Madchester is a music and cultural scene that developed in the Manchester area of the United Kingdom in the late 1980s, in which artists merged alternative rock with acid house culture and other sources, including psychedelia and 1960s pop. The label was popularised by the British music press in the early 1990s, and included groups such as Happy Mondays, the Stone Roses, the Inspiral Carpets, Northside, 808 State, James and The Charlatans, amongst others.
The rave-influenced scene is widely seen as heavily influenced by drugs, especially ecstasy (MDMA). At that time, the Haçienda nightclub, co-owned by members of New Order, 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 The Smiths, New Order, and The Fall. These bands were to become a significant influence on the Madchester scene.
The opening of the Haçienda nightclub, an initiative of Factory Records, in May 1982 was also influential in the development of popular culture in Manchester. For the first few years of its life, the club played predominantly club oriented pop music and hosted gigs from artists including New Order, Cabaret Voltaire, 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 July 1986, organised by Factory Records, helped to consolidate Manchester's standing as a centre 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 centre, 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 symbolised 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 acid house influenced Technique, which topped the UK album charts.
Artists' early careers
Although the Madchester scene cannot really be said to have started before 1988 (the term "Madchester" was not 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 district of Altrincham, to the south-west 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.
The Happy Mondays were formed in Salford in 1980. 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.
The Inspiral Carpets were formed in Oldham 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 Blanco y Negro 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. 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 October 1988, the Stone Roses released "Elephant Stone" as a single. Around the same time, the Happy Mondays released the single "Wrote for Luck" (followed by the Bummed album, produced by Martin Hannett, in November). In November, A Guy Called Gerald released his first solo single, "Voodoo Ray".
Only "Voodoo Ray" was a commercial success, but by December, 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 February 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) in March.
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 NME did not put it quite so strongly, but reported nonetheless that it was being talked of as "the greatest album ever made". John Robb in Sounds gave the album 9/10 and said "The Stone Roses have revolutionised British Pop".
The club scene in Manchester continued to grow during 1988 and 1989, with the 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 '60s-inspired psychedelic 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 coloured or tie-dye casual tops and general '60s 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 specialised in catering for the scene, making him a multi-millionaire.
The baggy sound influenced numerous Manchester bands including James, the Charlatans (formed in Birmingham) and the Mock Turtles. However, in the early 1990s the sound spread across the country, with bands such as the Farm, EMF, 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.
In 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 and were invited onto BBC2's high-brow Late Show (during their performance the electricity was cut by off by noise limiting circuitry and singer Ian Brown shouted "Amateurs, amateurs" as the presenter tried to link into the next item). On 23 November 1989, the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays appeared on the same edition of Top of the Pops. The "Fools Gold" single made number 8 in the UK singles chart, becoming the biggest-selling indie single of the year.
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 Charlatans came to prominence through appearances in Manchester, particularly as a support act to the Stone Roses and became strongly associated with the scene. They released a debut single "Indian Rope" in October 1989 and their second "The Only One I Know" made the UK top ten.
A number of other Manchester bands gained the attention of the music press during 1990, including World of Twist, New Fast Automatic Daffodils, the High, Northside, the Paris Angels and Intastella. These "second wave" bands, according to John Robb, "copped the critical backlash, but were making great music". and they also received a great deal of local support with TV appearances on various Granada shows and local radio play.
Bands associated with the Madchester scene released material almost exclusively on indie records labels, with the significant exception of James, who signed to Fontana Records in 1989. The Madchester was growing in popularity and was not just a local trend in Manchester with an article entitled Stark Raving Madchester appearing in the Newsweek Magazine in 1990 describing the Madchester scene. The main Madchester bands dominated the UK Indie Charts during late 1989 and much of 1990.
The success in the UK Singles and Albums charts of a number of indie acts associated with a "scene" was unprecedented at the time. "Step On" and "Kinky Afro" by the Happy Mondays both made number 5 in the singles charts, whilst James scored the biggest Madchester hit, making number 2 in 1991 with a re-recording of "Sit Down". In the album charts, the Happy Mondays made number 4 with Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches, and the Inspiral Carpets got to number 2 with Life. The Charlatans were the only Madchester band to take the number 1 spot, with the album Some Friendly in the autumn of 1990.
Outside the UK, the success of Madchester was limited, although some releases gained recognition in specialist charts around the world. In the U.S., the albums The Stone Roses, Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches and Some Friendly reached the lower echelons of the U.S. album chart. Several singles by the Stone Roses, the Inspiral Carpets, the Happy Mondays and the Charlatans were successful on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. The Happy Mondays toured the US in 1990 and charted on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Step On" reaching No. 57 in 1990. They also reached No. 1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart, with "Kinky Afro" in 1990. The only other Madchester artist to reach No. 1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart was the Charlatans, whose single "Weirdo" was No. 1 for the week of 23 May 1992.
On 27 May 1990, the Stone Roses performed at Spike Island in Widnes, supported by DJs Frankie Bones, Phonso Buller, Dave Haslam and Dave Booth. This concert has been described as a "Woodstock for the E generation.
A rapid succession of chart hits followed during the summer, including "One Love" by the Stone Roses, "This Is How It Feels" by the Inspiral Carpets, "The Only One I Know" by the Charlatans and "Kinky Afro" by the Happy Mondays.
The Stone Roses cancelled their June 1990 tour of the US, issuing a press statement saying: "America doesn't deserve us yet". However, their debut album sold more than 350,000 copies in the U.S. that year. The band also cancelled a gig in Spain and an appearance on the U.K. chat show Wogan. They did not face the public again until the end of 1994, spending the intervening time in and out of studios in Wales – where they recorded a second album, Second Coming – and fighting in court to release themselves from their contract with Silvertone Records.
The making of the next Happy Mondays album, Yes Please! was also problematic, and it would not be released until October 1992. The band flew to Barbados to record it, where they went "crack crazy", according to Paul Ryder, making repeated requests of Factory Records for extra time and additional funds. This is reputed to have been the major factor in the bankruptcy of the label in November 1992.
With the two bands seen as the most central to the scene out of action, media fascination with Madchester dwindled. James, the Inspiral Carpets, the Charlatans and 808 State continued to record, with varying degrees of success, during the 1990s, but ceased to be seen as part of a localised scene.
Local bands catching the tail-end of Madchester, such as the Mock Turtles, became part of a wider baggy scene. The music press in the U.K. began to place more focus on shoegazing bands from Southern England and bands emerging through Britpop, such as Blur and Oasis, and the U.S. grunge scene.
The immediate influence of Madchester was an inspiration to 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. Blur famously shared a rivalry throughout the 1990s with fellow Britpop band Oasis, who hailed from Manchester.
Bands formed in Manchester during the Madchester era included the Chemical Brothers, The Verve, Sub Sub (who would later become the Doves) and Oasis (Noel Gallagher had been a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets). More generally, the Madchester scene brought together electronic 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.
There have been numerous polls in the year following the Madchester movement to find the best song of the era. In 2005, "Voodoo Ray" by A Guy Called Gerald was voted as the best song from the Madchester scene. The song beat "Step On" by the Happy Mondays and "Waterfall" by the Stone Roses for first place.
In 2010, a new nightclub managed by Peter Hook of New Order, FAC251 opened in Manchester, with musical emphasis on Madchester music. Although Madchester faded by the mid-1990s, various bands have reformed for one-off concert tours. Notable bands which reformed in 2012 include the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays and the Inspiral Carpets.
Impact on Manchester
The mushrooming of Manchester's nightlife during the Madchester period has had a long-term impact, particularly with the subsequent development of the Gay Village and Northern Quarter. City centre living is also something that began to catch on in Manchester in the wake of Madchester, and which continues to this day.
The scene also gave a boost to the city's media and creative industries. Channel 4 already had great success with 'The Word' and in its wake the BBC launched The 8:15 From Manchester, a Saturday morning kids' TV show (with a themetune by the Inspiral Carpets, a re-write of "Find out Why") and Granada Television also jumped on the bandwagon with a cheaper version of The Word, called 'Juice' presented by John Bramwell and Joan Collins' daughter Tara Newley.
Organised 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.
In the late 1990s, a Manchester musical walk of fame was commissioned for Oldham Street in the Northern Quarter of Manchester. The walk includes a triangular slab for each music group and pays homage to bands such as the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays, the Inspiral Carpets, 808 State, James. and local venue Band on the Wall.
Depiction in film
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. Control (2007 film) depicts Joy Division's success and signing with Tony Wilson before the Madchester movement
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- Inspiral Carpets
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- The Haçienda
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