‘I’ve never lived anywhere I’ve loved like I love Manchester. The sense of community is unbelievable, especially in the music scene. Given the scale of the scene and the number of people vying for the same space, I’m continuously surprised by how little rivalry there is. We all help each other out. We’re comrades not competitors.’ – Martha (Not Bad for a Girl)
Manchester is a tantalising and diverse city, home to some of the UK’s most influential artists. A story consisting of The Smiths, Oasis, The Happy Mondays, Joy Division; modern day stars such as Children of Zeus, IAMDDB, Aitch and Pip Millet; iconic venues like The Haçienda. The city has a rich and compelling history when it comes to music. It expands across decades of eras and a wide range of genres, however, when it comes to electronic dance music, it has a tale like no other. Originally the mecca of house music, Manchester’s modern day dance music scene is now a multi-genre machine. From ravers crawling in from every corner of the UK to visit the now closed but ever-famous Sankeys to 80,000 revellers raiding Heaton Park for Parklife to The Warehouse Project. What happens from dusk to dawn is completely unrivalled, and it’s no secret. Key players in the city have been imperative in cultivating a world-famous, underground music scene in the city, resulting in Manchester standing strong alongside Bristol and London as a UK hot-spot for raving and culture.
The history of the rave scene goes deep. Euphonique shares some key facts: ‘Factory Records, Dry Bar, and Sankeys Soap are key contributors to Manchester’s music history,’ she says. ‘Factory Records run by Tony Wilson, was an influential independent label that signed iconic bands and operated The Haçienda, a legendary nightclub that became central to the city’s emerging rave and dance culture. Dry Bar, located in the Northern Quarter, served as a vibrant meeting place for artists and musicians, nurturing Manchester’s creative community and Sankeys Soap, a renowned nightclub established in 1994, played a significant role in the city’s underground dance music scene, hosting cutting-edge DJs and immersive events.’ Like a lot of rave scenes in the UK, the D&B scene in Manchester started flourishing from the early ‘90s. Communities cultivating, producers plugging, ravers relishing. It was an era like no other and record stores were prime spots for early scene figures like DJ and promoter Silver from North Base to be lurking ‘Back in 1992, there was a place called Vinyl Exchange and Eastern Bloc that used to sell records. Eastern Bloc would get all of the vinyl promos from places like RAM Records and Good Lookin,’ says Silver ‘Vinyl Exchange would get a box of promos every Thursday and people like myself, Mark XTC, DJ Sappo and many others would go in there and fight over the promos. Marcus Intalex used to come through too. It was almost like a little kept secret between some of the people in the scene.’
Alongside all essential record stores, promoters like Wilf had started cutting their teeth in the events sphere, quietly plotting for world domination. ‘I used to do a night called Science, Wilf used to do something at a place called The Jam,’ Silver continues ‘Then we teamed up together to start Metropolis. Before that, Marcus Intalex used to run Guidance at Sankey Soaps, which was one of the biggest jungle/D&B nights in Manchester for years. They had everyone from Grooverider and Doc Scott to Storm and Flight come through. Kemistry even played there before she passed. Then you had promoters like Spellbound, they had an act where a DJ would play and the band would improvise. Jenna G would be on the mic. That’s where Tonn Piper started out too. It was pioneering for Drum & Bass.’
Fast forward to right now. The city’s D&B scene is thriving and the global D&B scene is in the midst of one of its greatest ever peaks. Manchester’s very own Kaz is riding front and centre of the new generation of DJs causing ruckus ‘Honestly, if I never stepped foot in Manchester I would not be doing what I do today, especially without a platform like Bloc2Bloc and without the support from the bossman Jack Banner & other Mancunian legends like, Chimpo, Bou, Strategy, Dub Phizix, North Base.. the list goes on! Jack Banner invited me onto the Bloc2Bloc live streaming platform which eventually went on to open up many doors for me in my career and for many other big names coming out of Manchester.’ Bloc2Bloc is a grassroots live streaming platform responsible for putting an abundance of new artists we know and love today on the map, including international D&B superstar, straight-out-of-Manny, Bou. Through Jack Banner’s unparalleled passion for helping young people and the next generation of artists, the platform has been instrumental in the growth of budding artists wanting to break into the industry. ‘Jack Banner and the Bloc2Bloc crew are some of the most important people for the city’s music development. Jack Banner is probably one of the guys in Manchester at the moment who is pushing the new school hard. He’s got so many artists on there from Sl8r, Obscura, Jazzy Lioness and Indika to Kaz, Slay, and even Bou, who started off on Bloc2Bloc’ says Silver.
From grassroots hot-spots to internationally renowned parties, it is clear to see that there are some important players pushing the scene forward. ‘There’s one Manchester promoter that stands out above the rest for me and they’ve been flying the flag for the underground music scene for over a decade and a half now: Hit N Run/Rich Reason. The guy puts on some of the most ridiculous, most diverse line ups I’ve ever seen in my life.’ says Kaz, with Silver agreeing ‘Hit & Run is one of the longest running nights in Manchester. Rich has brought so many artists up to Manchester from London. From the likes of Ivy Lab to Digital to Goldie. You’ve got to give it to Rich Reason, and Wilf.’
Yes. There he is again. Wilf. A total anomaly, an unforgettable character and a key figure in the UK music industry. ‘Wilf is the longest running promoter in Manchester after starting Metropolis with myself back in 1999/1998.’ says Silver, Wilf’s old friend and DJ partner in North Base. It’s no secret that his parties (The Warehouse Project, Worried About Henry and Metropolis to name a few) are leading the way for not only the Manchester music scene, but the UK dance music scene as a whole. Wilf also played an important role in the conception of the groundbreaking drug-checking service The Loop, which conducted its first event-based, onsite, harm reduction, drug checking service at The Warehouse Project in Manchester in 2013. A brave yet revolutionary move for the club series. WHP stands tall as one of the most sought-after club night series within the UK, with ravers sweating over laptops like it’s Winter Glasto on steroids when tickets go on sale. People travel far and wide from across the world to visit, making the club series a UK club-culture phenomenon and a key part of UK rave history.
There are many influential characters in Manchester’s D&B scene and they all have a shared theme of kindness, hard graft and authenticity. Take Bou, for example, an artist currently taking the worldwide D&B scene by total storm. ‘One of the main people at the forefront of the D&B scene right now is Bou. The guy is on fire. He’s gone from Bloc2Bloc to worldwide stages in such a short amount of time’ says Silver. Alongside Bou’s rise to the top, he is simultaneously known for his humility and kindness, raising money for Manchester’s food bank being just one example of Bou’s need to support his local community. Nia Archives – who moved to Manchester at 16 years old and claims the city is where she fell in love with the rave scene – is another artist stamped into the city’s history books after winning a MOBO Award, an NME Award, a DJ Mag Award, and a nomination for a BRIT Award in 2022. The rising star is adored for her raw artistry and her new-gen junglist movement. She is also praised for using her voice and stance in the scene to educate people about the black origins of dance music. And then you’ve got the well respected, old school players like Mark XTC. A name mentioned only with a gush of gratitude, having mentored and tutored many artists that we know and love today ‘Mark XTC and Jon DaSilva were my DJ tutors,’ says Euphoniquie ‘both legends in the oldskool Manc music scene. Mark and the tutors at the college were a massive influence. The likes of Chimpo and Chunky attended and many years later (when I was actually a teacher there). Bou and Dutta would attend and be taught by Mark too – he was a big influence throughout all of our times at the college studying music.’
The clubs are gritty and the raves are raw but the undercurrent of Manchester’s music scene is one of togetherness and community. A person who had significant influence on the city is the late Marcus Intalex, who sadly passed away in 2017. ‘Marcus has left such a massive impact on the city,’ says Silver. ‘We all love him and miss him. His legacy continues through the Marcus Intalex Foundation, which was established shortly after he passed and is run by his mum Pat and Nick Sinna. The charity does so much for young people in the city like DJ workshops, production workshops and so much more.’
Thanks to the UK’s urge to diversify and the need to create space for marginalised communities, cities all over the country saw a surge of collectives emerging. Not Bad For a Girl, a Manchester born music collective of women and non-binary people, is a collective that cultivated something very special in the city. Martha, one of the founders of the collective tells us more, ‘Our main ethos is equalising the music industry, and providing opportunities for historically underrepresented creatives. We’re all about having as much fun as humanly possible while also creating real and lasting social change. Our tagline is ‘equal rights, equal opportunity and equal parts spirit and mixer’.
The collective are widely recognised for their signature pink balaclava – ‘a symbol of our refusal to adhere to traditional gender stereotypes, and a tool that allows us to take up space in the industry that has previously been denied to people like us’ says Martha. There’s no denying that the movement is both a lot of fun, and incredibly needed. However, Not Bad For A Girl is just one of what is now many collectives fighting the good fight in the city ‘Big love to Shifting Spheres – another similar collective to ours who have been going for almost as long as we have. The energy at their events is always next level, and they work tirelessly to deliver workshops for women, non-binary and trans DJs.’ says Martha, ‘when you look closely at the fabric of Manchester’s music scene, us women & non-binary folk make up so much of the driving force. There’s something really special in that.’
The evidence is clear, Manchester is the crème de la crème of raving. ‘There’s something in the water up here,’ says Sliver. ‘It makes you want to work hard and go worldwide, and a lot of people have done that. From Hacienda days to WHP. It’s incredible.’ The city is drenched from head-to-toe in vibrancy. It’s the electrifying atmosphere as you arrive at WHP on a Friday night. It’s the collective calmness that blankets the city at 5am on a Saturday morning whilst ravers quietly retreat back to their hotels or more likely, somebody’s kitchen. It’s the students buzzing around the city, the promoters, the radio stations, the labels, the pubs, the grassroots platforms and charities for young people and communities challenged by inequality. It’s the inclusivity and willingness to help others. It’s Sacha Lord and his life-long endeavour to save UK club culture. It’s Trigga putting Manny on the map in Top Boy. It’s Marcus Intalex, Mark XTC, Bou, Dutta, Jenna G, Propz & Rowney, Future Cut, Jack Banner, Dub Phizix, Strategy, Think Tonk, Indika, Jazzylioness, DRS, Slay, Tonn Piper, Sl8r and so many other artists flying the MCR flag and paving the way for the next generation of artists. Manchester has everything. Long may it stand tall as one of the best raving spots in the UK. ‘We’re all just one big family,’ says Kaz. ‘everyone supports each other and works together whether it be in music, business, or just everyday life, there’s no competition or jealousy, it’s just all love and wanting to see each other shine and do well, it’s beautiful!’