Is Nostalgia killing Manchester music? (November 2007)


This first appeared in Moving Manchester (November 2007).

There’s a problem when the singer in a local band sits down with me after a gig and tells me she feels “suffocated” by all the nostalgia in Manchester’s music scene.

And there’s more evidence of too much looking back when one of the city’s leading monthly club nights promises in its publicity material “no throwbacks, no nostalgia”, clearly frustrated at the state of ‘indie’ in the city.

We have a proud history of brilliant bands, singers, and clubs, but I can understand the frustration. In Manchester in 2007 there’s lots of activity, gigs at Cafe Saki, Night & Day etc, club nights like Contort Yourself, Clique, Naive Melody, and Tramp but despite all this, the city is increasingly associated with its past glories. It’s not great if Manchester ends up like some Madchester theme park; it’s embarrassing.

It would be a shame if today’s mavericks are drowned out by the loud self-congratulations of previous generations. It’s worth remembering that those brilliant bands weren’t bothered about fitting into some idea of what Manchester music was, and weren’t into replicating the past. Consider this nightmare; if Joy Division had been persuaded there was some golden age locally two decades earlier they’d have ended-up sounding like a cross between George Formby and Freddie & the Dreamers.

Our history is making us blind to our failings. The major labels, and the music magazines are based in London, for example – and this drags us back. As does the Manc lad cliche; why does it always have to be four boys in a band, playing sing-a-long indie? Please make some room for some quirky electro trio, or something hard and urban. One day Manchester might spawn a successful rock band fronted by a girl singer, wouldn’t that be something?!

Let’s put away those fading Happy Mondays t-shirts and fly the flag for the new, and the young. Even -or maybe especially – those us who are part of the history, have a responsibility to the future.

I’m into being part of a Manchester music scene that celebrates the past, without living in it. I admit it’s a difficult balance, but I think what’s sometimes forgotten is that every generation has a battle to fight. People like me; we went through that stage of putting on gigs and running club nights and supporting bands that the wider world were oblivious to or sneered at. I’ve lost money putting on gigs, I used to get on a bus and travel into town with a bunch of records not getting paid to DJ at clubs no-one on local radio or in the Evening News was much interested in. I was one of the prime movers behind the first Sonic Youth gigs in Manchester because only a tiny crew of us was interested, and the established Manchester promoters weren’t; just like the people who run ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’, ‘Contort Yourself’ etc might do with an ‘underground band’. Believe it or not I had to phone the ‘NME’ every week for a year to get the chance to review the Stone Roses live. So it’s not like everything was handed to me on a plate.

And all that reminds me still to appreciate and celebrate and value the maverick nights, new bands etc, and to try to be supportive. I’m about to launch my Sweet Sensation club night, featuring a second room showcasing young DJs, and at my monthly residency in Paris I’ve persuaded the promoter to invite over bands like Modernaire, Shmoo, Air Cav, and the Whip; not because I’m some kinda great guy or because they need my charity, but because it’s a more fun and interesting to live in the now.

Nostalgia is everywhere, people like to hark back to a supposed golden age; this is strong, politically and socially and musically in our society. And that was one of my motivations behind writing ‘Not Abba’, my third book. It’s important to understand, enjoy, analyse, or celebrate the past. But not to live in it. I remember writing this in ‘Not Abba’; “Nostalgia is a device created by old people to deny young people their dreams”. Resist!