Monday, 29 July 2013

A new music team programmes at Town Hall and Symphony Hall

Before we get to the core of this post... what exactly does the word festival actually mean? 

Artwork courtesy Sound Lounge 21
The ones that get the coverage are full-on affairs featuring tents, endless mud and excess, often with clear intent to relieve you of as much money as possible. But there are also benevolent and idealistic affairs that stretch the imagination, not expressly commercially driven, like Shambala. Then there are the (relatively) sedate non-residential affairs like Moseley Folk or Reggae City. And that’s not counting classical institutions like Three Choirs or Lichfield.

So, a wide range of definitions. But all of them ask you to pay to get in. When you look at free festivals, it’s different rules. Summer freebies covered on this blog (Simmer Down and Ben Drummond’s Sutton Roots festival) are driven differently. Music and doing something good and right go together much more obviously. What the ‘good and right’ might be varies enormously.

That’s what makes this coming weekend’s Sound Lounge 21 Summer Music Festival really rather interesting. It’s not just the music, appetising is it is; it’s also how the thing came together, and why.

I’m sitting in the bowels of Symphony Hall, at a table with Town Hall and Symphony Hall staffers, including Lyle Bignon, who after last year’s OxjamBrum, is mentoring a new team of very young festival organisers. It’s the weekly Sound Lounge planning meeting; the last before a week of frantic and immersive event craziness. The team – six are here, all ridiculously young – are remarkably calm, as they wade through issues like parking permissions, get in times, staffing levels, health and safety issues.

The aim of the festival is not just to celebrate great local music - always a good thing – but to blood a new generation of promoters and music entrepreneurs. This is hugely important. While we have a set of very experienced and in the main responsible and committed music promoters, there's always room for a richer mix of music operators. Town Hall and Symphony Hall are being deliberately proactive in setting up this year's team. It’s a laudable aim. THSH is set up as a charity, with charitable goals. Supported by the council, that allows events like Jazzlines Free Gigs, Folk For Free, and now Sound Lounge 21
Fast-rising Call Me Unique plays the Town Hall on Friday
So the team have come up with a very attractive line-up over three days, all free, all in the city centre, at Town Hall and Symphony Hall over next weekend. A highlight is the Friday 2nd August evening opener at Town Hall, with 1Eye, Phe Phe and Call Me Unique. Saturday afternoon at Symphony Hall looks interesting, branded as Handpicked and Homegrown, and the event wraps on Sunday night with an indie/B-Town line-up back at the Town Hall. 
... and so do 1EYE 
Head to the Sound Lounge Facebook page, and you’ll see the work of Rumer Cooper and Omar Khan. The core music programming is in the hands of Nick Hart and Reuben Reynolds – although putting the line-up together took time and a lot of group-wide discussion. 

When you programme a festival, you're the gatekeepers for the event. You pick the acts. Not always a smooth task.How easy was it to pick the performers?
Amy Martin (creative producer). We looked at other events that we liked the style and feel of. Many of those events had a mix of music genres. So that was a good starting point. When it came to programming, everybody put forward their suggestions – up to ten artists.
Nick Hart We wanted to give exposure to West Midlands – Birmingham – bands, generally under 25 years of age, close to the audience we want to attract. They also had to fit in our budget… and we wanted themes for each of the three days, so it all hangs together well. 
So on Friday, at the Town Hall we’ve got a funk/soul/reggae mix. On Saturday we’ve gone for something laid-back, making the best of an afternoon event in Symphony Hall’s foyer. Then on Sunday we're showcasing Indie, because that’s worth shouting about. 
Redditch's New Killer Shoes at the Town Hall on Sunday. Big YouTube numbers
How much argument was there in pulling the line-up together? There’s always arguments about music when making these kinds of decisions? 
Amy Not so much arguments, as violence….
Reuben Reynolds We just looked at how well acts worked together. That’s what it came down to.
It’s interesting to compare and contrast what you’re doing with other festivals - commercial festivals, with a bit of a conscience – you’re being driven by other goals. 
Lyle Bignon It’s worth pointing out that the festival is free. There aren’t any commercial pressures.

Amy This event might lead to jobs, or people being empowered to put on their own events. 
So, Amy, is this about training a new generation of promoters? 
Absolutely. Younger, and more diverse. This investment has gone into a small group, so they get more out of it.
And the name?
Yulia Spirina: It's Symphony Hall's 21st Birthday - and between us we came up with the Sound Lounge name. 
Hopefully, Sound Lounge 21 will be a success... and hopefully this will lead to a yearly event. Obviously, the team is benefiting hugely from the Town Hall and Symphony Hall’s facilities; but clearly, the relationship goes two ways. What is beyond doubt is the laudable goal of delivering more experienced music operators into our local music infrastructure. Maybe the team will stay together; what is more likely is that individuals will go on to involve themselves in music and creative areas in a host of different ways. And if we do this every year, without fail, the chances are that the city will acquire a team of individuals who can grow with the music they are championing. 

Sound Lounge 21 website

Sound Lounge 21 facebook

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