An A-Z of the Northwest Music Scene

The Northwest is the kind of place where techno legends play in the ruins of 19th-century churches, whole weekends are lost to worshipping at the altar of psych, and classical music students are the coolest. Here's a lil' taster

Feature by Simon Jay Catling and John Thorp | 08 Sep 2014

A is for all dayers! Embrace the full force of community spirit, and the bar, by attending one. Often featuring dozens of bands over numerous venues, they provide a great snapshot of a scene at a reasonable price. Look out for Carefully Planned events at in Manchester, and FestEVOL in Liverpool.

B is for Bunker, once Sways Records’ Strangeways-shadowed warehouse HQ in Salford – the growing legacy of which lives on through the label itself, having helped the word of MONEY's poetic dream-pop, Kult Country and Bernard + Edith to spread beyond the M60.

C is for churches: some of the most feted names in indie, from St. Vincent to Elbow, have taken to the altar at Manchester’s Cathedral over the past few years, while in Liverpool, St. Luke’s, or the ‘Bombed Out Church’ as it’s better known, provides one of the more unusual rave spots in the city for promoters freeze.

D is for DIY and the artists and promoters doing things independently. In Liverpool, screamos We Came Out Like Tigers are a fierce, politically active four-piece, while there are a load of gear-swapping, bill-sharing garage rock bands in Manchester – check out Sex Hands and MiSTOA POLTSA.

E is for the Echo Arena. Liverpool finally got its own arena mega space to rival Manchester's Phones4u Arena with ‘the Echo’, debuting as part of the city’s tenure in 2008 as European Capital of Culture. It may not be a sketchy basement party, but sometimes all you want is Beyonce.

F is for futurism: it’s not all parkas and fishing hats y’know. From the recently launched Syndrome Sessions at Liverpool's 24 Kitchen Street to new collaborative ensemble Immix’s work with fellow forward-thinking Merseyside artists – or Manchester's FutureEverything festival – the Northwest is full of people looking to advance music across all forms.

G is for galleries. Naturally, some of the best music emerges from dedicated arts and creative spaces. Great examples are Liverpool’s Static Gallery, home to A/V collective Deep Hedonia, and Salford’s Islington Mill, where the resident bands include noise merchants Horrid and Gnod, whose Gesamtkunstwerk clubnight blows minds and ears on the regular.

H is for the Haçienda: probably some of the nicest apartments to be found off the Oxford Road corridor in Manchester, the popularity of their design is such that you can regularly expect to see tourists excitedly having their photo taken outside them, while older locals often fondly recall some of the many great nights they spent staying in their comfortable and surprisingly spacious interiors.

I is for indie – both Liverpool and Manchester share a grand legacy of guitar music, but if laddish, anthem-centric clubnights prove unappealing, try alternatives like Manchester’s Dots & Loops for a more varied sound you can still get a little lairy with.

J is for journey, because there’s plenty going on outside the major cities. The jaw-dropping Lovell telescope dish has overlooked outdoor shows by Sigur Rós and The Flaming Lips at Jodrell Bank, and Beat-Herder festival throws one of the year's most fevered parties up in the Lancashire hills.

K is for The Kazimer, perhaps the most exciting venue in Liverpool. The faded glamour of its theatre setting is juxtaposed against a constantly forward thinking schedule of live music and DJs. In the summer, its garden hosts special DJ sets, film screenings and various ‘intoxicating masterclasses.’

L is for LIPA, the Paul McCartney-founded Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, which has been at least partly responsible for a resurgence of the city's music scene in recent years and counts among its alumni Ninetails, Natalie McCool and the slick kraut-pop of Outfit.

M is for metal. The ominously titled Satan’s Hollow remains Manchester’s purest spot for metal and alternative clubbing, a sweaty moshpit haven on the edge of Chinatown. Grand Central on Oxford Road has a constant stream of live bands, almost always for free. In Liverpool, the notorious Krazyhouse is true to its name, and The Swan Inn provides real ale and a rock-centric jukebox.

N is for nostalgia. Names like The Beatles, Joy Division and The Stone Roses are possibly what drew you to this part of the country, and the Cavern Club, Beatles Story museum, FAC251 and their ilk still exist as a reminder of these supposed golden eras – you can even get a Manchester Music tour by an Inspiral Carpet if you so wish.

O is for the perennially thriving open mic scene. We can’t guarantee a total lack of toe-curling, but Fuel in Withington, Manchester is a good bet every Wednesday for a friendly, encouraging atmosphere. Liverpool’s Leaf welcomes original songs at Out of the Bedroom Open Mic on Tuesdays.

P is for psych, and the two-day trip into opening the third eye that is the annual Liverpool Psych Fest. There's plenty of opportunity to loosen the mind in Manchester too – look out for promoters Interstellar Overdrive, The Beauty Witch and Wotgodforgot among others.

Q is for quartets, quintets, or even symphonies. Manchester’s feted Royal Northern College of Music is home to some of the finest contemporary classical music and young musicians in the world. Upcoming concerts include Black Swan composer Clint Mansell, and experimental pianist Nils Frahm.

R is for record labels. Factory et al may have long since gone, but dig deep and you'll find avid enthusiasts putting out all types of the weird and the wonderful. Melodic are a must for leftfield guitar pop and compositional electronica; house and techno imprint Scenery boast releases by hard-hitting producer John Heckle, while Finders Keepers traverse everything from psychedelia to folk and jazz.

S is for sub-bass. Those who like their nights out to really rumble (acoustically) should descend into the basement of Manchester’s Joshua Brooks. The popular venue has just installed the only permanent Void sound system outside of London. Phwoof.

T is for Trof, a local chain of venues that started out as a cafe in Fallowfield and has since expanded to become a main player on Manchester's music scene. As well as intimate Victorian music hall The Deaf Institute, Trof also own the versatile Gorilla and the beautifully renovated Grade II listed Albert Hall, which has recently welcomed Wild Beasts and Bonobo.

U is for underground parties: of course, the moment we publish details of an underground party in our monthly mag, the point is lost. But trust us, keep your eye out… For a literal underground party, Liverpool promoters Freeze have grown accustomed to throwing them in the Williamson Tunnels: past guests have included techno legends Andrew Weatherall and Slam.

V is for vinyl. Remember buying music physically? It actually does pretty well here, thanks to several fine record shops at either end of the Ship Canal. Probe in Liverpool and Piccadilly Records in Manchester are well worth your time for the latest indie releases and club edits; second-hand crate diggers will find satisfaction in Dig Vinyl and Vinyl Exchange.

W is for The Warehouse Project, which has become something of a national institution. Prior to mysterious but mega plans for its tenth anniversary in 2015, this year the club behemoth returns for one year only to its former, more intimate Store Street home. From Richie Hawtin to Caribou, there’s something for all fans of electronic music… or at least those lucky enough to get a ticket.

X is for, um, eXperimentalism. From Liverpool trio Ex-Easter Island Head laying their guitars flat and playing them with mallets, to the a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra's mixed-ability scratch ensemble – and Video Jam's marriage of improvised scores and moving image – the Northwest's creative scene consistently strives to break free from the norm.

Y is for Yuletide and the vast array of shows and clubnights that adorn the season. In Liverpool you can normally count on a band or two popping up with their own Christmas special – Stealing Sheep’s mythology-themed do at the Kazimier being last year’s highlight – while the Warehouse Project promise a massive Boxing Day event in Manchester.

Z is for Zugwang, one of the finer tracks from Dutch Uncles’ third LP, Out of Touch in the Wild. The five-piece are among a collection of artfully skewed pop bands who’ve broken out of the region in recent years, with the electronic eccentricities of Everything Everything and the kaleidoscopic Stealing Sheep also making it into the national consciousness.

Want to find out more about the regional scene? Visit for our series of features profiling emerging local bands and artists