England’s North West and its ties to Ireland are among the strongest historical and cultural links you’re likely to stumble across in Western Europe. Manchester and Liverpool’s Irish identity runs much deeper than the terraces of Old Trafford, Goodison Park, The Etihad, or Anfield. Grab any tourist office brochure and they’ll tell you that by the mid 1800s, 10% of Manchester’s entire population was Irish. They’ll tell you that areas like Levenshulme continue the traditions of Irish ex-pats, and they’ll walk you through the history of economic migration between the two countries.
I don’t particularly want to write about that. I’d prefer to write about the artistic influence the city has had on our generation and why, a city that’s often so overlooked, couldn’t be more important to so much of what we do.
Manchester is one of the most vibrant multicultural cities in the UK. In 2013 it was ranked as the most linguistically diverse city in Western Europe. Urdu was named as the top spoken language after English and illuminates the longstanding relationship between the people of Manchester and economic migrants of the Indian sub-continent, and the city is often regarded in the same esteem for its acceptance of multiculturalism as New York City and London.
As multiculturalism arrives, so too do its influences and subcultures from abroad. Almost by definition, destined to exist in the fringes, subcultures and the influence of minority communities can be extremely difficult to locate. I used to try but I’ve since given up. Instead I’ve taken to listening for them. It makes the job a (a little) easier…
For those not in the know, Northern Soul was a working class English take on R&B and soul recordings of black America in the late 1960s and early 1970s – think of an English version of the Commitments set at the height of Beatlemania.
Venues like The Twisted Wheel became one of the pioneering voices in Northern Soul. ‘Northern‘ was one of the earlier examples of ‘crate-digging’ and an enthusiastic endorsement of Afro-American culture. DJ’s would ignore the commercial success of Motown records in favour of rare 12”s often unknown or produced in severely limited numbers. Northern had Manchester’s Mod scene dancing to Roy Roberts, Yvonne Baker, Kim Weston, and Jackie Wilson. In the pre-Discogs era of the ’60s, DJs would often travel to Detroit to dig the crates of established record stores with links to labels like Ric-Tic and Golden World.
Cue the arrival of a politically charged 1980s, and in the midst of the Iron Lady’s Tory cabinet, The Smiths would begin to fill dancehalls across the city appealing to the working class population and antagonising a London-focused social and political establishment. Morrissey, the son of Irish Catholic emigrants, famously called out the previous generation’s dance culture for being too politically neutral and sparked a decade of fresh, raw, and angst-filled music, that gained a following from Irish and other working class ex-pats in England. Joy Division followed suit, later evolving into New Order.
The Sex Pistols’ rise to infamy is often attributed to performances in Manchester and influence of Factory Records, the era-defining label that allowed its bands to experiment with mashing punk, dance, and more genres together. If the LPs of the 1980s UK were known for their political overtones, Manchester led the charge in giving a voice to all those ignored by the establishment.
At the turn of the ’90s Acid House exploded in the city. A venue on Whitworth Street West and an influx of MDMA and ecstasy gave birth to one of the most historical products of rave culture, The Haçienda. Owned by Factory Records label boss Tony Wilson, the club was largely financed by New Order’s record sales.
Resident DJ and Manchester resident Mike Pickering would play Acid anthems alongside Jon DaSilva at their clubnight ‘Hot’, making the genre grow in popularity in the city, and across England. Let’s put this into some context: this was a bunch of Mancunian DJs playing records from working-class Chicago, in a club financed by a band that started off playing desolate post-punk, and went on to craft one of dance music anthem’s. If that’s not a melting pot of sounds and subcultures, I don’t know what is.
The club remains one of the most talked about institutions in club culture’s history, and hosted legends of electronic music like A Guy Called Gerald and 808 State. Today venues like the Warehouse Project continue to honour the city’s tradition.
I’ve always thought that mapping the history of a city’s music scene is an exciting if not romantic way of gauging some of the subcultures within its population. The Chemical Brothers, The Future Sound of London, Oasis, and The Stone Roses show the strength in greater Manchester’s musicality. Put it all together and you find yourself dissecting a city that has adopted influences and sounds that have emerged from all parts of the world. There is no prevailing ethnicity and no prevailing voice. It is a a city whose population has taken to multiculturalism with excitement, respect, dignity, and poise.
Manchester is great; its people are even more so. It has always stood strong in the face of adversity, and will continue to do so.
For those of you with the ability to do so, you can donate to the Manchester Evening News’ crowdfunding campaign in the wake of the attack Monday night here.