Image via WikipediaI don’t know what happened to me at In The City this week – maybe it was the energy of Unconvention, or the razor sharp minds who gathered at Salford’s Trinity Church for the anti-In The City.
I suppose it can all be summed up by In The City’s final panel – entitled “Has The Music Industry Gone Full Circle”. The panelists included Alan McGee (he of Creation records and “I discovered Oasis” fame), a gent who’d just left Warner and was keen to express how happy he was to leave, a chap who still worked at Columbia (and who spent a good few minutes performing fellatio on his parent company, Sony, for being the “ultimate media company”), a fellow who remembers buying Elvis’ first single and, as panel moderator, Andrew Loog Oldham, manager of the Rolling Stones. At the last minute, Mr. Oldham invited a member of the audience to join the panel: Geoff Travis, founder of Rough Trade Records. The only quote that sticks in my mind, and which I believe bears repeating, is from the venerable Mr. Travis:
“It’s about that thrill. The thrill of finding a new artist, when all of a sudden you’re 13 again, in the back of a musty old shop, flicking through the 3 racks of new singles and finding the gem that will possess your heart for the coming weeks.”
As if to back up those words, I bumped into Mr. Travis (who must be in his 60s by now) at the front row of at least 3 very sweaty rooms, watching the bands.
At the SXSW panels, I summarized the questions and answers of participants. But as I reviewed my notes for this post, I couldn’t bring myself to transcribe the vacuous nostalgia and irrelevant drivel from the ITC panels. It’s not that what was said was entirely irrelevant, I suppose, but as has been the problem with the music industry, there was absolutely NO conversation. They were up “there”. We were down “here”.
It was ironic that a recurring theme of some of the panels was how “technology had removed the mystery from rock bands”. It seemed that the reason d’etre of the panels was to impose that same sort of mystery on the panelists.
The passion, excitement and accessibility of the attendees at UnConvention was simply not present at In The City – not only that, it seemed that ITC simply did not have a platform for labels, artists and zines working at the most exciting level of the music industry. Unconvention celebrated that in every sense.
As with the majority of conferences the best conversations occurred after the panel finished – and WHAT conversation! Implementing “use-it-or-lose-it” copyright, the importance of supporting local music businesses, creating infrastructure (legal, pr, accounting) for said businesses; the realization that all too often music businesses can work in a bubble, unaware that across the street someone who can help achieve their aims toils also; reinventing the label to be a model of what artists need, consumers want and labels can deliver – making the label a conduit of information and a focal point for artist and consumer contact.
The buzz in the foyer of Sacred Trinity was electric as label startups, digital services and indie musicians bounced ideas and exchanged details – the most thrilling discovery was just how many bands, labels and artists were in a similar situation – there was an immense sense of camaraderie, founded on the simple realization that everyone was pushing in the same direction.
Companies like SoundofMonkey, iThinkMusic, Bearded Magazine and innumerable merchandise, publishing and graphic artist discovered each other and began discussing the problems and solutions in their daily businesses. There simply is not substitute to getting a group of people with ideas in a room and watching those ideas get refined, drawn out and expanded upon for the benefit of all involved.
So, anyway, onto the music.
Overall, I was surprised at the real lack of “blow-me-away” artists, although there were a few. Hearteningly, many of Belfast or San Francisco’s top bands (Cutaways, Cashier #9, Not Squares, Two Door Cinema Club, Overview, Low Red Land, Geographer, Two Sheds) would easily hold their own against this lineup. Here’re my top 5…
To The Bones – Angular, glorious rock with the kind of twists and turns that’d make Deerhoof proud.
Toolshed – Their chamber jazz, avant-garde glory suited the Church setting in Salford very well. Vocalist Seaming To’s operatic reaches brought the house down.
Down The Tiny Steps Glaswegian electro-trio, mixing spoken word vocals and layered and sampled vocals, these guys rocked Piccadilly Records on Tuesday. Big shout to Laura & Darryl at the store for ruling (and for hooking me up w/ that Cheval Sombre 7″!)
Barbarians – Only the 30 or so people in that room (The Tiger Club) know what happened when Barbarians started.
My Toys Like Me were an interesting electronica-tinged wail-fest.