Essential New Music: Various Artists’ “Manchester: North Of England”

Subtitled “A Story Of Independent Music, Greater Manchester 1977-1993,” Manchester: North Of England contains 143 tracks spread over seven CDs. At more than nine hours of music, with no repeat artists, it’s massive. But, surprisingly, it’s not too much. Outside of London and New York, no city in the world was a more significant epicenter for independent rock music than Manchester.

Via songs both well-known and obscure, the thoroughly annotated set is anchored with some of the biggest names in late 20th century British music. The first two discs cover ’77-’81 and trace the path from the classic punk of the Buzzcocks, Magazine, Joy Division and the Fall through the post-punk of Durutti Column, A Certain Ratio and the Chameleons. The era of Factory Records and the Haçienda nightclub continues on disc three (’82-’84) with New Order and Section 25 before moving to the indie pop of James and Inspiral Carpets on disc four (’85-’87). Madchester dominates disc five (’88) with Happy Mondays and A Guy Called Gerald. The Stone Roses lead off disc six (’89-’90), which continues the club vibe with Electronic and the hip-hop/electronic music nexus with MC Tunes Vs. 808 State. Disc seven (’91-’93) ushers in the Britpop era with the Charlatans, Chemical Brothers and, finally, Oasis.

Two quibbles: One, no Smiths. Solo Morrissey gets a track and Johnny Marr is here with Electronic, but licensing issues no doubt caused that glaring omission. Two, there are hardly any women. Although the set does dip into hip hop, reggae, avant-garde tracks and folk-ish ballads, female musicians must’ve been rare in the city in any genre.

That aside, fans of the era will love experiencing the historical trajectories, and even aficionados will make new discoveries. The set is exhaustive, but it’s not an overdose.

Steve Klinge