Every Saturday night, 30,000 people are out on the town and out of their heads, the 21st-century versions of mad-for-it Mancunians, more drunk than Dronke, as sleepless as Sweeney; descendants of Victorian mill-hands stumbling down Oxford Street and audiences in Ancoats music halls; shadowy reminders of the scuttlers on turn-of-the- century street corners and the Vimto-swilling Cagneys and flighty Greta Garbos on the monkey run; children of the Sixties set, the well-shaved Plaza regulars, and the 24-hour party people at the Twisted Wheel; the latest generation to trip down history-laden streets, painting the town red, missing the last bus home.
Manchester is the clubbing capital of England, the city with a renowned night-life and dozens of important bands. It is the city with the most highly developed music consciousness in the world, and sometimes you imagine you can reach out and touch it, a palpable buzz of a night- life culture that's evolving, absorbing. Thread your way through Castlefield on a summer Friday evening from Atlas past Nowhere, down to Quay Bar, or through Duke's to Barca and Jackson's Wharf; six bars and something like 7,000 people out on the bridges, the courtyards, the terraces, the cobbles.
Take a trip down Canal Street, and marvel at the queues outside Praguefive, Manto, Metz. Turn the corner to Berlin or cross Piccadilly to the Roadhouse or Dry Bar. Then duck along Deansgate to Bar Coast, drive back along Whitworth Street; on Oxford Street and Oldham Street clubs and bars are putting the "sold out" signs up.
In Manchester the night-life culture matters, and not just to the queues of club regulars or the DJs, the songwriters, the music moguls and night-club owners. It matters because it's one of the city's key cultures, something living and thriving, something made in Manchester. It also matters because it generates jobs. The Hacienda, at its height, employed something like 40 people on a Saturday night: cloakroom staff, DJs, pot collectors and bar staff, doormen, and someone to put fluid in the smoke machine. And for every person directly employed, there must be four or five jobs relying on the scene, from taxi driving to club-wear design.
The boom in the night-time economy since the rave revolution of 1988 has been responsible for rejuvenating bleak areas of Manchester; the Hacienda brought life to a dead end of Whitworth Street, Sankey's Soap from 1994 onwards was the first sign of new life in Ancoats, and Barca and Duke's 92 in Castlefield, the Boardwalk and Atlas in Knott Mill, and Dry in the Northern Quarter, all moved into run-down areas and kick-started the long process back to prosperity. The pop music and club culture has become a tourist attraction, as well as a source of employment and cultural expression.
Manchester's well-established and unique night-time culture didn't begin with the rave revolution. It can be traced further back than that moment when someone dropped an E at the Hacienda one Friday in February 1988 as "Strings of Life" resounded through the speakers. The explosion of 1989 and 1990 - the so-called "Madchester" era - was inevitable. But perhaps 1982 is the more accurate start date - when New Order visited the Funhouse in New York. Or further back, to the 1830s, when thousands poured into the first industrial city in the world and set about creating their own street culture and their own forms of entertainment. The traditions that feed into the growth of Manchester music go back decades; there are the historic and cultural links between the city and the east coast of North America, from the cotton trade to the jazz age, then, via the Ship Canal, Burtonwood and John Mayall's tape recorder, to the blues boom and the glory years of Northern Soul.
When Detroit and Chicago started flinging out house and techno, Manchester tuned in, greedily importing it all. These traditions, and more - the craving for drugs that goes at least as far back as De Quincey, the key role of entrepreneurs in the city's history, Manchester's independent spirit - all created the conditions that made Madchester inevitable. …