Musical city 3
Musical city 3 ©

Mati Milstein

Ask a British teenager which the most influential band to come out of Sheffield is, they will probably tell you the ‘Arctic Monkeys’, currently Sheffield’s biggest musical export. Yet the city has been home to many of the UK’s biggest and most innovative bands.

Sheffield, an industrial city, produced industrially inspired sounds which were significant in forming the British electronic music scene. One of the first bands to begin this influential ‘new wave’ era was ‘Cabaret Voltaire’ which formed in 1973 and who used unusual musical elements including hard industrial beats with robotic vocals and bizarre texts. Cabaret Voltaire have been credited with influencing the electronic culture of the Sheffield musical scene going into the 80s’ including ‘Vice Versa’ (who later became ‘ABC’), ‘Clock Dva’ ‘Thomson Twins’ and ‘The Human League’. 

The ‘new wave’ scene in Sheffield became extremely popular by the dawn of the next decade, and throughout the 1980s. Former band members of ‘The Human League’ established the new groups ‘Heaven 17’ and ‘ABC’. Phil Oakey who was part of the original ‘The Human League’, had moved to centre stage. In 1981 ‘The Human League’s album “Dare” was released, including the number 1 hit single “Don’t You Want Me”. This led the group, as well as their peers, to commercial success. It was evident that Sheffield had brought something new and exciting to the electro-pop musical scene in the UK.

Meanwhile, during the synth-pop inspired years in Sheffield, a local band was developing their own sound whilst performing to very small audiences. A decade later they would reshape the image of Sheffield as an inspiration for the ‘Brit-pop’ era; the band was ‘Pulp’. Their 4th album “His ‘n’ Hers” from 1994, describing the loves, frustrations and bedroom boredom of youths, established Pulp as the most well-known band to come out of Sheffield and their front man Jarvis Cocker as a cultural icon of the 1990’s.

At the end of the 1980’s Britain’s dance scene was swept away by two musical genres - acid-house and techno. In 1989 “Warp” records, a leading record label in techno and acid-house was developed in Sheffield and signed up ‘LFO’ and ‘Nightmares on Wax’.  In the 1990s Sheffield became the epicentre of the UK techno and electronic scene with revellers flocking from across the country to Sheffield’s super club ‘Gatecrasher’ and to influential local nights such as "Blech". Artists such as ‘Aphex Twin’ and ‘Boards of Canada’ featured at the night until it was relocated to London in 2000.

At the closing of the first decade of the new Millennium, Sheffield continued to develop some of the most forward thinking musical talents, one of them was the legendary musical producer Toddla T, who gained recognition by remixing the new genres of British Urban music, such as electro, dancehall, UK garage, 2-step garage and grime.