Party British Council 2 ©

Mati Milstein

Manchester, the dark industrial city ruled the musical scene in the UK from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. During these years brilliant artists emerged attracting huge audiences and one record label oversaw it all. Manchester was the most powerful city when it came to music in the UK.

Manchester had always been a home for musical styles of all varieties. But this story began on June 4th 1976, when London based punk band "The Sex Pistols" rode into town. Their show at the Lesser Free Hall changed the local music scene forever. Although legend has it that only 42 people attended, the audience included the band "Stiff Kittens", who later became "Joy Division", Morrissey, later leader of “The Smiths” and Mick Hucknall, who became frontman of "Simply Red". 

Morrissey, then a young music critic, wrote in the NME (New Musical Express): "I'd love to see the Pistols make it. Maybe then they will be able to afford some clothes which don't look as though they've been slept in."

Another person in the audience that night was Tony Wilson, host of the television music show "So It Goes". Inspired by the concert Wilson started “The Factory", a series of performances showcasing local talent, which then evolved into the now infamous label Factory Records. Wilson, dubbed Mr. Manchester, was conductor in chief of the city’s music scene.

Factory’s first release in January 1979 included a compilation of what was described ‘new wave’ featuring the first track of a band named Joy Division. A few short months later the group released their debut album Unknown Pleasures. Although the record failed to chart on release it has become one of the most influential records in the electronic and rock music genres. Joy Division erupted onto the Manchester scene and soon gained national recognition. Featuring deep dominant vocals, the band set the tone for much of the sound coming out of Manchester at the time.

On the eve of embarking on their first USA tour, lead singer Ian Curtis, a cult figure in rock history, committed suicide. His death instigated the formation of "New Order" with Joy Division’s Bernard Sumner leading the way. “New Order” introduced a new sound and musical shift to the city - from dark post-punk ambiance to danceable electronica. 

More dancefloor friendly sound inalterably changed the cultural landscape of the city, when Tony Wilson and Factory Records, launched the ‘Hacienda’ nightclub, the now legendary venue. New Order played its first night. As the decade progressed, house music started gaining popularity shifting the nightlife focus from live bands to DJ’s. The Hacienda adapted, hosting nights for young partygoers that influenced the music being recorded by local bands; The ‘Happy Mondays’ absorbed the influences of Acid House and ‘Inspiral Carpets’ launched a revival of psychedelic rock. The music was shaping the sound and soul of North-West soul imbuing it with a spirit of hedonism that became known as "Madchester".   

Possibly the biggest band to emerge during these years was “The Stone Roses”. They embodied the experimentation, freedom and invention of Manchester’s music at the time. Playing huge outdoor concerts such as at Spike Island, Manchester’s baggy generation had its very own Woodstock and a sense that it was, for one hot summer, the centre of the musical universe.

The era came to a halting stop in the 1990’s; Factory Records, the driving force behind Manchester’s musical landscape went bankrupt in 1992 and five years later the Hacienda shut its doors for the last time. It had done its job and helped pave the way for new genres such as breakbeat to emerge.

Manchester didn’t lose its place as a central musical city. Two local blokes, brothers and football fans, who created one of the most successful bands in rock history, made sure of that.