Up North Is Going Up: How Michael Adex’s NQ Empire Is Paying It Forward ⏩

Manchester’s creative scene was built on community spirit. From The Haçienda in the ‘80s through to NQ’s growing empire today, the city has come a long way to becoming the respected stomping ground for musicians that it is currently, with grassroot promoters, arts organisations, community radio stations and independent labels playing key roles in helping to push things forward.

With Salford’s Sounds Of The City event, the Manchester International Festival and Beyond The Music showcase ushering through local talent—alongside BBC Radio 6 Music Festival, Pie Radio’s Kings Of Amapiano, Sofar Sounds, Parklife and the brand new Co-Op Live bringing international artists onto Northern territory—0161 has seen pivotal development in terms of the music infrastructure and a significant expansion in opportunity and support from the rest of the country. From tastemakers and artists to music entrepreneurs, the community spirit is the golden thread that runs through the scene up North, and needless to say, Michael Adex—the entrepreneurial wizard and Forbes co-signed label head of NQ—has been a major force in helping to change the creative landscape here for the better.

What initially started as a YouTube experiment called Northern Quarterz in 2018 has since become a much-needed stable for musicians and entertainers, with an impressive roster of rappers (Aitch, MIST, Morrisson, Blanco and more), as well as producers and DJs under their wings. NQ Legacy is the company’s latest venture, one which champions young talent and offers mentoring, subsidised studio space, networking sessions, workshops and tickets to music events. For Adex, the early beginnings of NQ was all about recognising fresh talent in the city, and it is something he wants to continue doing despite the major success he and his team have achieved over the years. “We started our journey knowing that we weren’t going to restrain ourselves; we wanted to start something bigger,” he explains. “We knew where we came from, and we knew the impact we wanted to make beyond a certain radius.”

NQ Legacy was created as a platform which could give budding creatives that all-important first opportunity. In an industry that’s becoming increasingly competitive and difficult to access, NQ Legacy’s central aim is to spark curiosity and ignite creativity. Adex explains that it was significant for the platform to educate on all roles, those that newcomers to the industry may be unaware of. He makes clear that the goal is to “give young people a step into the industry, a first glimpse which hopefully sparks curiosity leading budding creatives wanting to know more.”

In a turbulent financial time affecting arts funding and grants, there are more barriers than ever for young people trying to turn creative passion into a career. As Adex goes on to explain, learning everything you can about the music industry is highly important. “Education is crucial,” he says, “and the more opportunities there are for young people to learn and enter through practical situations, the better. Without having the information or ability to learn, individuals will not be able to rise above a certain level. And if they’re never given the opportunity in the first place, they will never get the chance to act on and master their craft. Conversations go a long way in developing understanding more accurately than reading something in a book or hearing something in a video.”

“If you’re not pushing yourself or trying to elevate, you will restrict yourself from new opportunities or ways of doing things.”

Though born and based in Manchester, NQ has always had global dreams. This forward way of thinking translates to the NQ Agenda, which Adex says is to “claim the city, push the city and find a real agenda for the city.” Before the establishment of NQ, Adex noticed a need for change: “There were a lot of talented people with no real belief in themselves or no real thought of even pursuing passions beyond just a hobby. And it’s quite sad that there aren’t enough role models for young creatives from these regions to provide them with the belief they can do it.” What followed was a call to action; Adex wanted to put on for his city in a way that hadn’t been done before.

Of course, the success of NQ didn’t just happen overnight. Adex and his team have worked tirelessly to make a vision the reality it is today. When asked for what advice he would give to budding next-gen creatives who’d want to follow suit, he emphasised the importance of being “open-minded. It is key to stay hungry and constantly refresh and learn new ways of doing things.” Entering the scene as a self-starter, Adex has pioneered the way for upcoming entrepreneurial talent; he only really had himself to rely on. “If you’re not pushing yourself or trying to elevate, you will restrict yourself from new opportunities or ways of doing things,” he says. “Travelling has been a big one for me, getting to know different people and having the ability to unlock different things within yourself you didn’t know were there. Making a name is the end goal, but the route to this is by keeping up to speed with the ‘new world’, staying away from complacency and trying new things as much as you can. Growth comes out of challenge, rather than comfort.”

Manchester’s DIY, homegrown nature provides the city with a great amount of control and agency, meaning it is able to support the growth of its creative sector in a healthy and sustainable way. As Adex and I wrap up our chat, I ask him what he admires about the Manchester scene today. He pauses to think of how he could sum it up in just a few words, before responding: “In a day and age where it’s easy to get caught up and just follow the trends, Manchester has always been the trendsetters. Up North, people are proud of how we express ourselves. We’re confident people—never shy! We’ve never been afraid to speak our minds and, for that reason, we’re super proud of where we come from. So, the word I’d use is real. Manchester, up North, the people are very real. What you see is what you get.”

Bubbling in character and strong in what it stands for, the future is bright for Manchester’s next wave. It goes without saying: Manny has a rich musical history, with so many stories to tell, independent hotspots, an incredible rave scene, and a DIY way of working. For this reason, the city is a talent-making machine. So, who’s up next? “Nemzzz, [ K S R ] and Tunde,” Adex suggests, but not forgetting Meekz, Akemi Fox, Meduulla, Prido, 2B.Frank, Victoria Jane, Megan Wroe, Antony Szmierek, OneDa, Superlative, July 7—all of whom are continuing to put Manny on the map.

Posted on May 28, 2024