The new order of the Manchester music scene

The Manchester music scene is producing impressive new bands in an abundance not seen since the eighties and nineties, those beloved eras of baggy and Britpop. Local music writer Alex Cooper investigates what's behind the buzz.

Music and Manchester will forever be intertwined. Whether it’s the Gallagher brothers, Stone Roses, Smiths or one of the many other musical alumni that come to mind, the city has an incomparable legacy of producing guitar and indie bands. But there are some serious contenders for the musical crowns of those who came before, with bands like Rosellas, Rolla, Pastel and Hungry breaking through from the city’s pubs and late-night venues into the mainstream.

And as a music writer based in Manchester, I’m seeing this trajectory with my own eyes. I can take a walk from Piccadilly Station down to the bustling Northern Quarter and there are open mic spots and billed gigs at every turn, the line-ups filled with local bands whose members were born and bred here or have moved here as students or for work in the creative industries. And as time has passed these bands are producing better and better music.


When you’re a band from Manchester, automatically people in the country take you more seriously – they’ll think you’re a little less tinpot,” says Drew Selby from Rosellas, who formed in 2019 and are progressing through the city’s venues at lightning speed. But the Manchester connection and the generalisations that come with that (think parkas, bucket hats and acid house iconography) can become an albatross round the necks of the next wave of musicians, and for years the industry has been stuck on using labels such as the “next Oasis” or “a poor man’s Joy Division”, or simply ignoring bands not fitting that mould.

Aaron Starkie of the Slow Readers Club, now a cult band with a dedicated following in Manchester after a 20-year career, says: “We were very much on the outer rings of the Britpop and Manc-swagger baggy period. People and the music industry and the music press thought of Manchester as the Liams and the wannabe Liams. It’s a difficult shadow to come out from.”

Yasmin Coe

But the tide is turning, and with so many new bands breaking through at the same time, old clichés are slowly falling away. “You can use it as a leg up, but not a crutch,” Selby says. “We’ve always thought we don’t want people comparing us, we want people to be appreciating little segments of influence but for them to think, ‘They’re new, there’s something a bit fresh about them.’ And that’s rewarding.”

So what’s behind the influx of new bands? Selby says the community aspect of Manchester is something that’s helped them and the rest of the scene. “We’re very grateful for the bands that have helped us get to the point we are at now,” he says, citing how their support slot with Starsailor allowed Rosellas to play to a sold-out, 1,500-strong crowd at the city’s O2 Ritz. He then talks about passing this on to bands starting out in Manchester, encouraging a culture of helping each other out. “There are gonna be some bands out there that think, ‘We’re big,’ and think they can get an opportunity out of us and we’re absolutely all for it […] It builds a community and makes this movement that we’ve all been talking about and longing for.”


Rosellas formed in what could be considered a stereotypical Mancunian way: from a meeting between Selby and guitarist Euan Mail after a Blossoms gig that led to them bonding over the music of the Smiths and Michael Head. They then roped in old school friends while Selby was completing his degree at the Manchester music production college Spirit Studios. Since debuting at the popular grassroots venue Night & Day Café, the band have been selling out headline shows in the city and building up a dedicated following.

Mikey Jonns, founder of club night This Feeling, signed Rosellas after his friend Jon Sutcliffe, a radio PR, let him know about them. “Most of the bands we work with have all emerged via the club nights,” Jonns says. “It’s a mixture of ‘apply to play’ and keeping our ears to the ground. One thing led to another and now [Rosellas] are playing the 550-capacity Band on the Wall in Manchester, are signed to This Feeling Records for an EP and headlining our stage at Y Not? Festival this year.” This Feeling also gives national radio play and main stage festival slots to bands that impress them locally. “Manchester is 100 per cent a hotbed for emerging bands. It’s a supportive and rapidly growing community and there are scenes like this emerging all over the UK.”

Witch Fever

Another factor in explaining the huge well of talent is how attractive Manchester is to potential students. “We’ve got good universities and good creative courses, so it’s a really buzzing, vibrant place to work,” Starkie says. And bands are moving to the city specifically to find that creative edge. Hungry are a four-piece band originating from Cambridge, whose members are now dotted across BIMM Institute, a college that offers vocational and creative courses related to the music industry in Manchester, and the University of Manchester. “A lot of the people we came across here are very passionate about music, and they’ve helped us not because we asked them for help, but because they’re very passionate about bands. I’m not sure you get much of that in other cities,” its frontman Jacob Peck says.


Damian Morgan, a band manager and former head of careers
and industry liaison at BIMM, agrees that students are key to the city’s talent pool. “The student population has always made a huge difference,” he says. “Even if it wasn’t a band of students, we’re in a city where discussion and revolution and change is talked about. If we’re talking about safe spaces, Manchester’s like a huge safe space. It’s always been at the forefront of revolution and saying almost the unsayable, in a ‘let’s kick against the pricks’ way.” Morgan, who has worked with bands including the Orielles and Working Men’s Club, also explains that there are more role models on the Manchester music scene, as well as more female, female-identifying and non-binary artists – with promoters such as Now Wave supporting diverse line- ups. “Women are putting themselves on the line and saying what needs to be said. There’s an anger to it.”

These artists are central to the revolution. Singer-songwriter Yasmin Coe is one of them, having played headline shows in Manchester’s YES Basement and the Deaf Institute this year. “There’s still a bit of a way to go, but I feel like the scene is more inclusive than ever,” Coe notes. “The Manchester indie scene now has so many queer artists in it, and there’s so much difference, and everyone’s excited by that prospect. I feel like that’s indie now – just a broad acceptance of so many individuals, rather than this indie music that didn’t ever feel inclusive, and it was just whitewashed men singing about scrapping in the pub.”


The music industry isn’t a cheap business to get into. The success of new bands in Manchester goes against the grain of 2023 and the cost of living crisis and general cuts to funding for the arts, but hard times also feed the need for voicing anger at the systems causing the problems. The Manchester punk band Witch Fever exemplify this, taking aim at patriarchal oppression as well as the nightmarish political landscape in 2023. Starting out as misfits of the scene in the same venues populated by indie bands, they broke out last year, releasing their ferocious debut album, Congregation, on Music for Nations, part of Sony Music. Witch Fever prove that Manchester is a place that talent can and will be picked up, and that being unapologetically yourself will be rewarded.

In October, the new Beyond the Music conference and festival will be held in the city, and with it will come the promise of three social initiatives for music in Greater Manchester. These initiatives hope to see young musicians receive extra funding and workshops in schools to encourage careers in music, as well as more support for grassroots venues in Manchester and encouraging more diverse audiences to listen to live music. If this is executed well, and the stress of money is minimised for independent artists in Manchester, it could be the spark that sets the scene alight. Manchester is already a centre of creativity, but the extra push could see it become the centre of the musical universe again – just as it was in the days of the Haçienda.

WriterAlex Cooper
Image creditsTom Oxley, Ellen Moss, Barnaby Fairley, Nic Bezzina, Matt Eynon, Daniel Murphy