We had the privilege of being invited to AVA London this year as a delegate, experiencing the passion of the most fiercely independent and influential figures in contemporary music and culture

“Quite a few years ago I realised that just being an artist was a privilege,” setting the tone for a day that would be an in depth exploration of the music industry was the eloquent and magnetic Brian Eno.

Much like his music and the day ahead, his answers were expansive and layered. Complex, but somehow crystal clear on contemplation, again like his music, Eno brought the theatre in the British Library on a passionate journey of discovery. The topic? The music industry’s role in climate change. 

Brian Eno was joined on stage by Donna Grantis, perhaps best known as Prince’s regular guitarist, but both voices were there representing EathPercent. It’s a charity that encourages artists to donate a small percentage of their income which is diverted to impactful organisations dealing with climate change.

“We couldn’t count on conventional politics to solve the problem,” explains Eno. “Culture is big business. Taking a little slice of that and keeping the planet running… Even if you’re in the music industry you still rely on a workable planet!”

When questioned about why art is such a catalyst for change, Eno appropriately muses that “the possibility of a different world is the point of art”.

“Art is a way of experimenting with feelings without killing yourself… You can close the book if you’re troubled. It prepares you for real feelings.”

“The thrill of art is when you don’t understand why something is so powerful.”

Talk about a bar being set… Next it was on to the first of two talks hosted by Trippin, an excellent travel platform that “connects travel, culture and creativity”. This discussion, Beyond Hype, focused on how micro-scenes are influencing global trends. 

“Doing something that’s for your community, is part of what music culture is. Since the pandemic, everything has been supercharged,” said Paul Geddis from Sonar. 

The conversation did give a lot of credit to community driven projects, but some were quick to point out that “trying to stay local is a very romantic view”. Community without a purpose for wider impact may be redundant.

Every country has micro scenes, on our doorstep in Ireland and the UK, and while accomplishments are shared, struggles are often not. Privileges exist in the Global North, and everyone may want the same thing, to progress their art and get recognition, the ways into this can be more turbulent in less recognised spaces.

“Global success allows money to come back into the source of the sound from the Global North.”

Derek Debru is from Nyege Nyege, a Uganda-based record label, booking agency, artist residency and annual pan African festival of arts.

“Micro scene can be defined by shared values – from Nairobi to South Africa – it’s important for an artist to sustain a livelihood through their work,” he says. “It has to go beyond hype and tokenism.”

How? By building meaningful relationships.

It didn’t take long to realise that AVA’s expert curation doesn’t just make people dance. Every talk and discussion at this conference was a must attend. Like trying to decide on two of your favourite DJs to see, we had our first difficult decision to make. The Art of Event Curation or Creating New Realities with It’s Nice That and Pitch Studios. We chose the former.

“Event curation is a delicate mix of what the audience want and what they didn’t know they needed”

“Event curation is a delicate mix of what the audience want and what they didn’t know they needed,” began host Lisa Simpson of Easol. The panel is an incredible mix of independent promoters and community makers, including AVA Festival founder Sarah McBriar, the hilariously passionate Pau Cristòful of Primavera, Australia’s Filippo Palermo, Nathaneal Williams from Colour Factory and another appearance from Derek Debru from Nyege Nyege.

The prevailing conversation centres around the pressures felt from larger promoter organisations and their vast networks, leading to a need to be far ahead of the curve when it comes to booking policies and artistic influences on their events. 

You really got the sense that AVA had fostered this opportunity for sharing knowledge, a forum for independence to thrive.

“Taking risks is super important,” says Sarah from AVA. “You have to be confident to take a risk to stand out from the crowd. Booking a popular act doesn’t give you a special essence.”

“We need more promoters who aren’t scared to put it on the line,” explains Nathaneal Williams.

Across the two days some more highlights included a Resident Advisor Exchange with Charli XCX, an opening keynote on the Friday in Koko in Camden with Elijah and an incredible back and forth with TTM collaborator Tara Kumar and influential music figure Grace Ladoja.

To finish though, there’s one more chat that stole the show for us. 

Called Curating Contemporary Culture, it was hosted by Trippin founder Sam Blenkinsopp. Joining Sam was Boiler Room creative director Amar Ediriwira, Foundation FM founder Frankie Wells, curator from The Standard Hotel London Nick Hadfield and Halina Kaszycka-Williams from British Library. 

A fascinating meeting of curatorial minds working across some of the most unique spaces in global music and culture exploration.

The discussion spanned topics of marrying creativity and commerciality, the curation of the crowd itself, and struggles with curation in the digital realm.

But one quote tied up the beginning and end of day one of the conference nicely.

“It took a year for Boiler Room to do a show in Damascus,” explained Amar. “Having the space to explore the contemporary experience in Syria – those who left those who stayed…Learning loads from experiencing different curators around the world – it’s a privilege.”

Many of the speakers discussed the privilege of creating and curating, and the main takeaway? If we’re privileged enough to do this, we have to give back to the communities we’re surrounding ourselves with.


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