On the Sixth Day God Created Man...chester: Part 1

Photo (partial) found on Day

Boasting a plethora of bands whose creative imaginations have invariably left legacies of influence, pound-for-pound Manchester is the world’s greatest rock city.

“What Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow.”

A Homage to a History of Rock Innovations

The above long-standing local proverb, though coined in acknowledgment of Manchester’s 19th century industrial innovations, is just as applicable when considering the city’s contributions to rock music culture over the last half century. Boasting a plethora of bands whose creative imaginations have invariably left legacies of influence beyond, one could argue that -- pound-for-pound -- Manchester has a legitimate claim to being hailed as the world’s greatest rock city.

Though it may not have produced the quantity of acts that New York, Los Angeles, and London might claim, Manchester’s quality, as manifested in its key artists and their genre explorations, speaks volumes and resonates voluminously. So, as the world’s eyes once again turn to the mighty Manchester United Football Club as it (once again) tramples its competitors (besides Barcelona!) underfoot, it is surely time to hail the city’s other great cultural contributors -- its rock musicians -- and to recognize them, too, for their national, European, and world prowess.

Although too eclectic in styles and genres to be defined by a singular sound or defining principle, Manchester music, over time, has exhibited some recurring features that suggest certain commonalities and regional distinctions. The city’s emergence as the world’s premier industrial city in the early part of the 19th century has molded much of what has subsequently become Manchester’s culture and character. Its spirit of dissent and defiance is rooted in the rise of organized labor during these times; indeed, Manchester was home to Friedrich Engels while he wrote The Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844.

The class pride fostered by the workers in the cotton mills and factories has remained and solidified, such that today elitism is still scorned upon and down-to-earth vernacular and home-grown accents continue to be privileged as the authentic expressions of the people. Thus, whereas many British rockers (e.g., Rolling Stones, U2) Americanize their vocal enunciation for broader appeal, you will rarely hear a Manchester band that does not celebrate -- or even exaggerate -- its Mancunian brogue. Such local pride has long been a tenet of Manchester music, and the fact that so few of its bands flee the city for the bright lights of London while so many reference their locales in song titles and lyrics further underscores this trait.

Another recurrent feature of Manchester music has been a sense of humor that has likewise defined the larger city’s recognized personality. This wit -- irreverent, rude, raw, sarcastic, subversive -- again has its roots in the consolidation of the working class bloc during the industrial revolution. Serving to provide a relief escape from the long working hours and urban squalor were the Music Halls, which offered satirical songs and skits that spoke to these hardships while they also often commented upon the exploitations of the ruling classes.

Music Hall entertainment invariably offered comfort as well as identity satiation for the proletariat, though via songs and routines that often laid bare their impoverished conditions and duly poured scorn on the exploiters responsible for such a fate, it also sometimes incited rage and insurrection in audiences. Such edgy humor has since seeped into the pores of modern Manchester culture, as illustrated through groundbreaking local TV shows like Coronation Street and The Royle Family, as well as across a musical tradition that connects such disparate regional performers as George Formby, Herman’s Hermits, John Cooper Clarke, The Fall, and The Smiths.

Despite its insular pride and antagonism to outsiders, and despite its paucity of the kinds of resources afforded London, New York, and L.A., Manchester music has managed to transcend its own often self-imposed limitations. Ironically, the more it has played to its own regional identity the more its music has reached far-and-beyond. Manchester’s key rock artists reveal to us a history of innovations that has inspired many and been imitated by many more, such that today their genre legacies can be heard (as Mancunian Liam Gallagher once boasted) “all around the world” and in the often unlikeliest of places.

Next Page



Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.