Madchester 1989 – How one year changed a city and the way we looked

Something strange hung in the air in Manchester of 1989. The look of cool restraint practiced by the Goth-alternative crowd was about to implode. Madchester 1989 was about to take over.

For years the city had been dominated by the idea that to be cool you had to be alternative and that meant despising what passed as mass entertainment at the time and ridiculing anything not deemed underground as commercial trash.

This inverted snobbery pervaded the city’s youth and music scenes and had in fact become rigid and conservative. Basically ripe for a good kick up the arse.

Dry Bar opened on Oldham Street right opposite Affleck’s Palace in July 1989 and this became a major catalyst for what was about to hit the city. Dry Bar was unlike anywhere else at the time. Ben Kelly had designed a sleek and ultramodern bar and plonked it in what was then a grimy piece of the city centre frequented by pale skinned alternative tribes, down and outs and others furtively visiting the many sex emporiums that sat strangely amongst pet stops, Army and Navy stores and silently boarded up spaces. Tony Wilson and his gang of Factory/ / Hacienda cohorts were splashing the cash and bringing a little bit of New York or Los Angeles to the Manchester back streets. It was all Madchester bands, Madchester fashion, Madchester haircuts! Floppy all the way.

Suddenly the uniform of the alternative crowd was torn apart as a markedly different mood and look over took the city. Funereal black, tombstone grey and crisp whites were blasted apart as a firestorm of colour exploded the culture of studied indifference away for good. The haircuts changed too. Before we had severe cuts, shaved heads, dyed and back combed hair. Now it became looser and floppier month by month. Footwear underwent a transformation too.

Where once we’d all been clad in black Dr Martens, or vintage Chelsea boots our feet had to get used to more relaxed old school 80s trainers and the ever present Palladium Boots. This was quite a change for many of us at the time. The constricted feel of leather boots were part of your uniform which was replaced by a more laid back, relaxed style. Putting on a pair of Palladiums for the first time was quite an eye opener. It took me back to my childhood, the last time I’d worn trainers. The footwear along with the rest of the clobber helped changed our mind-sets. We were all on a strange adventure ready set go.

This style was of course bought into by the masses and so what started in the underground was soon worn by the boy and girl next door. People were bored and fed up with the forced and restrained alternative. In Affleck’s Palace itself amongst the stalls selling vintage black great coats, black boots and collarless shirts new stalls sprang up selling stuff the seemed quite alien to the place at the time. Vivid pinks, greens, block text and psychedelic swirls appeared on oversized T Shirts. The Stone Roses, who been a signed up alternative goth-like band, were rumoured to have ditched their image and true enough when the eponymous album was launched in the same year it was confirmed. The band that used to sing about their Misery Dictionary with such a forlorn drawl were now part of a new movement where colour, swagger and a ridiculously unfounded optimism were the new drug.

In typical youth culture fashion, the colours, sound and look of those heady days can still be seen in new music and fashion coming through today. The current always recycles the past and Madchester 1989 has come to be quite the thing right now. You can hear it in the music and see its influence printed and moulded into the fashion we wear. And that old favourite, the Palladium, is back in all its glory to be enjoyed by a new army of young urbanites. The Hacienda might now be trendy urban apartments and Factory Records / Hacienda head honcho Tony Wilson has sadly passed but somehow the spirit of Madchester 1989 still lingers. It’s ready to come around again!


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