Manchester is one of the largest conurbations in the United Kingdom, and unsurprisingly, it has given us a wealth of great culture. Whether it be architecture, art, sport or otherwise, without Manchester, the very DNA of the country would be completely different.
There seems to be something magical about the terracotta terraces of the Northwestern city, which have produced countless moments of brilliance that have helped elevate the rest of the country and put us on the map artistically. From L. S. Lowry to Anthony Burgess to Oasis, many of the UK’s most revered exports hail from Manchester, and it’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be halting, with global heavyweights such as The 1975 and Pale Waves originating in the area.
Walking around Manchester, you can’t help but think that there is a special aura that permeates the city, augmented by the collective spirit of the area. This has long made it an attractive place to settle for people from all walks of life and has created this melting pot that has invariably produced greatness.
Streamlining this point, one area in which Manchester has always excelled is music. From the classical orchestras of old to modern popular music, the city has produced some of the finest acts this sceptred isle has ever seen, creating fresh musical modes that benefit not only us but the world.
So, today we’re concentrating on the popular music side of things and the bands that Manchester has produced. The city has given us some of our most cherished pop, punk, dance and everything in between, forging a progressive cultural identity quite like nowhere else. From Oasis to 808 State, Manchester’s place in the country’s cultural history cannot be stated enough.
Join us then, as we list the ten greatest bands from Manchester.
The 10 best bands from Manchester:
Where else but start than with punk legends Buzzcocks? The men who famously brought the Sex Pistols to town, effectively kicking off the golden age of music for the city, Buzzcock’s influence on music as a whole is significant.
Whether it be legendary British bands such as The Smiths and Joy Division, or global heavyweights such as Nirvana and Green Day, Buzzcocks’ music was transformative in the development of rock music and it still retains freshness thanks to the combined genius of Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle. You can even hear their work permeating that of global pop stars such as Olivia Rodrigo and Machine Gun Kelly.
The Fall was Mark E. Smith, and without him, we would not be talking about them now. Smith made them the invariable misanthropes that we all love, and The Fall’s long career gave us many incredible moments including ‘Totally Wired’, ‘Dog Is Life / Jerusalem’ and even that strangely uplifting cover of ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’.
Uncompromising and dedicated to their craft, what you saw with The Fall is what you got, and they’ve inspired everyone from Pavement to Yung Lean and even Death Grips. There’s a universal appeal to Mark E. Smith and the band’s music, and their experimental unravelling of established musical standards helped showed us the future of culture.
The Durutti Column
The Durutti Column have recently enjoyed a resurgence, coming off the back of the most recent post-punk surge. You have to say that it is long overdue, as when the band were at their creative zenith in the late 1970s and early ’80s, they were a cult band but never got the plaudits in the mainstream that they truly deserved.
Led by Vini Reilly and his unmistakable guitar-playing style, you can hear his licks in the works of everyone from Khruangbin to Tom Misch, and it’s no coincidence that Brian Eno and John Frusciante are big fans of the band, with the latter labelling Reilly, “The best guitarist in the world”.
Perhaps the ultimate post-punk band, The Chameleons are one of the most influential bands to come out of Manchester, and their original run between 1981 and 1987 was nothing short of groundbreaking.
Giving us masterpieces such as Script of the Bridge and Strange Times, listening to the band’s work for the first time is a surreal experience, as you cannot believe just how ahead of their time they were in terms of songwriting, musicianship, dynamics and production. There’s a real atmosphere to their music, and it is palpable. Counting Oasis, The Verve, The Flaming Lips, Interpol and Moby as fans, The Chameleons are essential.
The original indie band, The Smiths combined the jangly licks of psychedelic rockers such as The Byrds with the punk spirit of The Stooges to create a sound that galvanised those who were ready and willing to give in to this magical sound.
Depressing yet uplifting, the band was the sum of its locomoting parts, and the partnership of frontman Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr is one of the most potent we’ve ever seen. Together, they gave us countless classics such as ‘This Charming Man’, ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ and lesser-known but equally as esteemed cuts such as ‘These Things Take Time’. Indie itself started with The Smiths, and without them, music and culture would look very, very different.
Joy Division / New Order
We couldn’t separate Joy Division and New Order, and because they are pretty much the same in terms of personnel, excluding New Order synth player Gillian Gilbert, we included them on the same list. Whether it be the icy minimalism of Joy Division, who were spearheaded by the cerebral baritone of late frontman Ian Curtis or the increasingly sunny electronica of New Order, what both bands have done for music and culture is nothing short of remarkable.
Joy Division set a precedent for all alternative music forward by fusing unfettered musical style with matching aesthetics, and without them, all alternative music would be without some of its most vital facets, including the use of spiky but melodic guitars.
As for New Order, they ushered in the future of music with 1983’s global hit ‘Blue Monday’ which meshed synth-pop with alternative rock, setting the scene for the acid house/rock crossovers we got at the end of the decade and the broader convergence of dance and rock we got in the ’90s.
The Stone Roses
The ultimate baggy legends, just like The Smiths who came before them, The Stone Roses took some of their cues from the jangly psychedelia of countercultural heroes such as The Byrds. However, this time they fused them with the heady explosion of acid house and the neo-psychedelic movement, which gave the youth ‘The Second Summer of Love’ in 1988.
Comprised of frontman Ian Brown, guitarist John Squire, bassist Mani and drummer Reni, The Stone Roses are a peculiar case in the sense that they’ve only released two albums to date, giving you an inclination of just how significant their work is. The second album is fantastic but is rightly criticised for not being as consistent as their first, but in all honesty, it was a nearly impossible ask for the band to repeat the heights of their debut, as it is flawless. It’s a heady sensory experience that never gets old.
The band are so crucial that Manchester United come out to ‘This is the One’.
The influence of electronic legends on the proliferation of dance music cannot and should not be overlooked. Pioneers of techno and acid house, many of our favourite subsequent electronic artists cite the Manchester outfit as a critical influence.
Notably, the band also helped to inspire the development of the baggy and Madchester scenes, weaving them into the city’s cultural narrative even further. Modern dance legends such as Bicep, Disclosure and even more niche acts such as DJ Stingray 313 owe much to 808 State and their pioneering use of the titular drum machine.
Doves are a great band, and even though they’re not lauded on the largest of scales, this does not take away from the fact that they have been one of Manchester’s most exciting and consistently refreshing bands since they first broke onto the scene in the early 2000s.
Made up of twin brothers Jez Williams and Andy Williams, and friend Jimi Goodwin, there’s much to explore across Doves’ five studio albums, as the band aren’t afraid of utilising a host of different musical styles and dynamics, making them one of the most dextrous British acts of the 21st century. From ‘There Goes the Fear’ to ‘Black and White Town’ to the wholly underrated B-side ‘Darker’, their discography is brimming with stellar moments, and I think it’s about time Doves got the respect they deserve.
Where to start? Formed in 1991, the band went through numerous lineup changes, whilst brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher remained the only constants. They released seven albums between 1994 and 2008, and to many, they are the definitive British band of the modern era.
Discussing everyday British life, and all it entails, including alcohol, cigarettes and drugs, Oasis captured a particular moment in time, the optimism of the ’90s, which has imbued their music with nostalgia that, at points, can be all-encompassing. Their story is a long and well-known one, but their unapologetic brand of rock ‘n’ roll was always going to secure a spot on the list.