Manchester has an illustrious musical past but the current scene is pretty good, too, and deserves more attention, says Emily Oldfield…
Manchester is a city with an impressive musical legacy, certainly one of the best in Britain. There was the emergence of Factory Records and Mr Manchester himself, Tony Wilson – along with bands such as Joy Division, New Order and The Smiths – whose sounds haunted the 1970s and 80s.
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Then Madchester crashed in and electronic music took another turn. This time it was Acid House and what became known as The Second Summer of Love, the speaker-smashing sounds of The Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and Stone Roses to name a few. Clothes became baggy, clubs became sweaty. It created sensations which generations look back fondly on.
It’s easy to idolise the past but the Hacienda is now apartments, Factory Records defunct and Tony Wilson sadly gone. Venues which from the front look like unassuming eateries – let’s take Common, The Soup Kitchen and Odd– double-up as exciting live spaces.
This city still eats, drinks and sleeps music. You’ve just got to get into the new rhythms. So let’s look to the present and future, too. No more complaints that modern music is terrible because right now, Manchester is home to some great artists and bands. No, they’re not looking to stop your cravings for music of the past. They’re here to keep you raving for the future. This is Manchester’s musical renaissance.
A key indicator that Manchester has a living music scene which draws successfully on the past, as well as the present, is the popularity of vinyl. There’s the famous Piccadilly Records and also Eastern Bloc, which still successfully sells records as harsh and heavy as its name – expect dance, jungle, electronica and big, big beats.
But there are fresh faces all the time, with a new kid on the block in the form of Soundwaves Here We come. It’s a shop packed with vinyl from many eras well as pushing talent for present and future and puttingtwo fingers in the face of anyone who says that Manchester music is stuck in the past.
Alex Lee has lived in the Manchester area for many years and decided to open Soundwaves HWC in May, following previous success in Stretford. The shop sells a wide range of genres on vinyl from the 1950s to the present day such as rock, prog, punk, ska, dance and new wave. But the central location also allows Alex to do something which highlights the life in Manchester’s music scene – supporting up-and-coming local artists.
“From a personal point of view I never wanted the shop to be purely retail and wanted to encourage local bands and artists to play and practise,” says Alex. “It’s all about dehomogenizing the high street, plus giving something back to the local musical and artistic community really. The more free and accessible outlets there are for local musicians and artists the better.”
He offers local bands the chance to give a demo and even sign up to the independent Manchester-born label Valentine Records, based in the shop. The space also doubles up as a performance venue meaning that impressive live bands are set to take to the second floor of Affleck’s (with a big gig due on the 19th December!) amidst the ever-expanding shelves of music and memorabilia. Because rather than just collecting relics of the past, Manchester’s music havens are forming collectives – groups pushing future progress.
Valentine Records is one such group. It’s a record label, recently re-launched, which puts itself at the heart of current music – four of the team are in a band themselves! The label, along with the surrounding record shops and culture, dismisses the assumption that Manchester music is just a memory, a piece of the past. So much of what they offer is current, creative and yes, Mancunian. These artists include St Lucifer, Mark Corrin and The Reigns of Monte Carlo – all Manchester based.
Local bands and record labels certainly have a bit of bite to them plus the advantage that you can see them live in some of the most atmospheric venues in town. Manchester’s music scene is by nature alternative, loud and certainly proud. You can see this in the names of artists including West Coast Sick Line (with their smashing guitar rhythms) and Ill (an all-girl angry, eccentric collective who have some absolutely bizarre YouTube videos).
Just walking the streets you can brush shoulders with impressive local talent. Again, the thing about Manchester music is that it emerges in places you least expect it. Take Poppycock, a band consisting of people who met through volunteering at a community centre in Trafford, now turning over records with a real folk feel. Their track ‘Honey Moon’ is well worth a listen thanks to its enchanting use of the flute along with running water. Some Kind of Illness is another chilled-out bunch, involving Vini Reilly from the old Factory records era, specialising in chilled out, ambient ballads.
If you prefer music which moves rather than soothes, there are plenty of raw releases. Take The Slow Readers Club, an indie/electronic band known for their retrospective lyrics and layered guitars. Last Harbouralso add atmosphere through dark and moody gothic pieces, whilst Ten Mouth Electronoffer angular, hypnotic electro rock. You are literally spoilt.
The city offers an array of genres, seemingly inspired by the diversity and differing experiences of the people here. A man aware of this more than most is Mark Corrin, not only a musician but a radio presenter, playing sounds from the city with great enthusiasm. His Monday night show (11pm – 12) on Salford City Radio is described as’ a genre hopping blend of innovative and exciting new music from the North West and far beyond’. With his own EP ‘Nocturne’ (9 of 12 expected releases for 2015 in total), released by Valentine Records on November 19th, he knows what it takes to gauge the current in modern Manchester’s music scene:
”These days the music scene is much more fragmented due to the internet, which has its pros and cons. It is so much easier now to find great bands that would have been overlooked in previous eras, but also the choice is so huge, it can be bewildering. But the good stuff is happening very much everywhere! I think bands at the moment are taking more musical risks, as there isn’t a big record label behind them with a lot of money pushing them to be commercial anymore. So there is a lot more unusual stuff.”
And unusual is the order of the day. Take Water, an increasingly theatrical and weird improvisational band, featuring Louise Woodcock, who is well-recognised in the Manc music underground. Whilst some names are clean and simple, others are charmingly chaotic and complicated such as RubberDuck Orchestra, an entertaining and energetic local 7 piece Balkan folk / Gypsy dance band it’s hard not too grove along to. With songs such as ‘Balkanic Glaze’ bringing in the accordion, trumpets and a real carnival feel, it’s clear that grouping the city’s sound into categories of the past is no longer appropriate. This sounds like nothing that has gone before.
Manchester’s modern music is all about choice. A good way to keep up with the output is to pay attention to those local record labels, radio channels and releases. Consider the likes of Valentine, German Shepherd and Analogue Trash – labels from the city, for the city. Don’t shy away from different ways of listening – even the Internet – with the output of many bands available on SoundCloud. And, importantly, don’t kill the future by clutching only onto music of the past. Be part of the musical city of Manchester in the best way. You can love the past and listen now.
And this is the city which proves it.