Manchester is famous for its legendary music scene, with some of the biggest and most iconic names and sounds having emerged from here.
It’s no wonder, then, that Manchester and Salford, the neighbouring city, continue to be a cultural and musical hotbed of talent and new discoveries.
Here we recommend some of the best small Manchester gig venues, where you can discover a thriving grassroots music scene and see raw talent before it’s snapped up by the mainstream.
Just off Stevenson Square in the hip Northern Quarter, Soup Kitchen is a canteen by day and a laid-back music venue by night.
It boasts a jam-packed events schedule, full of electronic club nights and innovative live music, with just a 200-person capacity giving an intimate air to the experience.
Many up-and-coming artists choose Soup Kitchen as a pit stop on their first international tours, as do many more established acts.
This venue has seen Sub Pop band Metz, Stones Throw rapper/producer Jonwayne and XL’s enigmatic King Krule all pass through.
Most acclaimed independent artists of the last 10 years have played at Soup Kitchen.
Next up on our list of small Manchester gig venues is the Eagle Inn, a lovingly-restored Victorian pub located off Trinity Way, and now a crucial part of Manchester’s DIY music scene.
Its tiny 80-person capacity performance space means that you get up close and personal with whoever is playing on any given night.
The decor of the performance room is distinctive too – there’s a fireplace halfway up the wall, a mezzanine balcony and a sculptured eagle bas-relief, definitely giving off some cool Victorian chic vibes.
The Eagle Inn has a stacked events calendar all year round, with local and international underground punk and garage bands touching down here. The Eagle also regularly hosts alternative electronic nights, comedy, theatre, and spoken word events.
Band on the Wall
When you mention small Manchester gig venues, it’s likely that Band on the Wall will come to mind, as it has one of the best reputations in the city for shows and club nights.
One of the more spacious small gig venues, the music programming here is more experimental – in fact, the venue has won acclaim for its support of jazz.
It has a curious history too – when it first opened back in the 1930s, musicians would perform on a ledge halfway up the wall of the venue – hence the name, Band on the Wall.
Its long history makes it Manchester’s home of jazz, soul and funk, having witnessed legendary performances from Robert Glasper, Bill Evans, Lalah Hathaway, Snarky Puppy, and PJ Morton.
These days Band on the Wall also hosts some fantastic club nights, like Craig Charles’s Funk & Soul and Mr. Scruff’s Keep It Unreal.
AATMA, once a derelict former textile mill, stands behind an unmarked door down a narrow alleyway off a side road in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.
This hidden-away style tells you everything you need to know about the vibe of AATMA and what kind of artists grace its stage.
It’s very much a grassroots, DIY, community-led venue, and one of the most interesting and exciting small Manchester gig venues out there.
They routinely host abrasive electroacoustic sound-design installations, as well as dream-pop art rock, alongside any other subgenres you can imagine.
If you’re looking for a new favourite band, chances are you’ll find them performing here at YES.
The venue is spread over four floors, with two of them being performance spaces and the other two a cafe-bar and rooftop terrace.
Old favourites usually play in the 250-person capacity Pink Room, where you can bop along with a pizza and hang out afterwards. Newcomers tend to play in the basement.
YES was opened by Now Wave, one of the most trusted discoverers of new artists, with an astonishing talent for putting a spotlight on new cool artists.
Now Wave booked thousands of artists and curated stage line-ups for Parklife and Warehouse Project over their 10-year tenure, before opening YES in 2018.
What kind of artists can you expect to see at YES? Think Tim Burgess, Hot Chip, Mike Skinner, Gilles Peterson, and Mercury Prize 2019 nominees Black Midi.
The Deaf Institute
Another iconic small Manchester gig venue is the Deaf Institute, located just off Oxford Road. The building was once home to the Victorian ‘Deaf and Dumb Institute’, and if you look closely, above the door frame you’ll see stone relief artwork of Jesus curing a deaf man.
These days, the only deafening thing about the historic Institute is the incredible music played here!
On the ground floor, you can eat and drink at the bar, while on the upper floor, you’ll encounter a larger music hall with enough space for around 300 people.
One of the best music spaces in Manchester, it regularly hosts live acts like The xx, Grimes, Johnny Marr, Omar Rodríguez-López, Todd Terje, Tame Impala, The 1975, HAIM and Caribou.
The Grade II listed building has some quirky throwback features like a glass dome in the music hall, and bleachers seating at the back, as well as a balcony overlooking the dancefloor, where a giant mirror ball is suspended.
Small but mighty!
This place is unique among small Manchester gig venues, as it is more of a community than a venue. Here the boundaries between the artist, venue and fan are seamless
Run by the Arts Council in Manchester and Salford, the venue is the hub for 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.
Islington Mill is located outside of the city centre, but it never fails to attract a loyal crowd who love to party until sunrise (and beyond – Islington Mill has that rare thing, a 24-hour bar licence!).
Punters can expect regular parties like Bohemian Grove for house and techno, as well as Gesamtkunstwerk, dedicated to boundary-pushing experimental noise.
Some of the near-mythical artists that have performed at Islington Mill include Death Grips, Oneohtrix Point Never, Sunn O))), Tim Hecker, Earth and Shabazz Palaces.
A truly unique space!
Manchester’s New Century Hall is a truly iconic, if somewhat overlooked, music gem in the city.
This 800+ capacity, recently-renovated venue, close to Victoria Station and Shudehill, has witnessed performances from some incredible famous artists, including Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, The Troggs, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Small Faces, and a small local Chorlton band you may have heard of called…The Bee Gees.
Reopened in 2022, New Century maintains the original sprung dance floor and wooden panelling, with newly-installed ‘disco ceiling’ overhead lighting.
These days it’s not just a music venue. The ground floor serves as a bar and live events space, where you can enjoy an eclectic programme of live entertainment while tucking into grub from five different food operators at the New Century Kitchens.
Not only that but there’s a basement floor which is home to the dBs Institute. From here, new talent is nurtured and students learn Music Technology and Games Design at degree and postgraduate levels in a state-of-the-art facility.
The Night & Day Cafe
Once a fish and chip shop, Night & Day evolved into one of the best small Manchester gig venues in existence!
Situated in the funky Northern Quarter, this venue hosts a steady stream of alternative bands and live acts filling the bill almost every night of the week, and there’s plenty of local talent on display too.
It’s more than possible that you could discover future superstars at this venue, as it was here that big names like the Arctic Monkeys, Mumford & Sons, and Jessie J performed before they were famous!
The ticket prices are reasonable and there are a wide range of events aside from performances, including dance-happy DJ nights.
The Castle Hotel
Also to be found in the Northern Quarter is one of Manchester’s most popular pubs, The Castle on Oldham Street.
Originally founded in 1776, and refurbished in 2009, it regularly hosts indie rock bands and was once the site of the legendary interview between John Peel and Ian Curtis in 1979.
Although it may seem like a tiny pub, there’s a charming music hall on the first floor where there are several weekly gigs to be enjoyed – not to mention a great atmosphere!
Yet another Northern Quarter pub, this place has an upstairs gig room which is perfect for indie bands, club nights or even live theatre.
Going to a midweek gig here is a real temptation, as tickets are dirt cheap, normally costing between five and ten pounds.
Local promoters Now Wave (remember them from YES?) showcase new and promising international acts here, with around three or four bands on the bill of each gig.
It’s also the place to be if you enjoy the occasional punk or ska all-dayer!
These are just a small sample of the best small Manchester gig venues, but there are so many more to explore from your New Cross Central base! Enjoy, and as the Gallaghers would say, go mad for it!