce, chilli oil and a lovely colour palette of seasonal veggies – Tommy has created the perfect pre-party fuel. Open 4-9pm Wednesday – Friday and 12-9pm Saturday, Above Club’s menu also incorporates traditional gyoza, smashed spuds and a selection of rotating sides which change every few weeks.

Both a vegan and Resident Advisor favourite, the other side of the venue’s appeal is in its calendar of global DJs and live gigs that, every week, package up every genre possible into a neat all-night party. It’s this reputation that has put the venue on the map as one of Manchester’s last standing city centre clubs – and it sells out almost every weekend.

The post COVID shift in club culture makes SOUP even more precious. Sitting alongside other Manchester and Salford greats such as Eastern Bloc, Hidden, The White Hotel and Derby Brewery Arms, it could have easily been swept away in the pandemic, but it made it through and is arguably now more popular than ever.

DJs play in both the venue’s bar and its underground space. Image: Manchester’s Finest

“When people play at SOUP, they’re often intrigued by it. It’s unique in that you can pop in to grab a spot of food, or to just enjoy a drink, but we also have resident DJs and a great connection with local radios and collectives that take the venue into the evening,” says Gaëlle. 

“The gigs are also properly curated, we spend a lot of time sourcing the right people to play at the venue from experimental pop to more obscure acts. Our DJ nights are the same, it’s £5 to get into most of them and we try to get a good mix of people from the obscure to more local collectives. The space is also great for art exhibitions, and this is definitely something we want to explore further as we progress as a venue.” 

The venue welcomes a weekly line-up of global acts. Image: Manchester’s Finest

Collaboration and community has always been SOUP’s core, and its event curators are often on the lookout for people to take over the space with ideas of their own. More recently, the likes of Kultura Collective have been found supplying Friday evenings with a healthy dose of electro. There’s also Irfan Rainy of Rainy City Music, a DJ and record label boss whose legacy goes back to the early days of Manchester’s acid house movement. With roots in everything from jazz funk to early Detroit techno, Brazilian fusion and pretty much everything in between, it makes sense for a DJ of his calibre to call SOUP home.

Naturally adapting to the ever changing club and live music scene in Manchester, SOUP is still as exciting as it was when its sound system was wheeled in front of a select few of the city’s intrigued clubbers. A reputable addition to Manchester, a city recognised for its outstanding contribution to club culture and live music, SOUP continues to bring new sounds to the corner of Stevenson Square through club nights and gigs most nights of the week. From Iranian buskers to snarly post punk, SOUP can confidently say it’s showcasing the sounds that might’ve otherwise passed Manchester by.

SOUP is open 12pm – 12am Wednesday, 12pm – 2am Thursday and Friday and 12pm – 4pm Saturday.    


Music Northern Quarter