It has long been said that Manchester has form when it comes to musical exports, but the stagnant years of Oasis throwbacks and pay-to-play promoting that blighted the 2000s are less publicised. Thankfully, the city has turned itself around and there are now some genuinely exciting prospects, suggesting there really could be something in the water. But back to the darker days. As guitar bands reeled from the slow death of the 20th century music industry (according to Frank Zappa), the local rave scene continued unabashed. If you grew up dipping your toes (and powdery fingers) into the free party scene, you’d have seen most of Manchester’s current crop of MCs cutting their teeth and mastering the art of crowd control.

Leading the charge from these DIY origins is Levelz, a collective of some of the best MCs, producers and DJs in the country. Their rise has been largely ignored by the old guard due to their lack of guitars and penchant for originality. Regardless, they can pull a crowd like no other and have risen up the chain of venues like Lazarus riding a bottle rocket.

Once a group gets to a certain point, the middlemen start sniffing about and venues demand that they talk through booking agents, managers, press liaison officers and anyone else who wants a piece of the pie. Recently, Levelz found out that their agents over at Elastic Artists are on the verge of going into administration, leaving a roster of artists out of pocket for several months of work. It’s pretty obvious that Levelz’s intentions aren’t monetary. There’s about 20 of them for a start, plus all of the other expenses that go with being hedonists whose jobs require late shifts. Still, the sheer cheek of some talentless suit funding their coke habit through your hard work must stick in the craw.

Musicians are notoriously poor when it comes to contracts and money. To a large degree, management can alleviate the pressure of such a banal yet hugely important side issue, leaving more time for creativity. In such cases, they are worth their weight in coppers. But the coattail riding has become so widespread that any progression is stymied, leaving musicians both stationary and out of pocket.

But Levelz seem to be taking it in their stride and using it to their advantage. They’ve produced a mock video of them threatening to take violent action against their previous paymasters and even have Rich Reason (their ringleader and Elastic Artists employee) gagged and bound, as well as managing to hack the social media accounts of EA, which makes for very amusing reading. It’s a humorous way to deal with a serious problem, and perhaps the only way in a nation that favours trickle-up economics in the court of law. Social media can make or break a company’s reputation, but it still feels that more should be done. Joining the Musicians’ Union is a good start, and PRS will collect and pay out more debts than the Lannisters.

A few years back, Dirty North played a huge support gig at Heaton Park. In fact, they were the only group not on the booking agent’s roster, a common trick employed to triple-lock the lining of pockets. Next time you see a gig with a line-up more at odds than the Labour shadow cabinet, look up who manages the artists and books the tour then avoid thinking the word ‘nepotism’. Despite playing to a crowd in excess of 50,000, they were paid peanuts by the promoter and not allowed to sell merchandise without consenting to a split of the profits. If it wasn’t for PRS they’d have been skinted. And yet this is commonly accepted practice.

I’ve met long-established musicians from Manchester’s old guard who drop down to their knees when meeting with a promoter or agent. It’s crushing to witness your heroes bow down to businessmen and all the more depressing when the realisation dawns – the only sure fire way for musicians to make money is to chow down on corporate cock whilst denying you have a gag reflex.

I hope that Levelz and the other artists get their money and I sincerely hope Elastic Artists also get what’s owed to them. Nothing less than an eternity of damnation will suffice. The funny thing is that we’re probably talking about a few hundred pounds. That is the reality of the grind that musicians face.

Levelz, meanwhile, have continued their Elastic Artists ruse with a faux police investigation and follow-up video. No doubt we haven’t heard the last of it either.

Nathan Mcilroy