Manchester is culturally very mixed. But its cultural out-put often doesn’t reflect this.
There has always been a peculiar relationship between the city’s youth and the seasonal student-influx. Historically, student grants and loans funded many of the gigs, club-nights and independent shops in town but the ‘sponges’ were universally despised by the locals.
E-culture seemed to blur the class-distinctions for a while. At the time the local under-class seemed to emerge on top… with The Happy Mondays highlighting striking parallels between British council estate lunacy and cliched rock’n’roll hedonism… a theme continued by Oasis and the TV programme Shameless (2004).
But meanwhile, the white middle-classes were quietly on the rise…
The British habit of moving city to study aged 18 has traditionally had a brain-drain effect on Manchester and other ugly places. But during the ’90s, many graduates decided to stay here… partly because of low house-prices and also because of the city’s recently acquired ‘cool’ image. For instance, Chorlton-cum-Hardy is no longer an Irish working-class enclave, having been colonised by middle-class in-comers.
Meanwhile a younger generation of educated arrivals are now ensconsed in the recently-built city-centre flats… I wonder if they will ever escape? Or will they be forced to bring up their kids there?
But what this all means, in general, is that the people with money, confidence and a media-voice in Manchester are predominantly white… and their ranks have swelled.
Manchester’s black population, though heavily invested in the musical life of the city, was consistently marginalised through the ’70s and ’80s by everyone from Factory Records to Piccadilly Radio, leading to an almost total absence of black artists centre-stage during the ’90s.
Peace FM 90.1 is great… but the fact that it exists specifically for the black population and not for everyone is not such a good sign. It illustrates how divided our communities seem to be these days.
It doesn’t help that older members of the large Asian muslim population generally disapprove of public displays of music and dancing – making the whole business of self-expression and celebration across communities very difficult.
Manchester’s football obsession and Manc Lad Bands seem to reflect and glorify the same white working-class cultural territory. And the white middle-classes run with it… they seem to love it, as long as they’re not actually required to live on a council estate. But where does this leave everybody else? Under-represented and disengaged from the cultural output of the city?