Manchester was Earth’s first industrialized city, the home of the first computer, the site of the first atom split, the cradle of trade unionism and Marxism, and for the last fifty years it has been one of the most fervent and fertile music centers of the Western world. Punk may have originated elsewhere, but it went to Manchester to get weird. The Fall, Magazine, Joy Division and A Certain Ratio’s diverse, working class reinventions of the form set the template for experimentalism and creativity that still resonates through the city’s abandoned cotton mills and corporate skyscrapers today. As vibrant as ever, dozens of music venues continue to flourish in the city, where local dreamers regularly test themselves against the cream of the international touring crop.
Heading to Manchester? Be sure to check out these local record stores and music venues to connect with the city’s local music scene and support independent businesses. Know of a spot that should be included on this list? Use the form below to submit your suggestions.
The undisputed king of Mancunian record stores, Piccadilly came into existence at the same moment that Manchester became the center of the post-punk world in the late 1970s. Located in the independent-spirited Northern Quarter, it is still the best-informed and most welcoming hub for the music connoisseur in the city, where rubbing shoulders with Johnny Marr, Guy Garvey or Tim Burgess is not unusual. More than just a store, it is also one of the leading taste-makers in the city, with its Albums of the Year lists consistently championing under-represented new and underground artists.
One of the largest buyers and sellers of second-hand records in the North of England, Vinyl Exchange has been operating from its Northern Quarter base since 1988. For the diehard crate diggers, it offers the best chance around for that elusive moment of ecstasy of finding a true, 24-carat rarity. No genre too obscure, no era too outdated, Vinyl Exchange’s two floors offer as comprehensive a guide to the history of oddball, experimental music as you’ll find anywhere online.
One of Manchester’s most idiosyncratic vinyl spots, Clampdown is one of the first sounds you hear as you emerge from Manchester’s Piccadilly train station, its vintage soul and funk soundtrack filling the surrounding streets at all times. Specialising in 60s-80s music, Clampdown’s 7” collection leaves the competition in the dust. You won’t find an independent store with more character and a friendlier demeanour for many a mile.
Situated four miles away from the city centre bustle, Wilderness is buried in the heart of residential Withington. Opened in 2019 by a group of vinyl enthusiasts, it offers local beers and gins to enjoy alongside your record browsing, as well as staging gigs by local bands to boot. For those looking for a more pedestrian, calming and homely record-buying experience, head into the Wilderness and you may be in for a lovely surprise.
Another one nestled in the Northern Quarter, Eastern Bloc is the mecca for Manchester’s dance and electronica heads. Co-founded by Martin Price from 808 State in 1985, it has blazed a trail at the forefront of the evolution of jungle, DnB, trip-hop and dubstep amongst others in its three and a half decades. Now housing a cosy coffee shop and bar, it is easier than ever to take a moment to discover the most contemporary, vanguard-testing new releases on your visit.
Live Music Venues
The newest live music hotspot in an already crowded field, Yes is run by the venerable local promoters Now Wave, who have done more to sustain Manchester’s formidable reputation as a music city as anybody in modern times. The Pink Room is the main venue space, a trippy, woozy room that has been scientifically tinkered (they claim by NASA) to ensure optimal sound quality. Coupled with the charming Basement venue and the main beer hall and an attractive roof terrace, Yes is its own hipster ecosystem that promises to lead the next generation of Manchester live music.
Recently saved from closure following the impact of the COVID crisis, the Deaf Institute is the most distinctive, characterful music destination the city has to offer. Opened on the site of a legitimate Victorian deaf institute, it opened in the mid-2000s and has played host to every worthwhile mid-range artist to have emerged ever since. Its unique set-up, from the wall of speakers behind the bar to the kooky balcony, from its sloping seating section at the back to the giant mirrorball overhead, there is no venue shaped or styled quite like it. Its regular club nights offer an eclectic range of nocturnal options and its restaurant bar focuses on vegan food and local ales. No music lover’s trip to Manchester is complete without a visit.
Night & Day Cafe
The home of emerging bands, the Night & Day has been championing unsigned and unheralded new artists for over twenty years, since its early transition from a fish and chip shop into a cooler-than-thou Northern Quarter bar and venue. Its long and narrow layout does nothing to soften the blistering sound, often proving too much for the unsuspecting bar dwellers at the front of the room, and the raised stage regularly proves irresistible for would-be crowd surfing singers. For a city always industrially churning out new artists, the Night & Day is indispensable to the DNA of Manchester.
One of the best kept secrets of the city (technically it is rooted in the neighbouring city of Salford), The Eagle Inn is a traditional pub that in 2014 converted the house next door into an adjoining live music space. With a charmingly compact capacity of 80, it is a grassroots, DIY venue with a discerning booking policy and a homespun charm, right down to the original fireplace that remains in situ alongside the punters. For the raw, unvarnished Manchester gig experience, nowhere is more down to earth or honest than The Eagle Inn.
Band on the Wall
Band on the Wall is a bona fide Manchester music institution. It played host to many of the earliest gigs by Buzzcocks, Joy Division and The Fall and indeed dates back at least as far as the 1930s as a live music venue, getting its name from the ludicrously high stage that was buried into the back wall of the room, upon which jazz and show bands would play, even as Nazi bombs were dropping outside. After a dramatic rebirth in 2007, it now has a focus on jazz, R&B and world music, playing host to the most diverse listings of any of its contemporaries. The bands may play on a more regularly positioned stage these days, but the venue is just as vital.