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Manchester’s Indie Heartland: A Whistle-stop Tour of the Northern Quarter and Why We Must Supports Its Venues

The Northern Quarter (Photo Credit: Jose Francisco Del Valle Mojica)

With its bustling cafes and bars, hipster music venues and iconic red brick buildings, Manchester’s Northern Quarter remains today a hotspot for creativity in the city. Noted for being the ‘cool’ part of the city centre, the area is abundant with music venues which have been imperative to the success of many legendary Manchester bands from Oasis to the Smiths. Today, with venues at risk of closure with the ongoing pandemic, the importance of these venues must be remembered.

Check out these female bands from Manchester

The Northern Quarter is renowned for its unique character and charm. With its narrow streets and industrial looking buildings, the area echoes the city’s past whilst overlaid graffiti modernises the area. It was the centre of the industrial revolution, gathering momentum as a commercial area in the mid 19th century. Properties were first built in the area in order to house cotton industry workers in the 18th century, with lots of the original features still present, bringing originality.

Hybridising the old and new, Manchester’s Northern Quarter’s urban landscape is full of street art, which is sure to show you how patriotic Manchester is. From David Bowie, LGBTQ+ icons, to the Manchester bee or more recently George Floyd for the Black Lives Matter protests in the city last month, it is the optimum area for street art viewing. The area’s most incredible large-scale murals were painted during the street art festival Cities of Hope which aimed to highlight the social injustices of the city whilst raising money for local charities.

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Northern Quarter’s Bee Murial (Photo Credit: George Glass)

The region’s poor state following deindustrialisation gave rise to the post-punk scene with bands such as Joy Division, the Stone Roses and the Smiths. In the early 1980s, a vibrant indoor maze of unique clothes and goods, Afflecks palace, opened its doors. It became a haven for the counterculture and is just as symbolic today supporting independent businesses. From plastic free toiletries, vegan food, records and plenty of brilliant vintage finds, Afflecks palace is the number 1 shopping spot in Manchester for all things subculture.

Check out Unknown Pleasures / Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook, The Stones Roses by John Robb and Morrissey: Alone and Palely Loitering by Kevin Cummins from our online bookstore

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Manchester’s Northern Quarter in 1988 (Photo Credit: Manchester Libraries)

Not only a food and shopping delight, the Northern Quarter has been crucial for the making of Manchester’s musical status which remains today. One of Manchester’s most loved independent music venues is Oldham Street’s iconic Night and Day Cafe. Originally opening in 1991 as a chip shop in what was at the time a rougher part of the town, it gradually developed into a music venue gaining a reputation for pioneering live music and alternative artists. Artists including Elbow, Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys and Paulo Nutini all began their careers in this wonderful place. In January 2014, the venue was threatened with closure after ongoing noise complaints, so artists including Guy Garvey, Johnny Marr and Tim Burgess supported a petition that was eventually carried through by the Music Venue Trust allowing the venue to stay.

Checking out Telling Stories by Tim Burgess

Music Venue and bar/cafe Night and Day Cafe in Manchester’s Northern Quarter

Tucked behind Northern Quarter’s backstreets on Faraday Street is the charmingly charismatic Peer Hat. As one of the most active music venues in Manchester, it holds live music downstairs most days from local bands to DJ sets and club nights. On the ground level, the Peer Hat is a bustling bar area where you are sure to bump into local bands who practice in the music rooms upstairs, popping down for a break with a pint. The Peer Hat has continued to support local artists through lockdown by creating their ‘Black Stage’ compilation of what is happening in the Manchester scene right now. You can listen to the compilation on the venue’s Bandcamp page here.

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The Northern Quarter’s Peer Hat (Photo Credit: Emily Oldfield)

The Northern Quarter’s Soup Kitchen is another highlight in Manchester’s lively music scene. Renowned for its hipster art cafe/bar upstairs and underground music venue with exceptional acoustics, Soup Kitchen is your best bet for a perfect night out. Along with providing the city with all the best alternative bands it is home to some of Manchester’s greatest club nights from Rock ‘N’ Roll inspired ‘Remake Remodel’ to edgy techno nights.

Surfing Pointers at Northern Quarter venue Soup Kitchen
Alternative rock band Surfing Pointers at Northern Quarter venue Soup Kitchen February 2020 (Photo Credit: Tilda Gratton)

Along with many other sectors of the economy, the Northern Quarter’s venues are at risk of closure due to the pandemic. In response, the organisation UK music started a campaign #LetTheMusicPlay to demand a timetable of venues reopening, business support and VAT exemption on ticket sales. Earlier this month, grassroots venues were successful in receiving a lifeline of a government rescue package of £1.57 billion.

To help Grassroots Music Venues or find out what the Music Venue Trust is doing in these difficult times, check out their website here

Underground is supporting the Music Venue Trust with a donation of £2 on each sale of our All the Clubs have been Closed Down T-shirt to go to the #saveourvenuesappeal

Underground presents an ongoing series of reports on venues past and present that have played a part in supporting the underground music scene, with a special emphasis on those venues supporting diversity in music, women in music, independent labels and the local music scene.

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