Madchester was a music scene that developed in Manchester, England, towards the end of the 1980s and into the early 1990s. The music that emerged from the scene mixed alternative rock, psychedelic rock, and dance music. Artists associated with the scene included New Order, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, Northside, 808 State, James, The Charlatans, The Fall, and A Guy Called Gerald.
At that time, the Haçienda nightclub was a major catalyst for the distinctive musical ethos in the city that was called the ‘Second Summer of Love.’ The music scene in Manchester immediately before the Madchester era had been dominated by bands such as The Smiths, New Order, The Fall and James. These bands were to become a significant influence on the Madchester scene.
The opening of the Haçienda nightclub, an initiative of Factory Records, in 1982 was also influential in the development of popular culture in Manchester. For the first few years of its life, the venue played predominantly club orientated pop music and hosted gigs from artists including New Order, Culture Club, The Thompson Twins, and the Smiths. It had DJs such as Hewan Clarke and Greg Wilson and switched focus from being a live venue to being a dance club by 1986. In 1987 The Hacienda started playing House music with DJs Mike Pickering, Graeme Park, and ‘Little’ Martin Prendergast hosting the ‘Nude Night’ on Fridays.
The Festival of the ‘Tenth Summer’ in 1986, organized by Factory Records, helped to consolidate Manchester’s standing as a center for alternative pop-culture. The festival included film-screenings, a music seminar, art shows, and gigs by the city’s most prominent bands, including an all-day gig at Manchester G-Mex featuring A Certain Ratio, The Smiths, New Order and The Fall. According to Dave Haslam, the festival demonstrated that ‘the city had become synonymous with … larger-than-life characters playing cutting edge music … Individuals were inspired and the city was energised; of it’s [sic] own accord, uncontrolled.’
The Haçienda went from making a consistent loss to consistently selling out by early 1987. During 1987, it hosted performances by American house artists including Frankie Knuckles and Adonis. Other clubs in the Manchester area started to catch on to House music including Devilles, Isadora’s, Konspiracy, House, Soundgardens, and Man Alive in the city center, Bugsy’s in Ashton-under-Lyne and the Osbourne Club in Miles Platting.
Another key factor in the build-up to Madchester was the sudden availability of the drug ecstasy in the city, beginning in 1987 and growing the following year. According to Dave Haslam: ‘Ecstasy use changed clubs forever; a night at the Haçienda went from being a great night out, to an intense, life changing experience.’
By the late 1980s, the British music was symbolized by a robust sound such as a Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet and the pop music of Stock, Aitken, and Waterman. ‘The Guardian,’ stated that, ‘The 80s looked destined to end in musical ignominy.’ The Madchester movement burgeoned, its sound was new and refreshing and its popularity soon grew. Music by artists such as the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays began to chart highly in 1989 with New Order releasing the house-influenced ‘Technique,’ which topped the UK album charts.
Although the Madchester scene cannot really be said to have started before 1988 (the term wasn’t coined until a year after that by Factory Records video director Philip Shotton), many of its most significant bands and artists were around on the local scene long before then. The Stone Roses were formed in 1984 by singer Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire, who had grown up on the same street in Timperley, a suburban area south of Manchester. They had been in bands together since 1980, but the Stone Roses were the first to release a record, ‘So Young,’ in 1985. The line-up was completed by Alan ‘Reni’ Wren on drums and, from 1987, Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield on bass.
Happy Mondays were formed in Salford in 1985. The members between then and the break-up of the band in 1992 were Shaun Ryder, his brother Paul, Mark ‘Bez’ Berry, Paul Davis, Mark Day, and Gary Whelan. They were signed to Factory Records, supposedly after Haçienda DJ Mike Pickering saw them at a ‘Battle of the Bands’ contest in which they came last (the winners being Manchester band The Brigade). They released two singles – ’45,’ produced by Pickering in 1985, and ‘Freaky Dancin’,’ produced by New Order’s Bernard Sumner in 1986 – before putting out an album produced by John Cale and bearing the title ‘Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out)’ in 1987.
Inspiral Carpets were formed in Oldham, Greater Manchester in 1986. The line-up was Clint Boon (organ), Stephen Holt (vocals – Tom Hingley would not join up until the beginning of 1989), Graham Lambert (guitar), Martyn Walsh (bass), and Craig Gill (drums). They released a flexi-disc a year later, and in 1988 the ‘Planecrash EP’ (on their own Cow Records) brought them to the attention of John Peel.
James were formed in 1981 by Paul Gilbertson and Jim Glennie (after whom the band was named), recruiting Drama student Tim Booth on vocals and Gavan Whelan on drums (Gilbertson and Whelan were to leave the band before it attained commercial success). They released their first EP, ‘Jimone’ on Factory Records in 1983, and attracted critical enthusiasm, as well as the patronage of Morrissey. Sales of their two albums for Sire Records, ‘Stutter’ in 1986 and ‘Strip-mine’ in 1988, were disappointing and, at the time Madchester hit, the band was using t-shirt sales to fund its own releases through Rough Trade Records and a live album called ‘One Man Clapping’ on Rough Trade Records, who early in 1989 put out the original Version of ‘Sit Down.’ Madchester helped bring them commercial success and the single ‘Sit Down’ became one of the most popular anthems of the era.
808 State were formed in 1988 by the owner of the Eastern Bloc Records shop on Oldham Street, Martin Price, together with Graham Massey and Gerald Simpson. The three put together an innovative live acid house set, performing at various venues around town, and releasing an acclaimed and influential album ‘Newbuild’ on Price’s own label. Simpson left soon after the release of Newbuild, but went on to record as ‘A Guy Called Gerald.’
In 1988, the Stone Roses released ‘Elephant Stone’ as a single. Around the same time, Happy Mondays released the single ‘Wrote for Luck’ (followed by the ‘Bummed’ album, produced by Martin Hannett). A Guy Called Gerald released his first solo single, ‘Voodoo Ray.’ Only ‘Voodoo Ray’ was a commercial success, but a sense had started to develop in the British music press that there was something going on in the city. According to Sean O’Hagan, writing in the ‘NME': ‘There is a particularly credible music biz rumour-come theory that certain Northern towns—Manchester being the prime example—have had their water supply treated with small doses of mind-expanding chemicals … Everyone from Happy Mondays to the severely disorientated Morrissey conform to the theory in some way. Enter A Guy Called Gerald, out of his box on the limitless possibilities of a bank of keyboards.’
The Stone Roses’ following increased as they gigged around the country and released the ‘Made of Stone’ single in 1989. This did not chart, but enthusiasm for the band in the music press intensified when they released their debut album (produced by John Leckie). Bob Stanley (later of Saint Etienne), reviewing the Stone Roses album in ‘Melody Maker’ wrote: ‘this is simply the best debut LP I’ve heard in my record buying lifetime. Forget everybody else. Forget work tomorrow.’
The club scene in Manchester continued to grow during 1988 and 1989, with Haçienda launching Ibiza-themed nights in the summer of 1988 and the Hot acid house night (hosted by Mike Pickering and Jon DaSilva) in November of the same year. In May, the Happy Mondays released the single ‘Lazyitis’ and the Inspiral Carpets put out their first single with new singer Tom Hingley, ‘Joe.’ Like the Stone Roses, the Inspiral Carpets were producing sixties-inspired indie music. These bands mixed disco basslines and wah-wah guitar with their indie jingle-jangle. The Inspiral Carpets added the sound of the Farfisa organ.
This sound, which was to become known as ‘baggy,’ generally includes a combination of funk, psychedelia, guitar rock, and house music. In the Manchester context, the music can be seen as mainly influenced by the indie music that had dominated the city’s music scene during the 1980s, but also absorbing the various influences coming through the Haçienda. Alongside the music, a way of dressing emerged that gave baggy its name. Baggy jeans (often flared) alongside brightly colored or tie-dye casual tops and general sixties style became fashionable first in Manchester and then across the country – frequently topped off with a fishing hat in the style sported by the Stone Roses drummer Reni. The overall look was part rave, part retro, or part hippie, part football casual. Many Madchester bands had football casual fans and a number of bands even wore football shirts. Shami Ahmed’s Manchester-based Joe Bloggs fashion label specialized in catering for the scene, making him a multi-millionaire.
The baggy sound influenced numerous Greater Manchester bands including James, The Charlatans (Who formed in Birmingham), and The Mock Turtles. However, in the early 1990s the sound spread across the country, with bands such as The Farm, Flowered Up, Candy Flip, and Blur treading where Mancunians had gone before. Dave Haslam notes that the interest of the press in the baggy scene skewed impressions of the Madchester scene. In Manchester, electronic dance music was prevalent in the clubs, and the scene also gave a home to hip-hop artists Ruthless Rap Assassins, Hybrid, and MC Tunes.
During mid-1989, media interest in the Manchester scene continued to grow. In September, the Happy Mondays released a Vince Clarke remix of ‘Wrote for Luck’ as a single. In November, four important singles were released: ‘Move’ by the Inspiral Carpets, ‘Pacific State’ by 808 State, ‘The Madchester Rave On’ EP by the Happy Mondays, and ‘Fools Gold/What the World is Waiting For’ by the Stone Roses. The Happy Mondays record, featuring the lead track ‘Hallelujah!,’ coined the term ‘Madchester’ – it had originally been suggested by their video directors the Bailey Brothers as a potential t-shirt slogan.
In November, the Stone Roses performed a gig at London’s Alexandra Palace which was a nightmare , with 8000 fans and only 2 bar staff, and were invited onto BBC2’s high-brow ‘Late Show’ (remembered by many because the electricity cut out during their performance and they stormed off). Madchester became something of an industry bandwagon from this time. According to ‘NME’ journalist Stuart Maconie, the British press had ‘gone bonkers over Manchester bands.’ James were amongst the first beneficiaries of this. The local success of their self-financed singles ‘Come Home’ and ‘Sit Down’ led to a deal with Fontana, and they were to score chart hits with ‘How Was it For You’ and a re-recorded version of ‘Come Home’ in the summer of 1990.
The immediate influence of Madchester was in inspiring the wider baggy movement in the UK, with bands from various parts of the country producing music in the early 1990s heavily influenced by the main Madchester players. These bands included Flowered Up (from London), The Farm and The Real People (from Liverpool), The Bridewell Taxis (from Leeds), the Soup Dragons (from Glasgow) and Ocean Colour Scene (from Birmingham). Blur, from Colchester, adopted a baggy style in their early career, although in an interview with ‘Select Magazine’ in 1991 they claimed to have ‘killed’ the genre.
Bands formed in Manchester during the Madchester era included the Chemical Brothers, Verve, Sub Sub (who would later become Doves), and Oasis (Noel Gallagher had been a roadie for Inspiral Carpets). More generally, the Madchester scene brought together dance music and alternative rock, in particular the combination of the types of drumming found in funk and disco music (and sampled in 80s hip-hop music) with jingle-jangle guitar. In the 1990s, this became a commonplace formula, found frequently in even the most commercial music.
Organized crime became an unfortunate side-story to Madchester, with the vibrancy of the clubbing scene in the city (and the popularity of illegal drugs, particularly ecstasy) providing a fertile environment for opportunist gangsterism. Violent incidents at the Haçienda led to a campaign against it by Greater Manchester Police, and contributed to its closure in 1997.
Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 film ’24 Hour Party People’ follows the story of Tony Wilson and Factory Records, including the Madchester period and the Happy Mondays’ success.