Thursday, 1 July 2010

Manchester versus Glasgow

First off, I don't proclaim to know a great deal about the current state of the Manchester music scene. After all I only moved here in April after thirteen years living in Glasgow. All I am offering then are some observations on what I've seen here, and some comparisons between the two cities. I may be completely wrong, so have a large pinch of salt at the ready.

What attracted me to Glasgow, and also to Manchester, is the fact that they are both heavily musical cities.
I love music, it's my religion. And people feel like that here too - pubs still have live music slots, people sing in the streets, you see wannabe MCs practicing their flows as they walk down the road, you can hear a rude boy's car a mile off from the big bottom end. I even like to think that those scallies you see swaggering down the road have been exposed to one-too-many dubby breakbeats and it has infected their nervous system. In Glasgow it's more of a head-butt-friendly happy hardcore rhythm, helped by the caffeine content of both Irn-Bru and Buckfast.

Another of the things that brought me to this city was the tolerance of certain, ahem, alternative lifestyle "choices", having as it does a more diverse social scene than Glasgow. Since moving I have been to a dancehall night in Moss Side, a gay foam party in Legends, I have ventured deep into the Manchester Academy, seen some of the council-funded electronica gigs of Future Everything, and been to band shows at non-trad venues like the Soup Kitchen and Islington Mill. I don't think I'd be able to go to a spread of nights like that in Glasgow - but still that city, for all its drawbacks, has a thriving, healthy music scene. So what's the difference between the two?

Well for me it can be summed up in my experience at the Islington Mill. I like the venue a lot, it reminds me of some of the reclaimed-space art venues I have been involved with in Glasgow - with the crucial difference being that Islington Mill feels very professionally run. Similar spaces in Glasgow are a bit more haphazard, for better and for worse. So while the Islington Mill (from what I hear) may be supported by the income and reputation of the Ting Tings and other residents, somewhere like the Chateau (which was co-founded by Franz Ferdinand) literally had stairs falling in and no funding from the council or any Scottish arts bodies. We got any money we needed by throwing illegal parties.

Now, snigger as you may at what appears to be Scottish incompetence, but the point I am trying to make is that things happen in Glasgow out of sheer necessity. If the Chateau didn't need to exist, it wouldn't have. And from the chaos and freedom of DIY culture spring artists who have had enough time to incubate and develop their art without A&R influence. The Glasgow music scene at the moment is also very heavily influenced by the Glasgow School of Art, again or better and for worse, but what that does throw up is a culture of crazy student house parties that serve as both art installation spaces and impromptu gig venues. The Manchester music scene doesn't seem to have such a large art school impetus, but I could be wrong there.

Glasgow has recently been claimed by the Guardian to be the clubbing capital of the UK (strange how they ran a piece on Numbers and Glasgow clubbing only after Numbers had been offered a Fabric residency) but the truth is that it's getting harder than ever to start a small grass roots DJ night there. Lack of decent venues is one major factor, but also lack of punters, as there simply are not enough residents of the town to fill all the spaces that do exist. What we have begun seeing, in particular at the last few Optimos before the club ended in April, is an influx of tourists coming to have a look at all the crazy people. It's strange, I don't like it, and it's not what Glasgow's nightlife is about for me.

"Aha! But we've already been there..." I can hear you hypothetically whispering in my ear. Yes, and that's the other half of my point. Glasgow has never had an explosion of popular bands that could be lumped into some semi-coherent scene the way Manchester has. This rich musical legacy is something to Manchester's credit, but I feel the success means Manchester has been assimilated into the cynical corporate world of the London music business in a way that Glasgow hasn't (yet). That feeds back into my point about bands playing for the sheer joy of it., as opposed to seeing it as merely a platform for A&R attention, or as a stepping stone to getting to the big city. And those A&R you complain about never leaving London to check out Manchester music on its home ground? Well if you think you've got it bad here, spare a thought for those over the border!

Ok, so here's where I come out of a certain type of closet: I am not averse to a bit of nostalgia tripping. I love thinking about the glory days of disco and house and how it would have been great to experience them. I would be lying if I said those original bands didn't have a huge effect on my younger self, The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays in particular. On my first few trips here I reveled in seeing and feeling the musical history of this city. I am tiring of the constant reference to the 80s and I am slap bang in the middle of the target demographic for a "Madchester" revival. Yes, I actually enjoyed "How Not To Run A Nightclub", and I even intend to go and have my picture taken outside the Salford's Lads Club at some point (ironically, of course).

So why then am I writing a piece for FUC51?

Well when I first found this blog a light went on and I thought "of course!". Isn't the pitch-black, negative humour of FUC just as accurate and relevant a reflection of the Northern English psyche as anything else? Prone as I am to some mythical "Manchester" imaginings (and it's acid house for me mate), I actually find it heartening that this blog exists - to remind people that the future lies ahead, not behind. Sure, we can enjoy the past, but we have to live in the present and build for the future. So I consider FUC51 to be supplying some kind of social service - it's the Mark E Smith of blogs about Manchester. Unfortunately though, I think the Madchester revival is just beginning to spread outside the city, and has a good few years left in it to be rinsed. As interest in the '80s wanes, it's the perfect gateway into some sort of 90s revival. FUC, I think you've got your work cut out!

Guest blog written by The Niallist


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  2. Ok so I read (most of) your post and I agree with your impression of things in Manchester being run on a rather 'professional' level. When I moved here from Leipzig in east Germany a couple of years ago, I had quite a bit of a culture shock.

    In Leipzig people seemed to turn every basement / empty shop / garage / hole in the ground into a live venue, club or bar, selling beer for supermarket prices and going on on having stupidly illegal parties and gigs until they had to stop due to police / flooding / floor caving in... I suppose this is rooted in the general East German (ex-DDR) DIY attitude, as in "if there are no commercial or council funded venues, we just have to start one ourselves".

    In Manchester it feels like everything is either highly official (Arts Council blowing cash up everyone's bums, sorry...) or completely commercially oriented (see Warehouse Project), which is a huge buzz killer to me.

    Perhaps people in Manchester have seen how successful bands, venues and bars here can get and try to emulate this, start the next Oasis, the next Hacienda.

    I'm too much a fan of masochist DIY self exploitation I suppose. Ah well.

  3. not tl did r.

    nice mr niallist. nice.

    fuck tha hataz man it was worth the read.

    these crazy kids and their short attentions spans wouldn't know a good post if they OH LOOK THERE'S A MAN IN A HAT OVER THERE

  4. Agree mate - nice post. Maybe it's the thing that a journo has to work a load harder to lump in the Glasgow bands - Deacon Blue, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, anyone?

  5. we're stuck, aren't we? Even new Mancunian bands have to frame themselves in context of the city's history, regardless of whether they're in keeping with it or not, favour it or don't.

  6. I think Glasgow also has a smaller crowd... The two cities aren't that different in size, but the crowd that can come to Manchester is larger, and there's always been a tradition of buses in for various scenes. People get buses in to Glasgow too, sure, but there are only six million folk in Scotland to start with.
    A bigger crowd means you can more easily have 'scenes', and more importantly, it's worth a magazine's time covering them, because they will sell a bunch of copies.

    So yeah, I think it's easier for journalists, but I think only because a Manchester based music journalist could more easily write an article of interest to 1000 people than one could in Glasgow.

    On a tangent, Glasgow needs some good illegal fucking parties again. All the ones I've seen recently have been a bit shit.

    Any good ones in Manchester these days?

  7. But isn't that exactly what did happen? Not Deacon Blue, but certainly Aztec camera, Orange Juice, Josef K etc were frequently lumped together by the press as a scene they called "The Sound Of Young Scotland". And I remember when Franz et al emerged in the early 00s the national (by which I mean, largely, English) music press often referenced this "scene" of 20 years earlier when writing about them. maybe we're not that different after all...

    Cath @ manchestermusic whose blogger account seems to be broken (but it is me, promise)

  8. dunno man, have played a fuckton of Manchester house party/basement/abandoned building gigs. they exist.