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Mike does UK: Pt 1 – Music Cities Convention, Brighton, UK

30 Jun



WAM’s CEO Mike Harris recently went on a quick UK mission to lay the foundations for better championing WA music to international audiences. From these panels and presentations, a heap of inspiration was gained as to how WA and Perth positions itself in a global music context, amongst other things. With frantically scribbled notes now deciphered, we present a series of ideas Mike encountered during these experiences.

MUSIC CITIES CONVENTION: Brighton, UK, Wednesday 18 May 2016

There is no doubt that this year’s Music Cities Convention was a bit more up and down than last year’s. The highs were on par but there were a few flat spots. In saying that, this still remains the best conference I have been to whether it’s music focused or more broadly arts based.

Music Cities is looking for an Australian partner and I think this would be a terrific thing for Perth to be part of, as we have an at risk music scene but it also has a night time scene that is at risk of becoming overly centralised and very narrowly focused, subject to ridiculous red tape and restrictions.

The highlights of the convention are clear to the reader as are the less engaging sessions.

Read on and enjoy…


Panel 1 | Artists: City Festivals and Urban Renewal

This Panel mostly didn’t deliver much that was new, but did serve to refresh and remind of some of the work being undertaken in cities around the world, including Adelaide.

  • Joe Hay from Adelaide (SA Gov’t) discussed their Vibrant Cities Policies and how that has lead to a change in regulations around venues.
  • The Sunderland (UK) example was interesting in that it was a bit of a wasteland with people looking elsewhere for their entertainment but the introduction of the Summer Streets Festival has increasingly brought people into the city and activated unused spaces throughout the year.
  • In was noted that music festivals can also drive green practices and reach/sell the notion of better environmental practices to large numbers.


Presentation 1 | Ebola and Guinea: Music as a Tool for Public Health and Recovery

These short presentations (25 minutes each) were a little hit and miss, most were quite useful and interesting, and in many cases were better focused and more relevant than the Panel sessions. This one in particular was interesting from the point of view of music’s crucial role in a potentially catastrophic situation:

  • Concerns about the impact of Ebola and the ability to reach communities and support the case for significant cultural changes to behavior. West African music artists were enrolled to take a leading role in public education, with the Africa Stop Ebola campaign.
  • Health messages were delivered in local languages and a song contest was set up that lead to many songs being produced in both dialect and jargon.
  • Being run through health agencies the use of music and musicians were assessed specifically to ensure it was actually an effective comms channel, not just popular. The impact and effectiveness of music was considered very positive, both the use of celebrity musos and the use of song to transmit memorable messages.


Presentation 2 | San Franscisco: Agents of Change: Noise, Building Codes and Development

Now we’re talking; this is where the day started hitting the sort of notes it did in 2015. I found Jocelyn Kane to be engaging and her enthusiasm and wit (and swearing) made her a compelling speaker.

  • An increase in development during the boom time/s has left SanFran with a clash of cultures between residential and entertainment. Jocelyn showed an overlay with licensed residential areas over the past twenty years, where development has taken place right on top of each other.
  • The Entertainment Commission, of which Jocelyn is Executive Director, is part of the SanFran City government. It regulates, promotes and enhances entertainment and nightlife in the city of San Francisco. The seven-member commission has authority to accept, review and gather information to conduct hearings for entertainment-related permit applications.
  • It was successful in its establishment through working out whom in government would champion the cause of the entertainment industry, having economic and participation data to support their arguments and a very strong personality driving it along.
  • Successes include: the requirement to be involved in any development application within 100M of an entertainment venue; the obligation of developers to disclose to new lessees or buyers any noise, traffic issues or other inconveniences; and, if a venue is operating within the law they cannot be considered a nuisance or in the wrong. Superb!



Presentation 3 | Busking: Improving Busking Policy as a tool for Animating Public Space

London has a Director of Busking, who knew! Interesting presentation without a great deal of high-end significance but they do ensure a lot of opportunities exist for a lot of artists, and no busking, no Ed Sheeran. Take that how you will…

  • Licensing kills off spontaneity and goes against the ethos of busking in the first place.
  • In the UK busking is legal unless by-laws specifically ban it.


Panel 2 | Pop-Ups: Regenerating Public Spaces and the Artists Role

  • Pop-Up venues are pretty much the norm, especially surrounding events such as the Fringe Festival in Perth. But in the UK they have gone a step further with an organisation called Meanwhile Space that identifies and sources empty spaces, then matching them up with organisations/artists seeking spaces to operate or perform out of.
  • Meanwhile Space make all the arrangements including any licensing and leasing required. They in fact operate as interim landlords dealing directly with all parties. This is a great idea!
  • Outside Meanwhile Space there are countless examples of Pop-Up spaces not just benefiting the artists and organisations in that space but for example Churchill Square in Edmonton saw a significant drop in crime when spaces became Pop-Ups.
  • No rent can be preferable to reduced rents as it doesn’t impact on the real estate’s book values. This may be a UK thing more than here.
  • Meanwhile over in Amsterdam (also see Night Mayors below): the City of Amsterdam is creating Creative Hubs in old office buildings with 60 incubators in place totaling 170,000m2 and hoping to increase this by 10,000m2 each year.


Presentation 4 | Night Time Economy: Planning and Improving Our Night Time Legislations

This Preso was again a return to the exceptional in terms of innovative ways music/entertainment can drive better urban spaces and quality of life:

  • Amsterdam has a Night Mayor named Mirik Milan! No, not a Nightmare, though they probably have those too. I mean what with all the drugs, canals and frittes served with mayo n’ all…
  • This position is funded 50% by City and 50% by the nighttime industry. The role bridges the gap between politicians, bureaucrats and the night. Night Mayor is an independent not for profit organisation now also in Paris, Toulouse and Zurich. London and Berlin are heading in this direction too.
  • As a response to Amsterdam’s curfew where every venue closed at 4am during the week and 5am on weekends, (which is considered strict by European standards), Mirik and his team suggested an opposite approach: to whit the issue of ten 24hour licences. These however are not in the city centre, but out in more sparsely occupied areas. This stopped the closing time rowdiness centralised in one area.
  • It is a condition of these licences that they stop acting as a nightclub for a period each day so they host markets and art projects.



Presentation 5 | Night Time Industries Association

NTIA is formed by independent bar, nightclub and restaurant owners, pubs, festival and live music event operators as well as music managers and others supporters of the night time economy. One great outcome has been their training of licensing authorities to be supporters of nighttime industries.

“The Night Time Industry is the other 9 to 5”


Panel 3 | Alliances and Networks: What Needs to Change

This began with a Preso from a sponsor British and Irish Modern Music Institute (which sounds like a great institution, but really this was pay for play) which was so light on relevance it floated out the room and what the panel then showed was that we are a long way ahead in Australia in terms of our music associations and how we network across the country.


Presentation 6 | Russia: Music as a Tool to Change Perceptions, Imperfections and City Development

I think the title of the session was more interesting than the session itself, other than the festival in Vladivostok looks like a hoot. Similar to Sunderland, it is driving inbound tourism/visits; but different in that Vladivostok is remote. It’s a great achievement and a great example of music culture at the front of tourism and general urban activation.


Panel 4 | Changing Politics and Policies: The Public Sector’s Say

  • Feargal Sharkey was Co-Founder of UK Music and his presence opened doors at all levels of government, as does a few #1 hits and he was able to work his way into the highest circles and championed music (Blair’s Cool Britannia thing probably helped). He chaired the study into the UK Licensing’s Impact on the Music Industry. He demonstrated the need for such organisations to have someone who can get in front of the highest office bearers.
  • I want I want I want to hold her tight, get teenage kicks right through the night, come on!” Why oh why didn’t I take my Teenage Kicks 7” and get Feargal to sign it?
  • The exceptionally urbane Charles Landry wrote The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators and he gave us some good quotes and stats:
  • In 1985 (when Britain had a car industry) music exports were greater than car exports.
  • “Everything is banned unless it’s allowed” now “everything’s allowed unless it’s banned” – this is what we need to get to…
  • “Rules defined the shift and the shift defines the rules”.
  • The UK music industry has grown each year for six years. The only sector of the UK economy to do so.
  • In Berlin the city mapped all venues and now if a development is near a club or venue the developer must consult with the industry and consult widely and design appropriately in order to get a license for development.
  • Berlin has ceased selling state owned property, recognising the cultural value over the real estate value. They then make properties available for offers/tenders for cultural use.


Thanks to the Catalyst arts funding program for supporting Mike’s UK travels.

Stay tuned for Mike does UK: Part 2- The Great Escape

Government of Western Australia Department of Culture and The ArtsGovernment of Western Australia Department of Culture and The Arts

WAM is supported by the State Government through the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries and Lottery West, and is assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.