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Stylistic origins: Mod, punk rock, rave culture, Psychedelic rock, Northern Soul, Post-punk, 1960's pop, Hard rock, gay and Football casual culture
Cultural origins: mid-late 1980s, Manchester and North West England
Typical instruments: Guitar - Bass - Drums - keyboards/Synthesiser
Mainstream popularity: Mainly late 1980s-mid 1990s, with some continuing influence
Derivative forms: Big influence on Britpop, with most acts going towards it, then British trad rock later.
Regional scenes
Other topics
Timeline of alternative rock

An NME Originals issue covering the Madchester movement. An NME Originals issue covering the Madchester movement.

The term Madchester was coined for an alternative music scene that developed in Manchester, UK, at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s.

The scene mixed indie rock and dance music. Artists associated with the scene included the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays, the Inspiral Carpets, 808 State, James and A Guy Called Gerald. At that time, the Haçienda nightclub was a major catalyst for the distinctive musical ethos in the city.


Before Madchester

The music scene in Manchester immediately before the Madchester era had been dominated by indie bands such as The Smiths, New Order and The Fall. These bands were to become a major influence on the Madchester scene, but just as important was the Haçienda nightclub.

The Haçienda had been opened by Factory Records in 1982. For the first few years of its life it played predominantly indie music, but gradually began featuring more disco, hip-hop and electro (in this respect, the club enjoyed a relationship of mutual influence with its part-owners New Order).

In 1986, it became the first club outside the US to take house music seriously, with DJs Mike Pickering and Graeme Park hosting the Nude night on Fridays. This night quickly became legendary, and helped to turn around the reputation and fortunes of the Haçienda, which went from making a consistent loss to being full every night of the week by early 1987.

Other clubs in Manchester started the follow the Haçienda's lead: The Boardwalk in the city centre, the International (and later the International 2) in Longsight and the Osbourne Club in Miles Platting.

Another key factor in the build-up to Madchester towards the end of that year was the sudden arrival of the drug ecstasy in the city - legend has it that a friend of the Happy Mondays was a pioneer in bringing the drug into the country from Amsterdam. According to Haçienda DJ 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" [1].

During 1988 Acid House became popular throughout the UK, another influence on the club culture building in Manchester.

Madchester artists' early careers

Although the Madchester scene cannot really be said to have started before the autumn of 1988 (the term "Madchester" would not be coined until a year after that), many of its most significant bands and artists were around on the local scene 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 leafy suburban town to the south of Manchester. They had been in bands together since 1979, when they were both 16, but the Stone Roses was 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, from the left: Paul Ryder, Shaun Ryder, Paul Davis, Mark Day, Mark "Bez" Berry and Gary  Whelan. The Happy Mondays, from the left: Paul Ryder, Shaun Ryder, Paul Davis, Mark Day, Mark "Bez" Berry and Gary Whelan.

The Happy Mondays were formed in Salford in 1981. 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. 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 snappy 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, placing them well in the frame for the onset of Madchester.

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, Jim One on Factory Records in 1983, and attracted critical enthusiasm, as well as a loyal local following and the patronage of Morrissey. However, 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. Madchester helped bring them their belated commercial success and single "Sit Down" became one of the most popular anthems of the era.

808 State was 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 inlfuential 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.

Madchester begins

In the autumn of 1988, a series of record releases came together as the first rumblings of a serious new music scene in Manchester.

In October, the Stone Roses released "Elephant Stone" (produced by Peter Hook of New Order) as a single. Also in October, 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".

Although none of these singles achieved mainstream success, all three got attention in Manchester, and "Wrote for Luck" and "Voodoo Ray" were recognised as significant records nationally within the indie and dance communities respectively.

The growth of the local scene had been boosted by the success of the Haçienda's pioneering Ibiza nights in the summer of 1988 and the launch of the Hot acid house night (hosted by Mike Pickering and John Da Silva) in November.

By December, some 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 (17/12/88): "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" [2].

However, the enthusiasm of the media at this stage shouldn't be overstated. The idea that the whole country should be focussing on Manchester developed slowly.

Interest in the Stone Roses increased as they gigged around the country and released the "Made of Stone" single in February 1989. This didn't chart, but was well received and the band were looking like they were on the brink of being the biggest thing in the country by the time they release their eponymous debut album (produced by John Leckie) in March.

Bob Stanley (later of Saint Etienne), reviewing the album in Melody Maker (29/4/89) wrote: "this is simply the best debut LP I've heard in my record buying lifetime. Forget everybody else. Forget work tomorrow" [3]. The NME didn't put it quite so strongly, but reported nonetheless that it was being talked of as "the greatest album ever made".


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. All three of the main players in the emerging scene took a dance influence, particularly from 70s funk, with disco basslines and wah-wah guitar being added to their indie jingle-jangle. The Inspiral Carpets added the distintive sound of the Farfisa organ, a style which would also be adopted by later Madchester bands, such as The Charlatans.

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 influnced by the indie music that had dominated the city's music scene during the 80s, 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 casual tops and general sixties style became the standard uniform of Manchester youth - frequently topped off with a fishing hat in the style sported by the Stone Roses drummer Reni. The fashion, like the music, was somewhere between rave and retro.

The majority of bands on the Madchester scene would produce music that could be described as "baggy", including James, The Charlatans, Northside 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, Such Perfect Liars, and (early on) Blur treading where mancunians had gone before.

Baggy wasn't restricted to Manchester, but it should be remembered that Manchester wasn't restricted to baggy either. The return of 808 State with the seminal "Pacific" single later in 1989 reminds us of the role electronic music played, but the Madchester scene also gave a home to hip-hop artists Ruthless Rap Assassins and MC Tunes.

Madchester hits the big time

The Stone Roses. From left: Mani, Ian Brown, John Squire and Reni. The Stone Roses. From left: Mani, Ian Brown, John Squire and Reni.

During the summer of 1989, interest in the Manchester scene continued to grow, and media hype was well underway by the time the Happy Mondays released a Vince Clarke remix of "Wrote for Luck" as a single in September.

November was the month when Madchester seemed to have conquered the consciousness of the country, though, with four of the defining singles of the movement being released: "Move" by the Inspiral Carpets, "Pacific" 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.

November was a further triumphant month for the Stone Roses in particular, who performed an ecstatically-received gig at London's Alexandra Palace, and were invited onto BBC2's high-brow Late Show (where they caused a stir when the electricity cut out during their performance and they stormed off). On 23rd November, one of the defining moments of Madchester occurred when 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, at that time a major feat for an indie band.

Madchester's role as an industry bandwagon from this time on is hard to deny. James were amongst the first beneficiaries of this. The local success of their self-financed singles "Come Home" and "Sit Down" (the latter becoming something of a Manchester anthem during 1989, with clubs full of people ritually sitting on the floor to it) 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" (sounding distinctly baggier) in the summer of 1990.

The Charlatans were originally from Birmingham, but having a singer (Tim Burgess) from Northwich in Cheshire and some support slots with the Stone Roses, they became accepted as a central band to the Manchester scene. They released a debut single "Indian Rope" in January 1990 and their second "The Only One I Know" quickly became seen as a classic, making the UK top ten.

A number of other bands joined the fray during 1990, including World of Twist, New Fast Automatic Daffodils, The High, Northside and Intastella. These bands are sometimes seen as bandwaggoners (Northside in particular are sometimes, probably unfairly, seen as a cynical invention of Factory Records to cash in on the Madchester scene). Others would point to a pioneering exploration of the possibilies of indie-dance crossover - a journey to which minor players gave an invaluable contribution.

Commercial success

Due to its limited promotional resources and its predominantly anti-commercial ethos, indie music had, for the most part, represented a specialist market during the 1980s. For example, The Smiths, probably the most prolific and successful indie band of the mid-80s, had struggled to make the UK top ten singles chart.

It's in the context that the chart success of Madchester bands should be measured. It should not be seen as confusing that on the one hand a review of the UK music press of the time would give the impression that Madchester was an all-conquering cultural force, whilst on the other hand, sales of records by the bands involved seem decent but unspectacular by the standards of 2005. There is no doubt that the scene broke new commercial ground during 1990.

"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 US, the albums The Stone Roses, Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches and Some Friendly reached the lower echelons of the US album chart. The Happy Mondays toured the US in 1990 and were alone amongst Madchester bands in troubling the Billboard 100, with "Step On" reaching number 57.


The peak of Madchester was in the summer of 1990. On May 27th, the Stone Roses performed at Spike Island in the Mersey Estuary, supported by DJs Frankie Knuckles and Dave Haslam. This concert was seen by many as a one-band Woodstock for the times.

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.

After this, however, Madchester's recorded output slowed. The end of the year saw triumphal concerts by James and a double-header with the Happy Mondays and 808 State, both at Manchester G-Mex, which seem, in retrospect, to mark the end of the era.

The Stone Roses cancelled their June 1990 tour of the US, issuing a press statement saying: "America doesn't deserve us yet". The real reasons are probably more complicated - the Roses also cancelled a gig in Spain and an appearance on the UK chat show Wogan. They would not face the public again until the end of 1994, spending the intervening time in and out of studios in Wales (where they recorded at leisure 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, making repeated requests of Factory Records for extra time and additional funds (almost certainly in part to fuel growing drug habits). 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, Inspiral Carpets, 808 State and The Charlatans 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 UK began to place more focus on shoegazing bands from the south of England and bands emerging through US grunge.


Musical legacy

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 (from Liverpool), the Soup Dragons (from Glasgow) and Ocean Colour Scene (from Birmingham). Blur, from Colchester, certainly adopted a baggy style in their early career, although in an interview with Select Magazine in 1991 they claimed, rather implausibly, to have "killed" the genre.

Subsequently, the influence of Madchester on Britpop in the mid-1990s was fairly clear, depending on which bands are discussed. Oasis are a clear example, and their guitarist Noel Gallagher worked as a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets during the Madchester era.

The "big beat" dance music movement of the late 1990s also owed much to Madchester's eclectic approach to clubbing, with the Manchester DJ-ing duos the Chemical Brothers and Mint Royale being heavily inspired by their experiences in the Manchester clubland of the early 1990s.

More generally, the Madchester scene was groundbreaking in the way it 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. Arguably, Madchester is owed a debt (or to be blamed, depending on your viewpoint) every time a jukebox plays an Alanis Morissette song.

From a marketing point of view, it might be speculated that the Madchester experience taught the music industry a number of lessons in the selling of alternative music. Some might find it tempting to suggest that there is no coincidence in the development of hype around the grunge bands in Seattle, Washington (an industrial, north-western city of the US) soon after Madchester died down.

Impact on Manchester

The cultural impact of Madchester within its home city and surrounding administrative areas was significant, although hard to assess in the long-term, taking into account the full picture.

The mushrooming of Manchester's nightlife has certainly 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. The city centre had not been seen as a residential area, but by 1994, high-end flats were selling for over a million pounds. The growth in the residential market in the centre of the city continues to this day.

The attraction of the city was such that, at the height of Madchester in 1990, the University of Manchester was the most sought-after destination for university applicants in the UK, a position shared year-on-year by Oxford and Cambridge in the normal course of things.

The scene also gave an undoubted boost to the city's media and creative industries. This was not only the case at the grass-roots. 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"). This ran during 1990 and 1991, cashing in on the street-cred of the city at the time.

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) producing a fertile environment for gangsterism. During the 1990s, this was to get worse, with shootings becoming frighteningly regular in areas such as Moss Side and Longsight, and occurring from time to time in the city centre. Violent incidents at the Haçienda led to a campign against it by Greater Manchester Police, and contributed to its closure in 1997.

The Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays, 808 State and James are amongst the bands commerated on a Manchester "walk of fame" commissioned for Oldham Street in the city's Northern Quarter at the end of the 1990s.


1.   United Manchester website, 2003-

2.   New Musical Express, IPC, London, 17th December 1988

3.   Melody Maker, IPC, London, 29th April 1989

Further reading

  • Dave HASLAM: Manchester, England, Fourth Estate, London, 2000 (ISBN 1841151467)
  • Richard LUCK: The Madchester Scene, Pocket Essentials, London, 2002 (ISBN 1903047803)
  • Tony WILSON: 24-hour Party People, Channel 4 Books, London, 2002 (ISBN 075222025X)
  • Conor McNICHOLS (ed): NME Originals: Madchester, IPC, London, 2003

External links

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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