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Manchester: the UK's rock and indie music capital

TickX's research found that Manchester has the UK's best combo of rock/indie gigs overall and gigs relative to its population, thanks to the city's large number of active venues.

Manchester: the UK's rock and indie music capital

The birthplace of iconic acts like Oasis, The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Joy Division, it’s often claimed that Manchester is the rock and indie capital of the UK. The Rainy City still asserts that claim now, through acts like The 1975, Everything Everything and Pale Waves. Now we have the statistics to prove it.

Following on from our previous investigation, which found that Brighton was the UK’s top spot for electronic music, we decided to look into our statistics to see which city loved rock, indie and alternative music more than any other.

We examined our data for rock, indie and alternative events in cities across the UK and found that while London may predictably have the most going on, its love for indie doesn’t run as deep through its veins as it does in Manchester.

The stats

Since our records began, Manchester has hosted a whopping 2902 rock and indie shows, the highest number of number of rock/indie gigs in the country outside of London. Manchester also boasts a far higher density of rock and indie events than London relative to the city’s size.

Looking at events per 1,000 people, only Brighton (7.46) has held more rock/indie/alternative gigs than Manchester’s 7.33  – no mean feat given Manchester’s far greater population.

The famously lively city of Newcastle came a distant third with 5.31 gigs per 1,000 of its population. Behind it were Glasgow (4.08) and, surprisingly, Llandudno (3.86). London came a disappointing 52nd with only 1.12 rock/indie events per 1,000 people.

Manchester’s status as one of the UK's most musical cities is already unparalleled, thanks to its ability to attract top quality talent from the world of rock.

The 21,000 capacity Manchester Arena is renowned for being one of the country’s busiest music venues, drawing in thousands of people to see the likes of U2 and Arctic Monkeys in just the past few months.

On our site, the Manchester Arena attracted the second biggest number of sales for rock and indie events in the country behind the O2 Arena in London. Other Manchester venues that made the top ten were the Etihad Stadium – which hosted the Foo Fighters this past summer - and the O2 Apollo.

While Manchester has its fair share of blockbuster shows, the reason that the city ranks so highly is its sheer output of its mid-level and small venues. Manchester boasted five venues in the top 25 UK venues in terms of number of rock and indie events hosted since our records began, more than any other city represented in the top 25.

The most prolific rock and indie venue in Manchester is Manchester Academy, which has hosted the fifth most rock and indie events in the UK behind the O2 Academy Islington, Brudenell Social Club (Leeds), Bilston’s The Robin 2 and The Cluny (Newcastle).

Manchester Academy has held 349 rock/indie events since our records began – that’s a gig for almost every night of the year. Below the Manchester Academy were the Deaf Institute (309 events), the O2 Ritz (250), Soup Kitchen (236) and Gorilla (226).

What makes Manchester the rock and indie city it is?

It’s clear that Manchester's vibrant rock and indie scene stems from its being blessed with a huge variety of active venues. Whether they're playing in the striking atmosphere of the Albert Hall or the sweat-box intimacy of The Castle Hotel, almost every rock or indie musician worth their salt passes through Manchester during their UK tours.

What's more, Manchester's list of incredible venues is growing all the time. The latest venue on the scene is YES - the creation of local promoters Now Wave and nestled just off the Oxford Road corridor, YES is Manc to its core and contains two fantastic performance spaces across its four floors.

To find out why Manchester's indie scene is so vibrant, we spoke with Adrian Brian Thompson, Venue Manager for Manchester’s triumvirate of gig venues The Castle Hotel, Gullivers, and The Eagle Inn. Our stats found that The Castle is the sixth most active rock/indie venue in Manchester and the 35th busiest in the country.

Hey Adrian! Why do you think Manchester is the UK’s leading city for rock, indie and alternative music?

"This is Manchester – we do things differently here" - an often-quoted line but one that I believe is at the core of Manchester's rich history for indie, rock and alternative music. Sure, the city's got an impressive musical heritage and an amazing legacy, but I really believe that it's Manchester's diverse grassroots music scenes that make the city so special.

Whatever kind of music you're into, there'll either be someone doing something to suit your tastes or ready and willing to help you set something up. In my 15 years or so of living in Manchester I've realised that people here don't wait for something to happen, they make it happen, and I think that DIY spirit is the reason that Manchester's music scene is so active and exciting.

What makes your venues such great places to catch a gig?

Imagine seeing bands like The Stone Roses, Oasis or New Order right at the start of their careers, or more recent successful bands like Fat White Family or King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard in an intimate, friendly crowd of 80 or so like minded people. That's what makes venues like ours so exciting.

It's not about the big name acts, the greatest hits tours or the nostalgia; our venues are full almost every night with a diverse range of innovative, grassroots artists and promoters who really represent the next generation of UK music. If you want to experience what's happening now on Manchester's bustling DIY music scene, venues like ours are most certainly the place to do that. 

We were struck by the sheer frequency of gigs at Manchester’s smaller venues. What role do you think venues like The Castle, Gullivers and The Eagle play in the indie ecosystem?

Smaller venues like ours play an essential role in giving new bands, artists and promoters an accessible and affordable space to put on shows and perform gigs early in their careers. Even the most successful promoter or band had to start somewhere; and venues like ours that are not expensive to hire, where we'll support new and smaller promoters and where we're happy to take a chance on something new or different can very much provide that first stepping stone to bigger things. 

What upcoming gigs/festivals at The Castle, The Eagle and Gullivers would you like to highlight?

Honestly, I couldn't pick any specific events - there are so many exciting gigs and shows coming up over the next few months. If you're particularly interested in up-and-coming Manchester music and the local music scene from a promoter's perspective, then I highly recommend getting along to Off the Record on the 15th and 16th of November.

Great! Where can I get tickets to see a show?

As we’ve hopefully shown, there is simply no better place in the UK to check out a quirky indie show or dive into the mosh pit than in Manchester.

Whether you're looking to head to a one-off show at one of Manchester's plethora of venues or to annual festivals such as Parklife, Dot to Dot or Sounds from the Other City, you can find all the gig tickets you need right here at TickX.

You can check out all the tickets available for rock and indie concerts in Manchester by clicking over to the city's genre page here.

Written by
Chris Ogden
1st November 2018