Reviving Manchester’s Infamous Rave Spirit: The Thunderdomes Gritty Legacy From The Acid House Era to Todays UndergroundDecember 23, 2023
In the gritty annals of Manchester’s musical folklore, Jay Wearden’s narrative unfolds as a visceral journey through the hallowed halls of the infamous Thunderdome. A maestro of the turntables, Wearden cut his teeth in the late 80s, navigating the labyrinthine beats of hip-hop and dance music that permeated Manchester’s underground.
The Thunderdome, a crucible of raw energy and rebellious spirit, became Wearden’s sonic proving ground, where the pulse of acid house and new beat reverberated through the very foundations of the city. As a resident DJ during the feverish peak of the rave scene, Jay bore witness to the sonic history of Manchester’s rebellious heart.
A few years ago, just before the pandemic, with Rosie they decided to relaunch the Thunderdome brand to recreate that vibe – doing events focused on the people and music, not promoters and egos. The Thunderdome Rebuilt has been a big success, with multi-generational crowds rediscovering the old school rave spirit.
Mike Mannix: You and Rosie have been dead busy recently with the Thunderdome, you taking a breather?
Jay Wearden: Yea Mike, we have, but I’m not really very good at relaxing. No, not at all, and I have like a really full-on career as well as this. I like being outside in nature, and I’m into that. But even when I go on holiday, I miss being busy. I’m also quite involved with the family, and the horses and all that sort of stuff. So I’m constantly doing stuff.
Mike Mannix: We’re going to touch on the Thunderdome and that in a minute. Anytime I’ve spoken to you, just go out and do it for the love of music. It was crazy for you in the late eighties, nineties. And here you are, still at the top of your game. I watched the videos from your gigs and it’s proper; it’s incredible.
Jay Wearden: Yea, I was getting tired of playing for other people that didn’t care about the scene or the music. The fundamentals got lost in what it was about like putting ten DJs on in a night and it being all about the promotion. That’s what was removed in the acid house days, that these people who do the music were the same as you. And then it became this pop star thing, and they were somehow different. I don’t think I’m any different or Rosie thinks they’re any different than the people on the dance floor. The people who may work part-time at Tesco’s or in the corner shop or they’re a bin man or whatever. We’re all the same. It’s just that we play music, we’re no better, and we’re no worse. We’re all going to die. We all shit. We all have a shit, don’t we?
Mike Mannix: Haha! You still embody the spirit. It was all about the buzz. The fact that you’re on the ground level, you interact with the crowd those videos look like they could have been from the 1990s.
Jay Wearden: Oh, they are.
Mike Mannix: You’ve captured that, man. There’s not many doing what you’re doing.
Jay Wearden: You can’t explain how that feels. You can’t explain that transfer of energy. You can’t believe the love that you feel in that room and that release, and you feel like you’re part of the movement again. And that’s what we’ve managed, and we haven’t done it. Everybody’s done it together.
Mike Mannix: Exactly.
Jay Wearden: “We’re breaking those barriers, aren’t we?”
Jay Wearden: It comes from the top and it provides the feeling within an environment. It provides how those people interact internally and externally. Rosie always says that even to the point that we do the tickets personally, we don’t do it on the Internet. Rosie deals with every single person, every single transaction. People feel like they’re part of something. And that’s what we wanted people to do. It wasn’t like a business plan; it was just that we wanted to provide.
After Covid, we were doing little bits and bobs; we felt like we owed it to people for supporting me for so many years. I feel humbled that people still come and listen to what I do, and I don’t play for them. I play for them to hear me. I don’t drop tunes thinking, oh, that’s going to get an easy reaction. I want to do it in a very creative way, and people still appreciate that and get that. So I feel we owe them as much as they sort of need us to for a bit of escapism.
Mike Mannix: They fucking dance better than a lot of the kids do today; I love seeing that atmosphere.
Jay Wearden: Yea, and they bring their kids now, 18, 19, 20-year-olds in there, and they cannot believe it. We have so many messages from people, young ones, saying that it’s the best.
Mike Mannix: Yea, it’s dispelling the myth. They’re telling their mates, my parents aren’t over the hill or whatever else. It’s like they’re actually cool. And it’s amazing to have this in our generation; do you know what I mean? That we’re able to party.
Jay Wearden: We’re breaking those barriers, aren’t we?
Mike Mannix: The only one comparable to you is Danny Gould and Andy Manston from Clockwork Orange where I’ve witnessed that in Ibiza where the parents at our age brought the kids over that were 19 and 20, and I witnessed that on Tannit beach, and I’m like, fuck, who’d have thought that you’d ever dance like this with your parents?
Jay Wearden: I know. We also have grandparents; we have three generations, dancing together; it’s been created which is even more amazing, isn’t it really? I love the creative part. Rosie always says, nobody knows what you want more than you.
Mike Mannix: I’ve seen some of the comments. People traveling up, like the old rave days, coming up to your gigs. That’s amazing, man. All you need now is the car convoys.
Jay Wearden: Yes, we’ve got people from Leicester and Birmingham coming over, Carlisle, etc., and they were feeling the love in a new venue. It can be a bit moody in some places in Manchester, and they’ve come in, and they can’t believe that, like the old days, like the music used to be, no judgment, music is music!
Mike Mannix: Nice one man exactly. Tell us then about the whole Thunderdome thing that’s taking on a life of its own.
Jay Wearden: “I feel we owe them as much as they sort of need us to for a bit of escapism.”
Jay Wearden: I keep feeling it’s a movement, really. Right?
Mike Mannix: That’s the right word to use, movement. It’s a movement that embodies the early ethos of the dance music scene.
Jay Wearden: It feels authentic. It’s not been pushed. People don’t have to drag it out. They just feel it.
Mike Mannix: It is. It’s proper. I’ve covered a lot of your history before in previous interviews. Kind of give us a brief thing about what we’re talking about today. The Thunderdome and your part in its 30 odd years ago.
Jay Wearden: So from a kid, I’d always wanted to, not wanted to be, but felt a calling to be a musician. And music was such an important part of my life, really. I was quiet, I’d say, introverted and shy as a child and didn’t really know my place.
I struggled really as a teenager to find my place in the world of music. I always felt like I could be a musician but didn’t find a musical instrument. And then when hip hop kicked off, I was massively into hip hop. I couldn’t break, I couldn’t pop, I couldn’t rap, and I couldn’t beatbox. But what I could do was get on the decks at the youth clubs.
I started collecting records at the age of ten and then by the time I was 15 I was getting into scratch DJing which was like 1985/86. I bought my first decks at 17 thinking that I would be a hip hop DJ in a hip hop group because I had friends at college who were rappers and beatboxes.
Jay Wearden: I couldn’t break, I couldn’t pop, I couldn’t rap, and I couldn’t beatbox. But what I could do was get on the decks at the youth clubs’
Then a college friend had an 18th birthday party in a famous student venue called The Venue that was just around the corner from the Hacienda. I played there and it just felt right. I was already buying like twelve inches, etc. Then after a holiday in Tenerife I started going into Eastern Bloc Records in Manchester more specialised shops and started buying house music rather than hip hop.
I’d still end up playing them together and playing at my night that I did with my friend called Utopia at Precinct 13. But then I got the opportunity to play Glastonbury in ‘89. That was when Glastonbury wasn’t what it’s like now. It was just a complete hippie fest. It wasn’t commercialised.
Mike Mannix: Just when it all exploded.
Jay Wearden: Yeah. That’s the crazy thing. I went down there to be in the Manchester tent. Didn’t find them. My friend just asked another crew, the London crew. It was a big one. And they just said, yeah. And I just played. And there was like probably a few hundred people in this particular section, but they just let me play for an hour. The first record I played was Do It to the Crowd by Twin Hype. I can still remember that. Jesus. We were all that off our heads! That was the first big crowd.
Jay Wearden: “It feels authentic. It’s not been pushed. People don’t have to drag it out. They just feel it.”
Mike Mannix: Amazing, Jay.
Jay Wearden: it was..It was a beautiful, sunny day as well played for about an hour. When I got back from Glastonbury I decided that I was going to go to Ibiza. But me being me, I just got my records and me and a friend went on a flight, and it ended up we were too late in the season to get any DJ jobs.
I didn’t know anybody. Ran out of money. Ended up sleeping on the streets for about a week or so. Lost loads of weight. Then I found out that a week or so before I got back to Manchester, the Thunderdome had had loads of trouble with one of the Manchester gangs. They’d shot the doors off and threatened any DJ that played would be shot.
And me being young and naive, I thought, this is my opportunity. So I went. Stood outside Woolworths [Clothing store] in a phone box and called. No one answered. I rang about three times.
Eventually, someone answered the phone, and I said, I believe you’re looking for DJs and Alan Evans, who owned the club, said, yeah, I am. Come down and meet me. And then that was it. My life changed. I grasped that opportunity and I never looked back.
Jay Wearden: before I got back to Manchester, the Thunderdome had had loads of trouble with one of the Manchester gangs. They’d shot the doors off and threatened any DJ that played would be shot.’
it had every single gangster from Manchester, but nobody caused any trouble with each other. It was like you went in there, and the slate was wiped clean. I wanted that opportunity and I wanted to take that risk. If it was me now, I wouldn’t have done it. I was 19, all the other DJs and, well, in Manchester, we’re in the late 20s, there was only Sasha and I who were of that age.
Mike Mannix: The gangs must have looked and went, man, what a ballsy little bollocks that fella is. Like, fucking let him play. In your opinion, what kept the violence out?
Jay Wearden: Back then, it was the pills. The pills were a leveller. Because it takes you to a different place, doesn’t it? It removed that paranoia and that anxiety that people have in day-to-day life, especially people that spent a lot of time with gangsters and gangsters themselves.
Jay Wearden: It removed that paranoia and that anxiety that people have in day-to-day life, especially people that spent a lot of time with gangsters and gangsters themselves’
And people are constantly about respect, aren’t they? And about people stupid, tiny little things cause massive loads of agro because they don’t want to be disrespected. But it removed that and people didn’t see each other as any different. It was a complete level up, wasn’t it? And that’s what I’ve always thought.
Mike Mannix: Big time Jay. It’s really important to describe that to new readers and researchers of this scene and remind readers that aren’t from the UK about the tribalism between football clubs and how vicious it used to be in the UK back then if you followed a different club wore a certain colour, or whatever else you’d get your head kicked in..
Then out of the blue for at least two years, around 89 to 91, I think. I can’t remember what the police commissioner’s name was, but it was like, there was virtually zero football violence because everybody was on a pill. It’s worth emphasizing because a lot of the kids today have absolutely no idea how revolutionary those changes were to us, then.
Jay Wearden: It was hard we were in a massive recession, Thatcher’s Britain, the miners strike! It was such a depressing time. You felt like you couldn’t do anything. You did this job and you did that same job for life, and that was it. FACT.
Jay Wearden: “I keep feeling it’s a movement, really. Right?”
Then out of the blue, no one saw coming, the dance music scene changed that. It allowed you to see the bigger picture, the bigger world, that things were different. You could speak to other people. It just opened your eyes really, to the world. You could do things. That really happened! It filled that gap.
Mike Mannix: Then incredibly simultaneously it just mushroomed all over the UK in months, literally like no other music scene had before it. Then stories of the now infamous Blackburn raves took hold with literally hundreds of cars in convoy up the motorways searching for the next warehouse rave?
Jay Wearden: I say, to know, you probably would be really good to interview Tommy Smith, who did all the Blackburn parties. He’d be an amazing person. He’s a good friend. He’s my like my spiritual leader. I just love him. He’s an amazing person. He really cares, he gives back to the community and charities and stuff like that. His story is amazing…
Mike Mannix: Sound Jay 100%. Tell us about the actual original Thunderdome, and then we can jump forward today with what you’re doing today with Rosie.
Jay Wearden: They used to have lots of different DJs on but didn’t have any consistency. They’d have different guests on every other week on rotation. But they all left after the shooting. So I came in then. And then Steve Williams came back. Thunderdome never really had any promotion or advertisement. It just grew organically after the shooting.
Mike Mannix: What were you playing then, Acid house?
Jay Wearden: Yeah, acid house. We played a lot of New Beat. We were really into the Belgium vibe. Steve Williams is probably the only DJ I ever sort of inspired and influenced, we played every Saturday in there.
I also played on my own on a Thursday in there, which the Thursday night was like the hardcore version of the Saturday night, Thunderdome. Everyone that probably was a bit dodgier and didn’t work came on a Thursday. It was probably about a third full on a Thursday. But he also opened another club at Thunderdome in Warrington. I would also do Wednesday there and a Friday.
Mike Mannix: So this was at the same time the Haçienda was booming?
Jay Wearden: I remember if you ever look at an interview with Andy Weatherall, he actually came into the Thunderdome one night, and he felt terrified. It was probably just how aggressive the music was, really. Because it was New Beat and it was Hip House like Bring Forth The Guillotine. If you’re coming from a completely different scene and you go into that, it’s like night and day. I played there for about a year.
Jay Wearden: I remember if you ever look at an interview with Andy Weatherall, he actually came into the Thunderdome one night, and he felt terrified’
Then Steve Williams had decided he wasn’t DJing anymore, then, so I asked Sasha if he’d play there. So Sasha and myself did the last bit of history, and it was the last-ever record. And he said to me, it’s your club. You play the last record. But I said, it’s not about that. You play. I don’t really care. I just want to stand here and enjoy it. It’s not about me. It’s never been about me. It’s been about music, and it’s been about people. It wasn’t about me playing that last record. It was about us all being in that place together.
Mike Mannix: Wow, then all these years later, what reignited the whole Thunderdome resurrection?
Jay Wearden: I saw this huge deficit, this gap between people on the dance floor. Before COVID. I wanted to do something creative. It’s not about popularity; they feel that authenticity from me, and they feel that I’m trying.
Mike Mannix: Obvious, man. 100%.
Jay Wearden: It’s hard to explain. I’m playing music, and that energy that I put in and that excitement, that point somehow transmits into the room, and then it comes back to me and. I always use the word symbiotic because we both need each other, and we feed off each other. We are one. We are one thing. And I don’t get scared if people stop dancing or people leave the dance floor because I know they’re going to come back.
And sometimes I call it like a palate cleanse, that I’ve come on, and someone’s been playing at other gigs, and they’ve been banging it out, and I purposely bring it back down so that we can change the mood. And there’s nothing wrong with people having a breathing and a bit of space and a bit of light and shade, I always call it as well.
Jay Wearden: And I still do that in longer sets, is think about giving people a bit because there’s only so high someone can go. And there’s a lot of psychology. If you’re a good DJ, there’s psychology in it. I don’t pick the record. What happens is that I’ll have one track or something that I feel, and it sort of organically grows from it. It can be a track in the middle, it can be a track at the end. And it’s like the track sort of chooses itself. It’s like a jigsaw.
Jay goes on to share his recent gig experience at a micro festival in a remote location in northern England, highlighting the magical atmosphere and the sense of adventure reminiscent of the early rave days organised by Blackburn rave pioneer Tommy and his love for smaller gigs in Scotland, where he feels a strong connection to the audience with those that ‘get it’
The conversation delves into the essence of the dance music scene as a leveller, breaking societal norms and fostering a sense of openness and acceptance. He emphasises the importance of DJing from a creative space, challenging the status quo, and making statements through music highlighting the uniqueness of the underground scene and the fulfilment derived from living and enjoying the experience without seeking external validation.
As Jay mentioned throughout our natter that Rosie and himself met in Manchester, where musical legacies echo throughout the streets, and is where they became an unconventional force, that began shaping the nightlife by embracing the spirit of the past.
The serendipitous encounter with Jay in the twilight of 2000s became a pivotal chapter for Rosie. Her successful international DJ career took a pause for family, while destiny intertwined her journey experience with Jay’s vision to resurrect the nostalgic rave ambience of the late 80s and early 90s. Collaborating tirelessly, they birthed the Thunderdome Events.
Rosie Romero “I love giving people this space on our amazing journey. Someone texted me, ‘What a journey we’re on, and I’m so proud. If everybody had the love that you and Jay do, then the scene will be back as it was in Manchester.'”
The inception was marked by a captivating promo, a sold-out debut in Manchester, and an organic evolution that transported revellers back to the bygone era. Thunderdome aimed not just for events but an immersive journey, blending music, crowds, and an authentic underground vibe.
Embodying the true ethos of the rave culture, Rosie shares insights into the meticulous craftsmanship behind each event. From handcrafted details to the careful selection of sweaty, underground venues, every element is tailored to recreate an authentic experience.
Beyond the main Thunderdome events, Rosie and Jay venture into uncharted waters. Special boat parties and intimate Jay solo sets in gritty venues maintain the raw, warehouse feel, catering to those who crave the underground experience.
What started as a one-off event fuelled purely by passion has organically burgeoned into an ongoing series. Thunderdome’s allure spans generations, attracting both seasoned enthusiasts and a fresh wave of younger fans, testifying to its enduring ability to inspire.
Rosie Romero “It’s mad how this can be so revolutionary just because we care.”
As the Thunderdome vibe branches off and finds another home at The Loft in Manchester with ‘Beyond The Thunderdome’. This new direction will encapsulate the deep Thunderdome vibe featuring acts that didn’t play at the Dome but are of that ilk. Rosie envisions a continuation of the energy that has defined their journey. With a nod to the perfect underground vibe of The Loft, she unveils their upcoming events, promising a fusion of nostalgia and contemporary beats in the heart of Manchester, and why she’s so passionate about it all!
Mike Mannix: Nice one Rosie great finally catching up! You exude such enthusiasm and passion for your events and dance music scene in general! Why?
Rosie Romero: Mike I love doing this! I just love giving people this space on this amazing journey that we’re on. You know, someone texted me the other day, and said, “what a fucking journey we’re on and I’m so proud, he said, “if everybody had the love that you and Jay do, then the scene will be back as it was in Manchester.” There you go!
Mike Mannix: I don’t meet that many passionate promoters like you 2 anymore!
Rosie Romero: That’s mad how this can be so revolutionary just because we care, it’s just us. It’s just how it’s transpired. I love people, but most of all, I love music. What I love, is what I wanna give everybody in that place, when they come in, sweat for five hours, dance, and forget about everything.
Doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, you’re coming together as one, and you will have the most amazing emotional experience that’s gonna blow your balls off.
Unfortunately, though I think when some people get to a certain age, they think there too old for it, You’re not too old!!!!
We have now so many younger ones with the veterans. This guy said, “thank you for the most fucking awesome night I’ve ever had.” It’s about the vibe and you know the last event we did as well, we didn’t even put a line up out. It’s not about that, it’s about you. It’s about the people, it’s about the person, it’s about the music and all coming together as one and experiencing that in there and that vibe and even MC Tunes said…, “if I could bottle this, I’d be a fucking millionaire,” because it’s electric.
Rosie Romero “You’ll have the most amazing emotional experience that’s gonna blow your balls off.”
I love what I do and part of what anybody says, you know, they always say, if you do something you love, it’s going to be good.
We put our energy and our good energy, and obviously there’s always a couple of bad bits, but we rarely get any bad bits or never get any trouble.
So, obviously after the success of first one of we said, “oh, should we do another one? And then after that, “I said, you know, how about the boat party?
Jay wasn’t too enamoured with the boat parties at first, but now the boat parties are like one of the best things that we do, they’re just fucking wild. I mean, wild, just destroy the boat. And they sell out within hours, it’s unbelievable. All I wanna do is dance. I don’t wanna waste any time in those amazing moments, I am just here to dance. That’s what you and I came for. And that’s how it used to be.
The amount of messages we get saying how authentic it is so close to back in the day, above anything that’s out there. Well, there’s nothing out there. And now we get people coming from Birmingham, Midlands, from all over, coachloads because they said there’s nowt else like these nights.
This is what’s driving me throughout the whole process, you know? And we’ve got something amazing for next year.
Rosie Romero “When you come together as one in that place, sweat for five hours, dance, and forget about everything,”
Mike Mannix: Yea!
Rosie Romero: I was out searching going club to club to club and we found this place called the Loft run by Sean Ryder’s [Happy Mondays] son. It’s basically the new Sankey’s of today it’s über cool. Function One sound system, Boiler Room style DJ booth, and goosebumps. Unless I get goosebumps when we’re doing it, talking about it, thinking about it, we won’t do it. We trust in the higher power.
Next year, we are going big with the Manchester Monastery with Hippos Remixed. It is such an iconic building in Manchester, it’s stunning and has often been described as the eighth wonder of the world. The venue is so special and for us it is such a huge investment of time and money, the most expensive party we will have ever put on by far but it will be so worth it.
We get tingles every time we set foot in that wonderful place, it even has a secret garden in the center of the building. Earlier this year we did Hippos Remixed at Victoria Baths which is another architectural masterpiece of real beauty and merit. It was such a momentous occasion combining that significant cultural space with what we do as a collective.
We just had to do it all over again and I think we went one better this time. I’m never one to wish time away but May 2024 can’t come quick enough. I think there will be a few tears on that day.
Mike Mannix: Wicked Rosie, I love your passion and dedication. We will definitely be over to some of your parties next year!
Rosie Romero: You better! Thanks again Mike