Regardless of your location, if you’re into your music, chances are that you went through a Madchester phase, dipping into the anthems of the late 1980s and early 1990s that defined a generation. From The Stone Roses to Happy Mondays and everything in between, Manchester was an important scene for the music of this period, helping to usher in a new genre of ‘baggy’ music that is just as relevant today. For the uninitiated, here is a brief guide to the music scene that put Manchester on the map.
Now a block of fancy apartments, 30 years ago The Hacienda was one of the most influential clubs in the entire country. Opening its doors in 1982 boasting live performances from the likes of The Smiths and New Order, it wasn’t until the late 1980s when the focus switched from live gigs to house music and DJs that the club really took off.
The introduction of dance music DJs to The Hacienda coincided with the explosion of ecstasy as a party drug, paving the way for an entirely new clubbing experience. Clubbers travelled from all around the country to spend the night dancing off their faces to a variety of big name DJs, who were suddenly just as famous as the artists that they were playing.
Although Factory Records launched in the late 1970s, Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus’s record label is very much entwined with the Madchester music scene. The Hacienda was a joint business venture of Factory and New Order, and many of the scene’s most influential records were released on the Factory label.
From the labels base in Didsbury, Happy Mondays and New Order became the two more successful artists on Factory, creating a new genre of music that bordered the indie rock of The Smiths and Joy Division with the house music beats that drove hordes of revellers to the Hacienda.
This new musical genre was coined ‘baggy’, thanks to the fans usual uniform of baggy jeans, tie-dye tops and bucket hats. Fusing guitar music with psych, funk and house music, this distinctive new sound burst into the mainstream and subsequently the charts via the success of The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and New Order. Bands such as James, The Charlatans, The Mock Turtles, Inspiral Carpets and Northside soon followed suit.
Singles such as ‘Kinky Afro’ (Happy Mondays), ‘I Wanna be Adored’ (The Stone Roses) and ‘Sit Down’ (James) flew to the top 10 of the singles charts and became nationwide anthems, propelling visitors to Manchester and particularly The Hacienda. The success of the baggy genre culminated in the iconic Spike Island gig featuring The Stone Roses in 1990.
The short lived music scene was undone by the very thing that had catapulted it to success in the mid-1980s: drugs. Factory Records went bankrupt in 1992, largely believed to be due to Happy Mondays running riot in Barbados on a drug bender whilst running up extortionate costs recording their Yes Please! album. The Stone Roses also floundered, disappearing from action for many years whilst struggling to leave their own record label.
Around the same time, several new genres of guitar music were bursting onto the scene. In the absence of two of Madchester’s most iconic bands, Britpop, shoegaze and grunge captured the attention of the UK music press and the Madchester baggy scene was all but forgotten.
The Madchester music scene has been somewhat resurrected recently with bands such as New Order and The Stone Roses coming out of the woodwork to release new material and sell out stadium tours. A new generation of local guitar bands including The Courteeners and Blossoms have also solidified Manchester’s musical reputation. The marriage of guitar music and electronic dance music that was heralded in by the Madchester area is still common in contemporary music today.
The legacy of Madchester is all over the city, and fans of the era will find plenty to remind them of the city’s musical heyday. Nightclubs such as 42nd Street, 5th Avenue, The Venue and FAC251 (owned by Peter Hook of New Order) frequently play Madchester anthems to a predominantly student-based crowd, introducing the music to new audiences.
The Northern Quarter and Gay Village thrived in the wake of Madchester, as did the University of Manchester, which became the most popular university choice in the UK during the hedonistic era of The Hacienda.
Any visiting Madchester fan should start their trip to Manchester with a walk down Oldham Street’s musical walk of fame, admiring the paving slabs that pay homage to The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and the rest of Manchester’s iconic bands. A cold pint in Dry Bar, once owned by Factory Records, is the perfect conclusion.