After Manchester's music scene stuttered to a halt in the first dacade of the 21st century, it's picking up again.
Next generation breathes new life into Manchester
As the famous Smiths lyric goes: "Manchester, so much to answer for." It's one of the great musical cities of the world, where a newly-electric Bob Dylan was heckled with cries of "Judas". It's the home of Joy Division and hence New Order, Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses and Oasis. In the heady days of Factory Records and The Hacienda nightclub, the city had its own scene: Madchester. But the weight of history has been crushing. Since those glory days, there have been plenty of bands who might have aped the insouciant attitude of a Liam Gallagher but were missing something fundamental. Acting the rock 'n' roll star is pointless, after all, without half-decent rock 'n' roll songs to go with it.
So the Manchester scene, regularly characterised by the new, the young and the exciting, stuttered to a halt in the first decade of the 21st century, despite the laudable efforts of the indie elder statesmen Elbow and Doves. Time passed. Other UK cities, such as Glasgow and Leeds, took up the baton. But perhaps time needed to pass so that the ghosts of the Manchester's musical history seemed far enough away to be irrelevant to a new generation. And sure enough, the trio that can truly say it has kick-started Manchester's music scene once again weren't even born when New Order's Blue Monday - famously the highest selling 12-inch record of all time - was released.
That band is Delphic, and the New Order comparisons are apposite. Rather than being yet another sneery Oasis clone, Delphic channels the spirit of electronic pop that Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris made their own. Just one look at the track names of the debut album Acolyte makes that clear; where New Order had Temptation, Confusion and Substance, Delphic has Submission, Counterpoint and Doubt. But there is more to this band than mere reverence; they grew up listening to techno rather than Technique. For them, it was natural to ask the Berlin-based DJ Ewan Pearson, rather than some hoary old rock or pop producer, to produce their album.
It means Acolyte sounds fresh, exciting, immediate and - uniquely for a dance-floor-focused album - both euphoric and melancholic. It's no surprise, then, that Delphic has already secured a Brit nomination in the Critics Choice category and featured on the BBC Sound of 2010 longlist. The band narrowly lost both to Ellie Goulding, but an interview with the BBC made their raison d'être clear. "We were inspired by what we didn't like in Manchester," said Delphic's Rick Boardman, "and that was Manchester refusing to move on."
Proof that Manchester's scene is finally moving on, though, came with the rest of the BBC longlist, which also featured the Manchester acts Hurts and Everything Everything: both relatively free of associations with the city's more recent musical history and all the better for it. Indeed, Hurts' sound has more in common with the chilly electronic pop synonymous with the town just across the Pennines, Sheffield. Once again there is despair tempered by euphoria: the debut single Wonderful Life is about a suicidal man saved by love. But like Delphic, they can't quite shake Manchester entirely. Wonderful Life has been remixed by the famous New Order producer Arthur Baker.
In this company, only Everything Everything can really say it's not burdened by any notion of a Manchester "sound". Perhaps that's because, although they live and make music there, they're not originally from Manchester. But their arty, erudite pop (again electronic) recalls the anything-goes spirit of possibility that defined the city in the years of Factory Records. All of which leaves one question: why have three such exciting and different bands emerged from Manchester right now? The answer might be found in the city's nightlife. As indie clubs increasingly played a strict, gruelly diet of Madchester hits to thousands of knuckleheaded Gallagher clones, smaller nightclubs started to play electronic pop, punk-funk and arty rock as an antidote. Slowly but surely, clubs such as Clique, Contort Yourself, Keys Money Lipstick and Now Wave (the first words you read on the latter's MySpace page are, tellingly, "give the past a slip") became the vanguard rather than the alternative. It's these nightclubs that members of Delphic, Hurts and Everything Everything would have gone to and loved - and which Delphic eventually headlined.
Whether these three bands receive the kind of plaudits and influence that their forebears enjoyed remains to be seen. Delphic's album isn't perfect by any means, but the potential is clear and it hurtled into the Top 10. Hurts and Everything Everything are being judged on the basis of a couple of promising singles. But in any case, all three don't appear to be impressed by the thought of being the biggest band in the world, of filling stadiums with soulless "anthems". Instead, they're making thoughtful, intelligent and forward-thinking pop music, and who knows where that might lead.
Of course, none of this means that the past has been erased. This Friday will see the opening of Hook's new live music venue FAC251: The Factory, based in the old Factory Records offices, which have been redesigned by The Hacienda architect Ben Kelly. Hook will perform songs from his back catalogue at the launch, but he insists that the venture is about finding new bands, not revisiting past glories.
"As an older musician now, I feel I do have a responsibility to propagate the new bands, to keep things going in Manchester," he told the Manchester Evening News this week. How successful this will be remains to be seen, but what is certain is that all roads are leading to Manchester again - and it's about time, too.