Sunday, April 02, 2006

Harper's Bizarre?

Firstly I have to say that these words are my own personal opinions, and do not necessarily represent the views of my fellow workers. Harper's is (was?) one of the best live music venues in Hastings (if you didn't know already, St. Leonards-On-Sea is part of an urban south coastal sprawl including Hastings and Bexhill). Experimental DJ/VJ/live musicians collective HomeGrown have a monthly residency there. Saturday 25th March :- amazing how chaos, confusion, synchronicity and misunderstandings can actually transcend the planning and expectations of a situation and transform it into something quite different and unique. Firstly : an unintentional double-booking meant sharing the bill with percussionist vocalist Nana Tsiboe's African hi-life band - no probs there really, Nana lives in Hastings, it's a small town, everyone knows everyone - there's an upstairs room and a cellar bar, although it took us all quite a while to realise that both groups could have been playing simultaneously without any real sound-spilling issues. Secundo : for a change, instead of our (un)usual VJ projections, Mr. Illuminati Top-Cat managed to convince Harper's to let us put up a seriously big canvas on their front window, and let a graffiti artist paint on it outside in the street. This was all filmed by our VJ man Jake using some high-power spotlights - the police had a bit of a nose around, (it was well after midnight, and the night the clocks went forward an hour!), but they soon went away, presumably (and quite correctly) assuming that we were not a threat or danger to public order, or actively breaking any silly laws. (Thanks a lot guys!) There's a good moral buried in all of this somewhere - the so-called ReGeneration of the Hastings area is "in full swing", but, as our local media are not telling us, there's a veritable minefield of socio economico politico culturico issues bubbling away under the surface and being totally ignored. Ok so now we can expect an influx of "young, high earning, educated, trendy, and sophisticated" tourists and new residents - very nice.......and then? What will these people actually be doing to support the local community, raise the profiles of local artists, and make some kind of contribution to real life here, apart from putting property and restaurant prices up? The arts scene here is just as close as it gets to the real thing - what happened in/outside Harper's that night was a spontaneously generated cutting-edge-mixed-media-event with no publicity, no (door) money, no subsidy, and no thank you from anyone except the few people who saw it, and the Harper's organisers. I recently performed at a mixed media festival in Berlin - the organisers paid everyone's expenses, accommodation (even if it meant staying with friends), and food for 3 days - in other words we were well treated and respected for our work - no subsidy was available, but the place was jam packed all the time, and even the strangest bands and performances went down really well. OK Hastings isn't Berlin, but unless audiences actually get the chance to see and hear new things, how can they decide what they like or don't like? It's not the place of the state or the media to make these decisions for people. Meanwhile back here the local arts centre St. Mary's In The Castle has pretty much had the subsidy-money-plug pulled - the future of the place for really serious artistic projects is now very uncertain, while a lot of subsidy goes to the White Rock Theatre, which presents "typically English seaside town entertainment". Fair enough, there are some community-related activities for young people going on there, but I can't see these new hip tourists and residents being that interested in weird nostalgic remixes of The Tommy Steele Show, The Black & White Minstrel Show, and an endless stream of Abba, Queen, Elvis, Beatles, Monkees etc covers band gigs. Apart from anything else, I always thought that these "Entertainment" affairs put plenty of bums on seats, and are financially speaking doing quite nicely thank you. So why do they need subsidising? The whole "Art" scene is something else. In the good ol' days most successful artists only became famous because they were already rich, or had some form of financial "patronage". The modern day equivalent of a patron is The State, which in my view has gone totally in the wrong direction. Art is definitely not a mirror - leave that to the White Rock and company - it is a hammer - not to smash or break things, but to reshape them. I'm no expert - maybe I've missed some essential snippets of information which would render this whole debate null and void, but my intuition tells me I'm on the right track. So what next? Getting back to the Harper's Happening - this was a great evening's "entertainment", but with a slightly arty edge to it - nothing elitist or inaccessible about African music, DJ's with live musicians, or graffiti artists - just the opposite in fact. The street meets the beat with no repeats and no bums on the seats because the media's in retreat. We don't do this to get rich and famous, we do it because it's what we want to do, and we refuse to play the game in terms of mass culture control thinly disguised as "sustainable community resources" along with all this "new-speak" slowly eating away at our language, turning it into meaningless jargon. We're not demanding tons of money, just the opportunity to express ourselves as we see fit, regardless of trends, fashions, political correctness, business speak, delivery deadlines, outmoded social and cultural parameters, the needs of the public/private sector to capitalise on anything and everything for it's own ends, or any of the other obstacles getting in the way of real progress in this cold world of art. All I'm saying is there is a lot more room for debate, and if I upset a few people along the way, it can only be a good thing - nothing wrong in gently rattling cages or shaking walls, unless there really is something to hide! And people have the nerve to ask me "Why Aliens@C ?" We'll see....

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