Top 5 Most Influential Music Cities

top 5 musical cities

Ever wondered where your favourite music originated?

Where some of the  most popular Genres were born and nurtured?

Here we list the top 5 global cities that have helped shape music as we know it. 
Have you visited any of these places?

DETROIT, USA – Birthplace of Motown & Techno.

detroitDetroit perhaps most famously home to Motown records, a label thats style was so distinct it eventually became recognised as it’s own genre.The imprint was founded by Berry Gordy in the late 50’s. Originally called ‘Tamla’, once it became Motown it was the label that gave us some of the world’s most popular recording acts of the time (and to this day!)

“I grew up in Brooklyn, and my mom and pop had an extensive record collection, so Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder and all of those sounds and souls of Motown filled the house” Jay-Z

“I grew up in Brooklyn, and my mom and pop had an extensive record collection, so Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder and all of those sounds and souls of Motown filled the house” Jay-Z

Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson were all part of the Motown family, and their influence in today’s modern R&B cannot be disputed (Usher, Pharell, Drake, Timberlake).There was always a strong R&B culture alive in Detroit even before Motown, and later still came a strange mutation of the sound that got people really moving. Pioneered by George Clinton in 1967, the release of the (then called) The Parliament’s track ‘I wanna testify’ signalled the birth of ‘Funk’ as we know it.

Fast-forward 20 or so years and Detroit was hosting a new musical revolution – the arrival of ‘Techno’ music.

The Belleville Three  – L-R, Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson

The Belleville Three – L-R, Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson

It’s said that the movement was pioneered by the ‘Belleville three’ – Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins (the three studied at Belleville high school together) but the man responsible for influencing those guys was DJ Charles ‘The electrifying mojo’ Johnson who hosted the late night, 5 hour ‘Midnight Funk Association’ show that was played on a lot of Detroit stations.

The music Johnson played on the show was a mix of electronic pioneers (Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder etc) and other off-kilter new-wave stuff such as the B-52s, with a healthy dose of local Funk of course (courtesy of Parliament, Funkadelic, P-Funk or whatever they were called at that time).

Of the Belleville three Juan Atkins is the one who can probably claim to have the most influence on the genre. In the early 80’s Atkins founded the group Cybotron, whos 1984 release on Fantasy records was the first track to coin the term Techno (aptly titled ‘Techno City’) the following year Atkins released his seminal work under the moniker Model 500 ‘No UFO’s’ which is credited by many as the first true Detroit Techno production.

NEW YORK, USA – Hip Hop & New-Wave

new-yorkThere are a few who may argue that hip-hop didn’t originate solely in New York City. Then on the other hand there are many who would tell you the exact date and place it was born – August 11th 1973 at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the South Bronx. Clive Campbell (better known as DJ Kool Herc) DJ’d at his sister’s birthday party with two turntables and a guitar amplifier. Though Campbell was renowned for ‘toasting’ (speaking over the records) it wasn’t his rapping that changed the world that day.

Clive Campbell aka DJ Cool Herc

Clive Campbell aka DJ Cool Herc

It was the invention of ‘breaks’. After noticing what parts the crowd were mostly likely to dance to (the breaks in songs where most of the instruments dropped out and just the beat remained) he started using the same record on each turntable and just cutting between the two and repeating the breaks-beats. This was 6 years before people even started using the term ‘hip-hop’ which of course can’t even be labelled purely as a musical term, it encompasses Mcing, turntablism, b-boying and graffiti.

Hip-Hop music was basically made up of looped breaks, and then later came ‘Rap’ which was an accompanying rhythmic poetry set to the breaks usually in 16 bar measures.

It really goes without saying what influence NY Hip-Hop has had on the musical landscape. Hip-Hop/ Rap is the most dominant force in the global charts and has been for some time now. Around the same time, and only half an hour down the road, another, completely different, musical uprising was taking place.

“New York has always been a city of change and a city about change” Debbie Harry, Blondie

“New York has always been a city of change and a city about change” Debbie Harry, Blondie

In the mid to late 70’s NY’s legendary club GBGB’s was playing host to the first shows by bands such as Talking Heads, The Ramones and Blondie (among many many others!) giving birth to America’s very own flavour of Punk – New Wave. It is hard to pin down the ‘New Wave’ sound exactly, but most modern guitar-bands that you hear on the radio today would probably cite a couple of them as huge influences (even if just for bonus hipster-points..)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Indie & Pop

manchesterThough Manchester lost out to its neighbours Liverpool for birthing arguably the most influential band of all time (I think we know who I’m talking about..) the overall output from this rainy English city has been nothing short of remarkable, spanning over many different eras. One week in 1965 the US billboard top 3 was made up completely of Manchester exports (Freddie and The Dreamers, Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders and Herman’s Hermits).

In 1976 at The Lesser Trade Free Hall The Buzzcocks invited The Sex Pistols to come and join them to play in front of an audience that consisted of Tony Wilson (Factory Records) Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner (Joy Division) Morrissey, Mark E Smith (The Fall) AND Mick Hucknall (Simply Red), and that was in a crowd of around 40.

“Manchester's got everything except a beach” Ian Brown

“Manchester’s got everything except a beach” Ian Brown

During the 80’s and 90’s Factory Records famously released the best selling 12” record of all time (New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’) and The Hacienda club gave birth to Acid House and the ‘Madchester’ scene, which was made up of The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Primal Scream to name a few. Of course then you have to take into account who the ‘Madchester’ scene influenced – ever heard of a band called Oasis? I would guess a fair few of today’s guitar bands have been influenced by that group alone.

DUSSELDORF, GERMANY – Electronic Music

dusseldorfThough this may be a contentious choice, especially as its East-German cousin Berlin is more renowned in modern circles as THE city for electronic music, the small city of Dusseldorf has a lot to shout about when it comes to musical influence. You could argue that Dusseldorf is the birthplace of electronic music as we know it.

“For anyone of our generation involved in electronic music, Kraftwerk were the godfathers” Martin Gore, Depeche Mode

“For anyone of our generation involved in electronic music, Kraftwerk were the godfathers” Martin Gore, Depeche Mode

The city of course, is home to Kraftwerk. Without Kraftwerk there would be no Daft Punk or Aphex Twin. Their ‘futuristic’ sound has influenced David Bowie, Kanye West, Madonna and basically ANY electronic music producer plying their trade in house, electro or techno. Even Coldplay and Jay-Z have scored hits using Kraftwerk’s melodies. The city by the Rhein is also the home of other ‘Krautrock’ pioneers such as Neu! and La Dusseldorf.

NASHVILLE, USA – Country & Western

nashvilleHas any ‘sound’ lasted so long and been so consistent as ‘country’? During the 50’s Nashville became known as ‘Music City, USA’ and was the springboard for the careers of such hugely influential artists as Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline. The backbone of the songs are their emotive lyrics, usually self-deprecating and filled with metaphors for loneliness and desperation (that hasn’t changed..)

“Nashville is my home, and the reason I get to do what I love” Taylor Swift

“Nashville is my home, and the reason I get to do what I love” Taylor Swift

The term ‘Nashville sound’ was first mentioned in an article about Jim Reeves in 1958, with writer Colin Escott declaring Reeves’ ‘Four Walls’ to be the first ‘Nashville Sound’ record. Since then that sound has certainly evolved but its roots have remained firmly in American country, and has had a huge influence on The Eagles, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Taylor Swift and many more. Even today people still view Nashville as a mecca for music and so many young artists still flock there hoping to capture a bit of the local magic onto their recordings.

Other cities?

That’s my list of five cities that mean a lot to the evolution of music as we know it and, of course, that mean a lot to me.

But, what about all the other places that shaped the music we know and love? I could’ve picked from so many more – Liverpool, Chicago, London, Philadelphia, Paris, Havana, Berlin, Tokyo, Austin and on and on.

Hit me up in the comments and let me know what cities are crucial to your love of music.

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Lee Jones

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Tony - December 9, 2016 Reply

Detroit is so much more than just Motown and Techno music. In the 70’s through the 80’s, Detroit was one of the few cities in America where you could see original bands play original music, not covers. We all know the bigger names that can claim Detroit as home (Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Grand Funk, Romantics). But the local scene included great but ignored talent like The Look, Adrenalin, Rhythm Corps, Toby Redd and Bitter Sweet Alley, just to name a few. Detroit is truly the HOME OF ROCK AND ROLL!

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