I originally conceived of this piece about two months ago following a trip to Ireland in February. It was a story that I genuinely felt needed to be told. After writing the first version I sat on it, unsure what to do with it, who to give it to. I then came across Angus Finlayson’s article for FACT about the downside of crowd-funding culture.
While I agree with Angus on certain points he raises, there are others which I take issue with, and I thought that perhaps this piece was the best response that I could give. So here it is. While it focuses on what I see as positive aspects of crowd-funding I also hope it shines a light on some interesting talent presently brewing in Ireland.
We can’t so blithely dismiss the redeeming aspects a technology that has fundamentally changed, and continues to change, the world we live in.
Internet-enabled, always on, hyper-connectivity separates us more than it brings us together. Social media dumbs down the conversation. Facebook isn’t really about being friends with anyone. These cliché arguments are too often rolled out in the media when evidence to the contrary is all around us, waiting to be witnessed and understood if only we could stop moaning for a minute and open our eyes and ears. Of course it’s easy to lose track of the real world when permanently connected to the internet, but we can’t so blithely dismiss the redeeming aspects a technology that has fundamentally changed, and continues to change, the world we live in.
Tanaka – Collected
Today’s music producer can be as lonely as the Tumblr teen. Alone in a room surrounded by the glow of computers and equipment, making music that is often firs shared with, and consumed by, others through a computer. But this isn’t a story of disconnection: the technology that brings artists and fans together virtually also has the power to bring them together in real life, and to foster a real spirit of community and engagement.
Today’s music producer can be as lonely as the Tumblr teen.
“I think a sense of community is hugely important for us,” explains Ruairi Lynch aka Bantum, a young Irish producer behind the recent Lightbox tour. “As a bunch of solo electronic musicians you do miss the dynamics of being in a band or group, and this tour has definitely given everyone involved a creative boost in their output and performance. After every gig the guys just wanted to stay up making beats all night, and there were a number of collaborations during the tour.” Bantum was recounting his experience of the tour which saw him and nearly ten other young Irish electronic producers take to the buses and trains of their country for a showcase of music and the power of community as fostered by the internet.
On a cold February Sunday I walked into the Wicked Chicken, a small bar and venue in Limerick, intending to finally catch up with SertOne, a young Irish producer (pictured aboved) I’d discovered through some curation work I did last year. Unbeknownst to me, stepping into the venue would mark the start of an Alice-like journey through the rabbit-hole, to a world of electronic music and talent I never knew existed. At one end of the bar a young producer was pushing buttons on his 404 sampler, filling the space with warm bass and tumbling beats. Across from him was an old man, sipping a Guinness while seemingly lost in his thoughts. On the walls, visuals flickered, while near the entrance a growing group of music fans was slowly assembling. This was the Limerick leg of the Lightbox tour.
SertOne – ‘Off The Burn’
Lightbox was the brainchild of Bantum and another of the tour’s performing artists, Tenaka (real name Ronan Caroll). The idea was born after a gig and grew organically out of a very simple premise. “Ruairi and I got talking about putting on our own gigs after a show we played together last year,” Carroll recalls. “We spoke about how we could make the night unique and what kind of acts we could bring on board to make it something that had never been done before. The list of acts we were fans of and who were doing similar things as us grew and eventually we had a group of about 10 acts that would shuffle throughout the tour whenever someone couldn’t make a date.”
The idea was born after a gig and grew organically out of a very simple premise.
The name is a reference to the producers’ equipment and how it almost always involves some sort of light system – be it a monome, a 404 sampler or an Ableton controller. As the pair were keen to showcase Irish talent in a unique way, they started to think about how they could go one step further and not only bring artists together but also the public. “We wanted to bridge the gap between the artists and the spectators so we organised workshops before each gig so we could open up and show people how we go about creating and performing our music. We brought Feel Good Lost on board to provide visuals throughout the tour, again to close that gap between the audience and the stage and to make it an all-inclusive experience.”
The financial cost of putting on something like Lightbox could not be ignored, and the solution lay in the same technology that brings us all together at the click of a mouse. One of Lightbox’s artists, Simon Bird, who currently resides in Dublin, had made use of an Irish version of Kickstarter called Fundit to finance the vinyl run of his latest EP. “I had a target of 800 Euros and set a timeframe of four weeks to finance my EP. At the time I didn’t really expect it to work and thought that the best case scenario would be that by the end I’d be able to just about scrape past the target in time. To my surprise, less than 24 hours after setting it up and posting the link on Facebook, I’d raised all of the money. Given this success, when a Fundit was suggested for the tour, I was pretty confident that it could work.”
Beyond making it possible to jump the financial hurdle that keeps so many creative projects halted at the idea stage, Fundit was also attractive to all involved for its reward system. When asked what it was about using crowdsourcing that most appealed to them, the Lightbox crew point to the rewards system as a way of bringing artists and audience together in real, meaningful ways. This seems to echo the popularity of Kickstarter in the US which is currently being used by established artists such as Maga Bo, Swans and Earth’s Dylan Carlson, and institutions such as the annual Best Music Writing publication for precisely the same reasons: it empowers the creators and rewards the fans in better, more genuine ways. “A theme for the tour was to bridge the gap between performer and audience, and something like Fundit is a great opportunity to do that by offering masterclasses, workshops or goodies to those who donate,” Bantum explains. Tenaka is keen to point out that the rewards system is perfect for “giving back to those who have helped us and continue to help us get our music out there.”
Monto – ‘Throwaway 2’
Finding creative ways to reward donors is key as more and more people look to crowd-funding to finance their own initiatives, and in that regard Lightbox offered one of the more genuinely attractive reward options I’ve seen so far: for €200 or more the tour would stop at your house. The opportunity to have some of Ireland’s best up-and-coming electronic talent perform for you and your friends is an attractive one.
“Crowd funding gives people the opportunity to be a real part of a project,” adds SertOne. “The same people who donated are the ones who turned out to the workshops and were front row at the shows.” He then touches on another aspect of crowd funding, arguably the one that’s most key to its success as a model. “It’s a perfect way for fans to interact with the artists. It kind of turns the old model on its head: it used to be that the fans bought CDs or merch that gave artists the budget to do tours and shows, but now the fans fund the tours and projects and in return are rewarded with goodies.”
Tenaka echoes this sentiment with regards to the potential these efforts have to pave the way for alternatives in a music industry that is still in flux and still in search of new ways to survive and thrive. “These crowd-funding sites shouldn’t be looked at as trying to get people to donate to your project, they should be looked at as a way to connect with fans and to build a relationship with those who dig what you are doing and want to get involved.”
Finding creative ways to reward donors is key as more and more people look to crowd-funding to finance their own initiative.
One of the aspects of Lightbox I found most interesting when I first met the participaring artists in Limerick was that musical affinities hadn’t been the primary reason for their banding together. When I asked SertOne to describe what community meant to him after the tour, he explained that “the best thing about the community is our variety. None of us are making the exact same music yet it is all loosely connected via the methods we use to create and write,” before adding that “it would be much more boring if we did all make the same music.”
The variety of styles and approaches also served an educational purpose for some of the artists. Monto, originally from Wicklow Town and currently based in Waterford, notes that “I was interested in seeing how the other lads interacted with their equipment on stage. I wanted to study their creative processes too.” It’s easy for artists to band together when united by a common denominator such as genre, it brings a sort of musical safety in numbers yet it doesn’t offer the same potentials for learning or creativity. In much the same way that there’s been an increasing move away from genre-specific nights towards broader events and DJ/live sets, an initiative like Lightbox feeds into this centrifugal process and gives audiences more variety, showing the links that exist between sometimes walled-off scenes. “At the start of the tour community didn’t really mean that much to me,” Monto tells me when questioned on the subject, “but as we progressed through the tour it definitely grew on me a bit. In Wicklow Town and Waterford there isn’t really anyone else doing this kind of thing, or listening to this kind of music regularly, so it was deadly for me to hang out with a group of like-minded people for a week.
Bantum – ‘Slide’
“It’d be great to see more of a community in electronic music in Ireland,” he continues, “and not just on Facebook. There were a couple of nights over the week where we went over to our mate Jack’s gaff and just fucked around making songs and sharing ideas. It’d be cool to see more stuff like that happening more often.”
Initiatives such as Lightbox are not unique to Ireland of course, yet there are lessons to be learned from it that can benefit everyone. I’ve seen the same sort of spirit driving musical communities in Manchester, where Hoya:Hoya has become England’s most essential clubnight, and in Brighton, where the Community Scratch Games have been working for years now with artists and fans in Ireland, England, Sweden and Germany to make things happen without waiting for anyone to tell them to do it, or how to do it.
While sanctimonious criticism has its place, so too does optimistic support.
The assumption that the crowd-funding model gives up a lot of what can be really meaningful about the dynamic between artist and audience is, I think, too easy a dismissal – like saying that Twitter devalues reading. Crowd-funding is as capable of generating and reinforcing new, meaningful dynamics between artists and audiences as it is of bringing creative projects to life. If it wasn’t for crowd-funding, I would never have discovered the Lightbox collective – a group of young creatives who, unlike me, have grown up in a world where the previous financial system that supported music no longer exists. Their enthusiasm was, as this piece no doubt attests to, infectious. So while sanctimonious criticism has its place, so too does optimistic support. Whatever happens next, the seeds have been sown deep enough that they will continue to take root and grow.