Styles & Forms | Madchester | Rock

Occasionally, a town or city is so integral to a style of music that the music takes its name from the place. In the early 1960s, Liverpool gave rise to the Mersey sound and Merseybeat; in the late-1980s and early 1990s, England’s Manchester spawned so–called Madchester.

As much a clubbing scene and youth sub-culture as a style of music, Madchester was also known as ‘Baggy’ due to the baggy clothes worn by the kids. The foremost band of the Madchester scene was The Happy Mondays with their drugged-out, almost psychedelic take on dance music. Embracing funky rhythms and hip hop beats topped off with stream of consciousness lyrics, often with a menacing undercurrent, The Mondays’ Bummed (1988) shows their unique style beginning to gel.

Manchester had already produced arguably the most important British guitar band of the 1980s, The Smiths, and then went on to produce another significant British guitar band – The Stone Roses. Both bands were heavily influenced by 1960s guitar pop, and although The Stone Roses self-titled debut album from 1989 has little in the way of dance influence, a more dance-orientated remix of ‘Fool’s Gold’ helped establish The Stone Roses as the main Madchester band alongside The Happy Mondays.

The Happy Mondays came into their own with their second album, Pills, Thrills And Bellyaches (1990). An intoxicating and heady mix of trippy beats and surreal lyrics sung in a thugish and occasionally threatening tone by vocalist Shaun Ryder, the album represents the pinnacle of the Madchester scene. It also revealed The Mondays’ shameless appropriation – ‘Step On’ is basically John Kongos’ ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ and the melody of ‘Kinky Afro’ is ‘borrowed’ from LaBelle’s ‘Lady Marmalade’.

The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays were by no means the only players in the Madchester scene. Eclectic leftfielders James crossed paths with the Madchester, and their Gold Mother (1990) album produced the hit single ‘Sit Down’, a mini-anthem for the Madchester generation, although their sound was too diverse to make them a pure Madchester band, with their distinctly folky influences and even stadium-rock leanings.

Mighty Throbbing Organ

The Hammond organ played a big part in the sound of both The Inspiral Carpets and The Charlatans. Clint Boon’s organ work makes an integral contribution to Inspiral Carpets’ Life (1990), although the band’s inconsistency meant their biggest claim to fame in music history was that Oasis songwriter and creative force Noel Gallagher started his musical career as a roadie for The Inspiral Carpets, learning the ropes of the music business. The Charlatans Some Friendly (1991) reveals them to be a more traditional rock band than The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays with their Rolling Stones-ish swagger and ‘wakka wakka’ organ, as blueprinted by Deep Purple on their ‘Hush’ single way back in 1968.

On the fringes of the Madchester scene, The Farm struggled for an identity before aligning themselves with a Madchester-inspired sound. Perceived as...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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