“From a social perspective, from a cultural perspective, from a tourism and economic perspective – music is so entrenched into everything we do as a city. For Liverpool, a city that has so much music in its DNA, it’s unthinkable that we don’t currently have any concrete music policy.”
Speaking ahead of the forthcoming conference, Liverpool, Music City? to be held at Constellations on Thursday 4th May, Bido Lito! editor-in-chief, Craig Pennington gives us his thoughts on why the city is in critical need of an independent, community-driven, ‘Music Office.’
What classifies Liverpool as a global hub for musical creativity? What is happening to the ecology of the city’s musical milieu? How are we going to cultivate and educate the next generation of artists in the city? As of yet, these questions remain unanswered: “What we so desperately need is proper academic research and investigation,” Craig tell us. “As a city, we need to be able to make collective, community-inspired policy decisions that are informed by comprehensive studies surrounding Liverpool’s musical ecosystem.” Enlisting the support of Liverpool John Moores University and Constellations, Bido Lito! will look to begin the process of understanding just what it is that Liverpool needs to fulfill its UNESCO-certified title of ‘City of Music.’
A permanent recognition of “music’s place at the heart of Liverpool’s contemporary culture, education and economy,” the UNESCO award was designed to reinforce the value that music had within Liverpool’s iconic cultural identity:
“Liverpool plans to use the permanent UNESCO designation and its membership of the global Creative Cities Network to focus cultural policy and activity in relation to music in the City, delivering a more joined-up and visible music offer and increase opportunities for cultural consumption and production, particularly amongst children and young people.” – UNESCO
On paper, this was and still remains a thrilling prospect, but to what extent has the local music industry and the city’s local council honoured their commitment to Liverpool’s musical community? In the mind of Constellations’ Rebecca Pope…there’s still work to be done “A music scene isn’t a gift from above – it’s a process of people sharing their mutual passion, giving their time and their resources into an economic system that sadly needs feeding. Our city’s music scene has strong connections; by adding in clear lines of communication between those active within the musical community and those whom are perceived as policy makers, we hope to create a network that will be more resilient to the changes happening around us.”
From recording studios, to grassroots music venues and the city’s thriving festival scene, Liverpool’s musical environment is comprised of a complex network of interwoven micro-communities. Bido’s ambition is a breath of fresh air within an industry that unfortunately lacks clarity: How can Liverpool move forward in a more cohesive and cooperative way? “It’s got to be a collective response,” says Craig. “I think the idea of a night mayor in places like Amsterdam and London is very interesting, but I don’t think that it’s right for Liverpool. What we want to establish is an independent, community-focused office that the music industry views as representative of their interests. It won’t be self-serving, it won’t have commercial interests – it will be there solely for the good of Liverpool’s musical community.”
Possibly the most stark and well-publicised facet of the music industry’s recent distress, the mass-closure of independent venues across the nation is already having a telling effect on both the culture and economy that surrounds the industry. As Craig notes, Bristol’s 2016 Live Music Census showed that music venues contributed an incredible £123 million of revenue towards their city’s local economy but conversely 50% of the city’s venues were also under threat by external forces such as property development, licensing and noise issues. Amid the recent closure of venues such as; Mello Mello, The Kazimier, Static Gallery and the ongoing threat being posed to venues like 24 Kitchen Street, Liverpool is no stranger to this national narrative. Fertile soil for a far greater industry, grassroots music venues such as these have long provided up-and-coming artists with their first real exposure to live music. Take, for example, Or:la – a DJ who was given the opportunity to hone her talents with a residency at local venue, 24 Kitchen Street. Having now played across Europe and topped bills in iconic nightclubs the likes of Fabric and Phonox, Or:la’s first experiences within Liverpool’s grassroots musical community have paved the way for an incredibly bright future. Whether it’s getting their first listen or their first gig, Liverpool’s independent music venues help ferry artists upstream towards a far greater river of record deals and worldwide tours; if this stream were to dry up, the effects would be felt all the way to the top of the industry.
Organisations and independent bodies such as the Night-time Industries Association, with whom Constellations and a number of other Liverpool-based venues are proudly aligned, offer resources and a wealth of crowd-sourced knowledge to its members. The ability to learn from the experiences of other venue owners and figures within the industry is invaluable. This sharing of resources offers a national context to often uniquely local issues. It is upon this ethos that Bido Lito, LJMU and Constellations wish to build; if we can have a national network of support for the independent sector of the music industry, why not a city-based one?
The Liverpool City Music Office will, in the words of Bido!, be “run by us, the city’s music community.” A self-governing body with a united, wholly-independent voice, that is committed to solely investing its time and resources into the city’s musical identity. Bido Lito! cites that to be effective, such a body would need to serve as “an honest broker, a positive mediator between the city and the music community.” Succinct, and certainly much-needed, such a body would provide clarity in communications between music-related businesses and the city’s council.
There is no pretense that Liverpool, in many respects, is a thriving musical city; we are home to the largest festival of African culture in the UK, we have produced a number of genre-defining bands and throughout the week we have musical entertainment across the city. Yet, it is the longevity and advancement of this culture within an unprecedentedly harsh economy and political environment that Bido Lito! will look to examine over the coming months. Speaking with Craig, we found that the reaction thus far have been overwhelming: “I think that it’s emblematic of the fact that it’s the right time to have this conversation. There have been so many points of friction over the past three or four years involving various elements of the whole musical agenda. I think the idea of some kind of community-based, industry-focused solution couldn’t come at a more appropriate time. Having control over how Liverpool’s music culture evolves is something that people are really warming to. The event is going to have a whole range of people from across Liverpool’s musical ecosystem offering their personal insights on the matter.”
Join Bido Lito! and Liverpool John Moores University at Constellations on 4th May to become part of the conversation – Speaking at the Conference will be Berlin Club Commissioner, Pamela Shobess & Fifon Lewis from Sound Diplomacy, the leading global advisor on music cities and market development.