Beyond Genre: New Manchester Underground Music

Manchester prides itself on its colourful musical history, which has helped to create a strong musical identity for the city. However, over the last few years, Manchester has been home to the development of some interesting acts that you might not automatically link with the city. Flux Magazine has selected three acts from a new Manchester underground music scene that are challenging ideas of genre, gaining a global following and creating truly forward thinking music. We also interviewed Miles Whittaker from Demdike Stare to uncover some of the more intriguing corners of Manchester’s music scene.

Holy Other

Holy Other is a producer who recently returned to his hometown of Manchester. He has been signed to Tri Angle Records, which is one of most intriguing records labels of the moment. The label is home to other talented artists, such as Balam Acab and How to Dress Well.

The music being released on this label has been associated with the witch house scene. However, releases this year have shown individual qualities that have moved beyond these definitions of genre.

Holy Other’s hidden identity seems to be reflected in his enigmatic music, which uses elements of witch house, 2-step, downtempo and R&B.

However, Holy Other has said that his music is basically pop. Through integrating other elements into a pop format, he has opened up the pop song to form something challenging, haunting and ultimately beautiful.

With U, his recent EP, takes pulsing R&B beats, strange electronica, melancholic vocals, and brings them together within a pop format. Holy Other’s music seems alien to Manchester’s underground music scene. Thankfully, it seems alien to pretty much everywhere.

WU LYF

Even their name provokes questions. According to the band, it is pronounced “Woo Life” and it stands for “World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation”. The band is made up of four members from Rusholme in Manchester and was formed in 2008.

The band has refused interviews and not released much information to the press. WU LYF’s debut album Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, released this year, revealed an intriguing talent lurked behind the hype.

The album was recorded in St Peter’s Church in Ancoats. It is a record filled with huge guitar riffs, rolling drums, emotive organs and anthemic chants. It feels like a celebration of its own ambition and scale.

The record took indie rock and made it into something much bigger. They describe their music as “heavy pop”, which demonstrates a band attempting to form their own musical vocabulary.

Demdike Stare

Demdike Stare is an experimental project from Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty. Miles Whittaker has released records with Modern Love as MLZ, and as one half of Pendle Coven. Sean Canty is a record collector, and has worked with the likes of Finders Keepers.

The Demdike Stare project marries an interest in a wide range of musical influences with Lancastrian occultism. Taking elements from a variety of genres, Demdike Stare create music that builds mood, atmosphere and tension, to mesmerising effect.

Over the last few years, the pair has been releasing fascinating work through Modern Love in Manchester, which has been gaining critical praise and a cult following from listeners around the world.

I met up with Miles Whittaker in a Lancastrian pub near the base of Pendle Hill, which proved to be the perfect setting to discuss music, Manchester and Madvillain.

Miles seems to be a very passionate person. Whilst talking, he apologises for his energetic manner. I reply that he just seems passionate about music. He seems pleased and agrees with this description.

In discussing the critical acclaim that Demdike Stare is receiving, Miles doesn’t seem motivated by the reactions of others. He explains: “Sean and I write music for ourselves, because we weren’t hearing exactly what we wanted. That might sound selfish somehow, but it is a good form of selfish.”

I enquire about the pagan imagery used for the project. Miles tells me: “Demdike Stare songs and names are from the things we listen to, read and watch. Everything stems from what we take in.” He gives the example of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which has been referenced in their music.

Miles uses the term “hybrid” music, which he further explains. “Sean and I are all about hybrid music. You may be listening to a psych-rock release, which is really famous for a certain track, and then you could check the B-side and you find the track that doesn’t fit the description of psych-rock, but is something almost out of place. We try and listen to everything as we always want to be surprised, to find something different or overlooked.”

When we approach genre, Miles clarifies this not to be a concern of Demdike Stare. He explains: “The music is raw. It is not done for anything but mood and atmosphere. The aim is to generate a certain atmosphere, or mood.”

The initial idea for Demdike Stare was to act as a soundtrack for an imagined horror film, allowing them to move away from the restrictions of genres and to concentrate on creating mood. Miles highlights: “On our first releases, they’re very disparate; a drone track, an ambient track, a techno track, which gave us an almost complete sense of freedom with where we could go from there. There are no limits.”

Sitting under the shadow of Pendle Hill, I enquire about their use of Lancastrian occultism. “I have grown up with the mystique of that occult,” he says. I ask what elements of Lancashire are reflected in their music. “Darkness, claustrophobia, coldness, bleakness,” he says, “I’m a firm believer that life is dark and difficult, as well as beautiful, and maybe we felt it wasn’t referenced enough, and we’re not afraid to go there.”

He argues that we are all influenced by our surroundings. “Culture is everywhere,” he explains, “you only have to go up on to the moors around here and there is the bleakness that I think is inherent in our music.”

We approach the topic of Manchester, home to Sean and their record label Modern Love. “Modern Love are our best friends, the whole label ethic is based around friendship, but we don’t relate much to Manchester as a scene. We don’t run label nights or anything local. It’s more just a physical base.” Miles, who splits his time between Burnley and Berlin, then talks about the UK in general: “It is very competitive in the UK; you are on your own. British culture is not that great with outsiders, it can be construed as almost isolationist. However, that can breed creativity as you just get on with what you want to do, rather than worry about other people.”

Miles then comments that Manchester is experiencing some change. “Manchester never had any really good venues, now it is starting to get more, such as Soup Kitchen, Islington Mill and the Bohemian Grove nights, which are becoming good bases for local promoters to expand and highlight the scene.”

I ask Miles what advice he would give to new experimental artists. “Send it to the right places,” he replies, “probably the best producers are all in their bedrooms. Some people just get lucky by being connected, but otherwise it’s a hard world to break into.”

We discuss the creative process behind Demdike Stare. “The point is just to do it and not to think about it too much,” explains Miles.

I enquire if he feels pressure to make a better record with each release. The passion flairs up in Miles again as he explains: “No… we want to challenge people in some ways. We want them to not like it, to make it more difficult, not extreme, but just more us. Why should we give a fuck about what people want? If you want something easy to digest… go and watch the X Factor. I don’t care if we never put out another record; it’s not about that. It’s about enjoying what you love doing and not getting sidetracked by anything else. As soon as you worry about what people want, you’ve changed the reasons why you started doing it in the first place.”

Miles excitedly remembers something: “It’s like that Madvillain lyric: ‘That which is perfect is finished’.” The music of Demdike Stare seems to be in a constant state of renewal. When discussing music, Miles explains: “We use the words ‘mature’ or ‘immature’. We don’t say anything is good or bad, that is a form of prejudice, and also judgemental, which no one really has the right to be about any art form.”

Throughout the interview, Miles expresses his music as an opposition to prejudice. It appears that Miles and Sean do not want to restrict themselves to one musical genre and discriminate other genres on these terms. Instead, they want to celebrate the differences found in music. “Sean said it is all about the identity, our identity, and we have stayed true to that. It’s all about wanting to find new music, which just inspires us to write more ourselves,” Miles concludes.

Through rejecting the limitations of genre, Demdike Stare can be seen as a project that celebrates what is ultimately fascinating about music: the endless possibilities of sound.

words Matthew Kinlin

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