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Review: Heaps Gay at Manning

It was impossible to move through a room without running into every person you’ve met on campus, from ever-present BNoCs to tute-bound whos.

No Mardi Gras season is complete without a Heaps Gay party, and this year’s instalment at Manning Bar did not disappoint. The venue was split into multiple zones, each with a different atmosphere and music. If you had your fill of Dua Lipa for the night, you could cross the venue and enjoy live performances from local artists.

Unfortunately, the price and demand for tickets rendered the party inaccessible for many USyd students — Honi had a brilliant time and was fortunate enough to receive complimentary media tickets. We want more of our friends to have the opportunity to attend next time! Despite this, it was still impossible to move through a room without running into every person you’ve met on campus, from ever-present BNoCs to tute-bound whos.

Front Courtyard

Manning Bar’s front area was fenced off to create a large outdoor dance floor, complete with a DJ stage and colourful decorations to make an ideal dancing atmosphere. It was easy to spend most of the night here, with tunes from the likes of Charli XCX and Doja Cat keeping energy levels high.

The occasional cool breeze was a perfect counterbalance for an otherwise sweaty night, and a sprinkling of Rain (On Me) was welcomed with open arms. Ghanian-Australian DJ duo Kinder performed a crowd-pleasing set that effortlessly flowed between pop hits and electro tunes, their own hit song ‘Bus Stop’ a particular highlight. 

Getting lost in Manning was an absolute joy – trying to find friends, belting lyrics with strangers and reconnecting on the dancefloor. The energy was on par with any pre-pandemic Mardi Gras street dancing, and certainly outshone the parade locked into the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) for yet another year. Having such a memorable experience at Manning with my own cohort felt like the Uni experience that we were promised, and was a fantastic way to welcome back a restriction-less Mardi Gras.

Back Courtyard

For those who relish in a live performance, the back courtyard came in hot. With a lineup of diverse, local acts, the shows truly embodied the spirit of Mardi Gras. Whether you were sick of hyperpop (how?) or the endless crowds, the area was an exciting change of pace compared to the other stages. 

Performances on the stage varied in tone and genre, allowing everyone to immerse themselves in an experimental zone akin to a classic Mardi house party. Partying the night away with a view of the Physics building was only a slightly sobering reminder of tutorials in the coming week.

Korky Buchek and Gold Fang delivered a high-energy performance that got the crowd moving, with attendees leaving their shelter under a marquee to get closer to the stage and into the mosh. Later in the night, Dirty Versachi teamed up with Mo•Louie to deliver a drag/DJ set that wouldn’t be out of place in any of Sydney’s major venues.

Upstairs Dancefloor

The upstairs dancefloor of Manning is a familiar sight to many for a range of events dissimilar to Heaps Gay (see: USU election results announcements). The atmosphere last night was an entire transformation. With a seamless three-way flow between the bathroom, the bar and the dancefloor, Manning’s upper level provided the perfect place to settle for those who didn’t enjoy the circuit of moving between levels. 

A balanced mix of DJs and live performers meant there was always something to keep you stimulated. Highlights included young First Nations artist Djanaba who excited crowds with her latest single ‘Big Titties’, and show-stopping performances from a number of drag queens and dancers.

The upstairs bar delivered a significantly smaller line for drinks. Sorry to the suckers who battled through the downstairs line! Manning’s uppermost balcony also provided some much-needed respite for weary partygoers, a spot to steady yourself and regroup. For those sick of struggling to shout over the dancefloor, it was a good spot to actually have a chat with fellow partygoers.

Nooks, Crannies, Holes

Surely the most important criteria in the rating of any Mardi Gras party is the ability to step away for a private konversation. As a result, the true highlight of Heaps Gay at Manning was the opportunity for exploration within its intimate spaces. 

Gender neutral bathrooms were a particularly welcome change, importantly for those who require access to non-gendered bathroom use, but also for boy-girl bestie combos who were in the middle of very important discussions.

Many a life-changing D&M was had in the stairwell, in the various cupboards and on the floors of hallways. A note for attendees at future events: a welfare check is not required each time somebody sits down on the ground. 

Unfortunately, a less exciting nook-cranny was a police desk that had been set up inside the building. Given the fraught relationship between police and the queer community, which both historically and currently is marred by violence and discrimination, many attendees informed Honi that the police presence throughout the event made them feel incredibly anxious and uneasy. Honi understands that police took at least two individuals into custody, with one seen being taken away in a paddy wagon.

Unlike the police, the paramedics, who had set up an emergency room on the ground floor, were welcome and supportive in ensuring that partygoers enjoyed a safe night and had access to healthcare free from discrimination.

Manning proved to be the best possible venue for an event of this magnitude. Having the option to either dive into a packed dance-floor or enjoy somewhere more intimate is exactly what is needed, and no other venue is so thoroughly ideal.
From arriving on the Manning Road runway, to exiting for kick-ons via the Eastern Ave freeway, it was a night which left even the tamest of individuals feeling unbaptised. Thanks to the USU for giving Honi the chance to come and check it out – we’ll certainly be back for more.