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, Inspiral Carpets, Northside, 808 State, James and The Charlatans, amongst others.
Pre Madchester 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, 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.
Beginning: 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.