LONDON (Billboard) - The music scene in the northern UK city of Manchester — famous for producing bands like Joy Division/New Order, the Smiths and Oasis — is thriving again, with a new generation of bands tipped for breakout success in 2008.
Many in the local biz see the buzz around the Courteeners and the Ting Tings — both of whom have generated substantial coverage in the UK music press and have signed major-label deals — as clear evidence of the city’s musical renaissance. Other up-and-coming acts include alt-rock band Twisted Wheel, dance act the Whip and singer-songwriter Karima Francis.
“Manchester is where it’s hottest at the moment in terms of new music,” said Danny McNamara, singer with Independiente-signed British band Embrace and promoter of Manchester live-music night the Aftershow, which hosted early gigs from many of the new wave of local acts. The weekly residency has recently moved from the Sankeys Soap venue in Ancoats, on the city’s outskirts, to the centrally located Moho.
“There’s a mass of fantastic bands coming from there,” McNamara added. “And while, for maybe the last five or 10 years, Manchester has lived in the shadow of its past, there’s now a whole wave of bands that don’t owe any debt to what’s gone before.”
Local music executives say a key factor in the city’s rejuvenation has been an increase in the number of shows. Reflecting the nationwide boom in live music, several new venues have opened or reopened within the past two years, the largest being the 10,400-capacity Manchester Central (formerly G-MEX). The 16,000-capacity MEN Arena provided one of 2007’s top 20 worldwide Billboard Boxscores, with its run of shows by Kylie Minogue grossing almost $8 million.
“The volume of shows now coming through Manchester is greater than ever before,” said Matt Woolliscroft of promoter SJM Concerts. “Manchester is very well equipped in terms of quality venues. Other than London, it is probably the best set-up city in the country” for live music.
In line with the DIY ethic that has characterized the Manchester music scene since the days of the Buzzcocks and the launch of Tony Wilson’s Factory Records, locals say the high number of independent labels based in the city has helped cultivate a support network for musicians. Current key local labels include Melodic (home to alt-rock act the Longcut), Akoustik Anarkhy Recordings (nu-folk artist Neil Burrell) and Switchflicker Records, which released the Ting Tings’ first single.
“There’s always been a good DIY underground scene in Manchester,” Akoustik Anarkhy director Will Lawrence said. “We’ve never really been bothered about what the music industry is doing or fashion. People always want to find interesting music, and we’re in a better position than ever to bring that through.”
Many cite the launch of modern rock radio station XFM Manchester in March 2006 — supplementing the city’s existing alternative music broadcasters, BBC Manchester and 96.2 Revolution — as providing increased exposure for local acts through airplay and sponsored gigs.
“In British music at the moment there’s a real devolution of power from the London media center,” said James Oldham, head of A&R for Universal imprint A&M Records and managing director of London-based Loog Records, home of the Courteeners. “People in Manchester have just decided to seize the moment.”