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4th March 2022

Manchester Beyond Rock

Introducing Manchester’s new musical talents, existing outside of Manchester’s rock roots
Manchester Beyond Rock
Photo: Space Afrika, Honest Labour album cover

Manchester, as a music capital, largely finds itself swallowed up by nostalgia for guitar music of years gone by – the monumental post-punk of the late 70s and early 80s, Madchester as the Thatcherite premiership came to a close and Britpop as the new millenium approached. That isn’t to say that there has been a complete stagnation in popular bands coming out of the city. But in the time since, a similarly popular crop of bands has never revealed itself. However, beyond the constraints of a typical 4-person band, moving towards the world of electronic and experimental music, a new collaborative circle of artists has emerged in Manchester’s outskirts, in part around Salford’s White Hotel.

While the pejorative comparison would be to the rave music of the Haçienda, most of the music is arguably less concerned with filling up club nights, and more about conveying the feeling of working-class living through boundary-pushing sound experiments. Whilst there are many equally engrossing artists orbiting these circles, three of the central figures are Blackhaine, Rainy Miller and Space Afrika. Whilst Space Afrika hail from Manchester, Blackhaine and Rainy Miller are both originally from Preston, a fact which plays a key role in the themes of their musical output.

To see the influences of an upbringing in neglected post-industrial Britain, you needn’t go further than the instrumentation on Blackhaine’s most recent EP, And Salford Falls Apart. Underlining Blackhaine’s punkish delivery of lyrics about drug deals and survival in poverty are incredibly harsh, mechanical beats which emphasise the anxious nature of the music. Some, like EP opener ‘Saddleworth’ are quieter, bordering on ambient until layers pile on towards the end of the track, creating a uniquely ominous soundscape. Meanwhile, the title track leans much more overtly into harsh noise, the endless barrage of blown-out sound swallowing up shouting in the background.

Outside of his musical endeavours, Blackhaine has also began to find significant success through his dancing. In the last 12 months, he has assisted in the ever-fascinating Kanye West’s listening parties for his 2021 album Donda, featured in the music video for Fontaines D.C.’s ‘Jackie Down the Line’, and, in recent news, choreographed Kanye West’s most recent listening party event for his album Donda 2.

Rainy Miller, who has a production credit on three of the tracks on Blackhaine’s newest EP, exists sonically in a very different area. Where Blackhaine’s music feels almost nihilistic, Miller’s could in some ways be described as melancholic. Over the course of releases on his Bandcamp page, a transition can be mapped from soulful alternative pop music with inflections of electronica to a point where this electronic influence envelops the sounds of his earlier work. Similarly to Blackhaine, his work also makes art from average working-class existence. One of his most recent efforts, ‘Death at a TV Dinner’ makes overt reference to, as the title makes clear, ready meals and broken TV remotes, making a cinematically tragic event out of an average weekday night.

Space Afrika mix traditional ambient music with a variety of other sounds, most notably dub, techno and, in areas, post-punk. Whilst Blackhaine and Rainy Miller encapsulate a very specific kind of northern life, Space Afrika’s latest record Honest Labour comes across as a soundtrack to cold Manchester nights. Inbetween messes of noise constructed from the sounds of sirens, alarms and nighttime ambience are tracks which create a similar sombre feeling to much of the music already discussed. ‘B£E’, featuring Blackhaine, ends on a recurring line of “man are tryna get rich at the top of the map”, following a verse documenting the harshness of life trying to work outside of the rat race. Unlike some of the more rose-tinted rock of modern Britain, it captures a very real feeling of precariety both sonically and lyrically.

However dejected some of these songs may come across when described, make no mistake, this is fighting music. Fighting back against attempts to neatly package culture as a commodity, against the gentrification of northern Britain and against the nature of their own circumstances. This new music scene in Manchester, whilst not necessarily accessible for a Heart Radio listener, is every bit as vital and important as those that came before it.

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