every single manchester band ranked in order
Including a comprehensive playlist.
Manchester, so much music to answer for. London, LA, New York, sure they’re centres of the music industry, but they’ve always drawn people in, chasing their dreams. Manchester though, breeds them. So London, LA, New York, nah, if you want to find some geographical-musical layline from which talent spreads out like a fever, head to Manchester. From Factory Records and the Hacienda and Madchester and Acid House and The Smiths to post-punk, rock ‘n’ roll, baggy lads, football casuals, Oasis, and yes, even, Take That, Manchester’s defined, refined, remade, born, bred and grown more era-making and genre-defining bands and scenes than anywhere else. In celebration of i-D’s week-long celebration of northern culture, we pay homage to 49 bands from Cottonopolis, and rank them in order from worst to best.
49. Elbow Under the YouTube video for Elbow’s maudlin Big Hit Song, thebossman222 comments, “Always be an olympics 2012 song for me, once in a lifetime olympics [sic] ” -- which really says everything you need to know about the forced and rather boring grandiosity of Elbow. Music for the jukebox in the craft ale pub that’s just opened down the road in the suburban town your dad lives in and where his dreams died.
48. The 1975 Earnest.
47. Peter Hook And The Light Once saw Peter Hook and the Light play all of Unknown Pleasures in a field in Shoreditch. During Love Will Tear Us Apart he shouted “Come On Shoreditch” at the crowd.
46. The Ting Tings Despite being from Lowton, The Ting Tings’ singer Katie White sings in an American accent. Drummer wears sunglasses all the time. But hey, that’s not my name thing.
45. Hurts Never actually heard a song by Hurts, which doesn’t really seem to be the point, or at least maybe they aren’t aimed at me. Singer is cool in a very GQ way, so again, not really aimed at me. Their debut album sold 2,000,000 copies, so what do I know.
44. David Gray One of the six CDs in your Dad’s car.
43. Lisa Stansfield One of the six CDs in your Mum’s car.
42. Swing Out Sister Breakout is a bonafide 80s pop classic. Couldn’t name another song by them though.
41. Take That Your mum likes Take That and that is good enough for this list.
40. The Hollies The band Radiohead shamelessly ripped off for Creep.
39. The Courtneers Relentlessly nothing-y.
38. Simply Red Holding Back The Years is, whether you will admit it to yourself or not, an actual huge, beautiful, emotional tune that can make very hard northern men break down in tears.
37. Black Grape Shaun Ryder and Bez’s post Happy Monday’s project. Shaun is famously the only named individual banned from appearing on Channel 4 for constant swearing during two appearances on TFI Friday with Black Grape. One of their song’s features the lyrics: “Jesus was a black man / Jesus was Batman / No, that was Bruce Wayne.” Top drawer stuff, lads. Not a patch on The Mondays, though.
36. Blossoms Hairy young northern lads who make real music for other hairy young northern lads and their apathetic girlfriends to listen to indoors when it’s raining.
35. 10cc The least Stockport-y band to have ever come out of Stockport as fair as I’m aware. One of their members is called Lol Creme. I’m Not In Love is a big big song.
34. Wu Lyf I saw Wu Lyf play their first ever gig in London and for six months I was convinced they were going to be the best and biggest and most culturally incendiary band in the country for a generation. It was beautiful while it lasted.
33. N-Trance In the words of YouTube commenter adrianmusic777 “I was traveling on a coach the other day listening to the radio on my headphones when this came on. It had been raining and grey, the sun came out and this reminded me of times when people had fun and did not have social media and mobile phones and all the other crap we have these days. We had actually went out and lived for the moment. Instead of taking photos and texting people telling them about the moment. ”
32. Mock Turtles For a brief glimmering moment the skies above Manchester cleared, a summer of glorious golden psychedelic sunshine poured down on Salford and Trafford and Moss Side. LSD transported a bunch of shaggy haired Mancs back to 1967. They turned the treble on their guitars up. In the jingle jangle morning they sung songs about whether we could dig it.
31. Herman’s Hermits I’m Into Something Good will make your whole body smile, and what more could you need from a piece of music.
30. Freddie And The Dreamers Manchester’s premier Beatles tribute act (before Oasis).
29. Doves Like Elbow, but a bit less Olympics-y. Better than a lot of post-Britpop contemporaries. Black And White Town is a very pleasant tune.
28. Inspiral Carpets Saturn 5 remains the best ever song about the rocket that took people to the moon. This Is How It Feels is one of those insidious little songs that’s now a football chant that no one knows the original of. And in the words of YouTube commenter Kenny Jones: “Baggy joe bloggs jeans, naff naff baggy jumper, stone roses paint splattered hat and shoulder length unkempt hair, an eighth of weed in my pocket ten benson and hedges (benny hedgehogs as we called them) off up the town to spend the evening bumming around doing jack all with my mates or hanging round and getting thrown out of McDonald's for using the straws to spit little bits of paper onto the ceiling, then the last bus home 11.00pm spliff in hand ahhhh the ninetys what a fucking top decade that was my friends!!! ”
27. The Railway Children One of those other bands who were on Factory Records in the 80s. A bit Orange Juice-y in their jangly and nice grown up pop-indie-soul tunes. Left Factory and signed for a major label and became boring.
26. Big Flame One of those Very Influential Bands which everyone pretends to be really into but never can actually be bothered to listen to. Part of the early 80s explosion of post-punk bands in Manchester who combined abrasive noise with hypnotic funky rhythms. Richey from the Manic’s fave band.
25. Van Der Graaf Generator It’s kind of mental, isn’t it, but there was an actual prog rock band from Manchester.
24. James Laid is a stone cold classic.
23. The Charlatans Very baggy. One huge tune.
22. Autechre Proper 90s music nerds. Probably really into obscure chemicals you can only buy on the darkweb with names like 4CZ. Beautiful, ambient, techno stuff for chilling out too. Dance music to listen to in concert halls. You are probably really, really into Autechre, or you do not give a shit about them at all.
21. M People The worst band to ever win the Mercury Prize are actually a lot better than that trite bit of rockist media spin allows for. Mike Pickering’s production is as beautiful and interesting as Heather Smalls’ voice. So stick your boring lamestream indie opinions up your arse and stick Search For A Hero on and enjoy it.
20. Quando Quango Did you like M People? But maybe fancy something a little weirder? Try Quando Quango, Mike Pickering’s first band. Love Tempo is one of the best odd/pop/house tunes. Larry Levan loved it and you don’t need more of a recommendation than that do you?
19. Frank Sidebottom The band The Fall could’ve been.
18. Ludus The criminally underrated musical project of visual artist Linder Sterling, a proper crux of the Manchester scene, and its most radical musical/visual/creative component.
17. Magazine Not content with helping kick start punk in 1976 with the Buzzcocks, Howard Devoto left the group in 1977 and helped create post-punk with Magazine. The first entrant on our list of bands who saw the Sex Pistols play in Manchester in 1976, which is like Manchester’s Woodstock, in that everyone lies and says they were there.
16. John Cooper Clarke Looks wonderfully like Rod Stewart’s evil Mancunian twin brother. Despite primarily being a poet, makes it onto this list for the fantastic records he made in the late 70s with Martin Hannett, which set his poetry to music. Somewhere between The Fall, Frank Sidebottom, and the Buzzcocks. For all the incredible lyricists to have come out of Manchester, JCC sets the template for dark humour and social realism.
15. Future Sound Of London Stakker Humanoid by FSOL was one of the first acid tunes, but Papua New Guinea might be the genre’s best.
14. A Certain Ratio The funkiest of the late 70s post-punkers. Their cover of Banbarra’s Shack Up is a magnificently sexless ode to getting it on. There used to be an indie club in my hometown named after the ACR tune Do The Du, so always had a lil soft spot for them. Another pioneering band in adding danceable rhythms into the punk nihilism. Eventually moved into full on happy go clubbing territory. Left Factory and signed to a major label and flopped, despite releasing a single featuring both Shaun from the Happy Mondays and Bernard Sumner from New Order.
13. 808 State Have you really lived if you haven’t listened to Pacific State at sunrise in a field, Sunday morning, slowly coming down, curled up in a hoodie, chatting relentlessly beautiful rubbish to your best mate, sweat from dancing all night slowly drying in the cool morning air.
12. Section 25 Technically sort of from Blackpool. But another Factory band. So that’s good enough for this list. Their debut, Always Now, is one of the most magnificent pieces of hammering, atonal, splendour. Alongside many Factory bands of the era, helped push punk attitude beyond the simplicity of reductive punk musical structures. And alongside A Certain Ratio and New Order, pushed post-punk towards electronic instruments, dancier outlooks, and pilled up new worlds.
11. The Verve Spent a long weird weekend by a lake in the south of France this summer. Big soundsystem. The acid didn’t kick in straight away. So we did a bit more. It really worked. About 12 hours later I found my mate listening to Lucky Man by the Verve on his headphones on repeat, staring out over the rolling green countryside.
10. A Guy Called Gerald Number 10 in our Big Authoritative List of the best ever bands to come out of Manchester. Voodoo Ray remains the most era-defining of the era-defining tunes to come out of Manc clubs in the late 80s/early 90s. And for all the Hacienda white boys in love with the NYC / Chicago / Detroit club sound, it took the son of Jamaican immigrants, raised on sound systems and hip-hop, living in Moss Side to make the acid house anthem. Not content with that, Gerald went on basically invent jungle with his 95 album Black Secret Technology, which might also be the best jungle album ever.
9. The Durutti Column At Number 9 is Vini Reilly and his Durutti Column. First finding fame in legendary Manc band Ed Banger And The Nosebleeds (alongside Billy Duffy of The Cult and one Stephen Morrissey of The Smiths) Vini left The Nosebleeds to form The Durutti Column, before splitting with the other members of the original line-up, who went on to form Simply Red. The Durutti Column became Vini’s solo project and were maybe the purest and most beautiful example of everything Factory’s Tony Wilson thought Factory should stand for, and the label’s first signing. They were named after The Situationist International, their debut album The Return of the Durutti Column was made with a sandpaper sleeve by Peter Saville so it destroyed the records next to it. The titular Durutti was a Spanish anarchist who died fighting Fascists in Madrid in the Civil War. Taking up the moniker, Vini would make some of the most spiritual and poetic pieces of guitar music to come out of Manchester, and his work was unlike anything else coming out of the scene then (or since). He may have been overshadowed in legend, myth, chutzpah, influence and force of personality by many on this list, but Vini Reilly’s work with The Durutti Column is unmatched. A sense of quietly capturing and unassuming perfection. A tender and sublime grandeur.
8. Buzzcocks Every single teenage boy in the suburbs at the age of 15 gets handed a leather jacket, a pair of black Converse, a puberty-induced attitude problem, and a copy of Buzzcock’s Another Music In A Different Kitchen to soundtrack it. From the pent up sexual frustration of What Do I Get? and the chugging motorik sexual exasperation of Fiction Romance to the tuneful pop-punk sexual despair of Ever Fallen In Love and all round dumb horny sexual novelty Orgasm Addict, there’s a Buzzcocks song about sex for every emotion the teenage boy may ever feel. Oh and the incendiary nihilism of two note solo of the Boredom is still the best guitar solo ever.
7. Happy Mondays Shaun Ryder is to extroverts what Morrissey is to introverts. It would be easy to focus on the bluster, bravado, belches, and big nights out of the Happy Monday, but beneath the pills, thrills and bellyaches lies possibly the most Mancunian of lyricists. Shaun Ryder is a grandiose blend of blue humour and lyric poetry, social satire and kitchen sink surrealism.
Someone who would call their debut album Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out). Who started a song on their second album, Bummed, with a scream of “You’re rendering that scaffolding dangerous” or sang “You use to speak the truth but now you're clever / And when it's hot you start to melt cos you're not made of jean you're made of chocolate.” And maybe even his finest moment, on Do It Good: “Swapped the dog for a cold ride / It was deformed on the in but deformed on the outside / Stuck a piece of crack in a butcher's hand demanded he give me my cat back / Don't purchase me coz I won't work / I gave away my oil and the seeds in my boots / There was a boom in the room as the papers marched in he built himself together then sat down.” Oh and the band were the musical poster boys for a whole generation of loose fit loving pill swallowing indie dance lads who just want to hug each other and all that, but, the lyrics! What lyrics!
6. The Fall As hard, rough, dirty, durable and ever-present as Manchester’s cobbled streets. Mark E Smith has survived just about everything you might expect would’ve stopped The Fall from becoming one of the country’s most loved bands; the music industry, changing tastes, drug addiction, incorrigible weirdness and his own habitual nastiness would’ve hampered lesser and weaker bands. As a band they’ve dabbled in just about everything, every genre, been surprise pop stars, culturally relevant, and maddeningly inconsequential. John Peel’s favourite band, which tells you all you need to know. And to sum up with two John Peel quotes, "The Fall, always different, always the same" and “I know there are people who don't like The Fall -- they must be half-dead with beastliness.”
5. Joy Division What can you say about Joy Division to describe the power of the band in such a small space, except that if you were depressed and lost, or angry and alone, and you were a teenager, anytime between 1980 and now, you’ve probably lost yourself in and been soothed by the work of Ian Curtis in Joy Division. A band who not only imbued punk with emotional depth, but also a musical avant-garde curiosity.
4. The Stone Roses Imagine being the band responsible for creating The Second Summer Of Love, whose gig on Spike Island in 1990 has been immortalised in aspic forever as some kind of beautiful moment of utopian possibility when the world was gonna change and we were all gonna be alright and the sun was gonna shine for ever and the wall had come tumbling down, and man, the pills, back then, better than anything, mate. Imagine being a band around whom whole arguments of cultural progress, development, history, regression, drugs, youth, change, revolved, for one whole summer.
3. Oasis I challenge anyone to watch Supersonic -- the 2016 doc about Oasis -- and not want to be young, cool, arrogant, talented, northern and in a band. Oasis are a band so culturally omnipresent it’s hard to find the words to grasp the actual power of their music, what it means and meant, and their lasting power. They were like us, but more. Ordinary Manc lads in ordinary Manc lad casual, with good haircuts, funny quotes, and two perfect albums that propelled them, like in some obscure Greek myth, from prosaic everymen to preening gods. Every single Liam quote. Every Noel penned piece of lyrical nonsense bellowed out by Mr As You Were that it doesn’t really need to mean anything. All the drama. All the gear. The returns got smaller with each passing feud and dud album. Yet there’s still timeless perfection in those first two records, flawed idiot beauty in Be Here Now, even Heathen Chemistry had The Hindu Times. A horrible and majestic monster of a band, made to be sung-a-long too, lager spilled down your front, under festival lights, with your best mates.
2. The Smiths I spent too much of my teenage years, depressed, indoors, sad, to really find the words to articulate the meaning of The Smiths, which exist more as an emotion than simply a band. If you know, you really know and that’s kind of enough. Cosa Nostra for the sad kids. A lifeline for everyone’s who’s felt too much. Four perfect albums. 18 perfect singles. Not a single bad song. A lifetime of incredible lyrics to write on the back of your school notebooks. A string of superlatives.
1. New Order Dance music for the withdrawn to find themselves too. Arguably the most influential of the Factory bands, in, more than just music, they seemed to propel a culture around, moving seamlessly between the hip-hop, electro and house sounds of New York, and the gloom of Manchester. An incongruous mix, maybe, but if something defines all the bands of this Manchester list, or the best of them at least, it’s that desire to reach out towards to the incongruous, to make it feel natural, to elevate disparate pieces into something that felt more. New Order’s search for electronic beauty, lack of desire to rest on Joy Division’s laurels, lead them with Factory to the Hacienda, Manchester’s defining monument to the possibility of dancing as cultural expression, the power of youth culture. Their collaborations with Peter Saville resulted in the most iconic album art of their time, none more so, than simple frozen splendour of Power, Corruption and Lies, the band’s masterpiece of an album, and maybe Manchester’s most quietly influential record, the ability to turn the cold darkness of electronics into something seductive, intoxicating and human. Your Silent Face might just be the song I’d want played at my funeral. Some glorious god-like shimmering interplay of major and minor, arpeggios and swelling waves of synths that reach out for an elegiac, faded happiness.