Our man in the booth, Harold Heath, reports back from Britain's leading dance music conference
At the bottom of the UK, geographically speaking, is Brighton, a south-coast haven for hedonists. At the bottom of Brighton, geographically speaking, is the Pavilion Pier, a garish, twinkling emporium of low-rent entertainment, jutting into the channel. And at the end of the Pavilion Pier is Horatio's, or to give it its full name, Horatio’s Horror Karaoke & Knuckle Bar. This is where assorted members of the UKs music industry and young industry enthusiasts gathered, open-mouthed, to experience the spectacle that was Wunderground’s ‘DJ Blind Date’. It’s a miracle any of us made it that far to be honest, given that the Wunderground team managed to lock themselves inside their own van an hour before kick-off. Welcome to Brighton Music Conference (BMC) 2017.
Brighton, a town famously described as looking like it was helping police with their enquiries, is a location with a suitably rapscallion character - ideal for a gathering of music industry folk. BMC, “the UKs foremost electronic music conference and networking event for professionals and enthusiasts” was back in Brighton at the end of April for their fourth year. BMC is a multi-faceted event which attempts to address two quite different audiences - established industry professionals and newcomers - by putting all elements of the music industry in one place at one time. So there is an exhibition, a professional conference, panel discussions, training workshops, networking events, and a feast of tasty one-off club nights too, stretched over three days.
The exhibition was housed this year in the sumptuous concert hall in Brighton Dome and all the main synth, drum, DAW and DJ gear companies were exhibiting. Essentially, it's a producer's dream - you walk into this huge, opulent auditorium and everywhere you look the sparkling lights from all the cutting edge new gear twinkle at you enticingly. There were also plenty of representatives from colleges and professional training organisations, reflecting the growing market in DJ and production courses.
The Dome itself is a great venue, with plenty of space for chatting and socialising between sessions, and located centrally so that the surrounding boozers were packed for the entire three days with people from the conference, ahem, ‘networking’. The attendees were generally a laidback, buzzy mix of fresh-faced young guns and grizzled elder statesmen and women; BMC always intended to break down the barriers between the amateurs and the pros, and the general informal vibe achieved this goal very well.
The conference was made up of two concurrent sets of seminars and panels, the Academy and Professional streams. As in previous years, the Academy sessions were generally aimed at young producers/professionals and covered areas such as Ghost Writing, Promotion, Earning A Living From Music, Streaming, Production and so on. There were also Q&As with the likes of Chris Goss from Hospital Records, Ninja Tune artist Throwing Shade, Josh Butler (Cajual/Strictly Rhythm), Seamus Haji and Mark Knight from Toolroom and more. Speaking of Toolroom, they also ran their own Toolroom Academy featuring masterclasses and a chance for attendees to get their tunes A&R’ed. Native Instruments also ran their own set of sessions, on things like workflow, sound design, production techniques creativity and inspiration.
For many industry professionals, though, it was the Professional Conference which was the biggest draw. Featuring a stellar line-up of industry expertise and a programme that was relevant, useful and interesting, some of the subjects covered over the two days included the Future of Management, Streaming vs Radio, Piracy, Brand Building, the Save Nightlife campaign, Temptations of the Dance Music Industry, PR, promotion, and ‘cheeky’ ee-edits. A particular highlight was Coldcut’s Matt Black on the What’s The Future For Electronic Music? panel, Thirty years in the industry and still as interesting and interested as ever, full of ideas, new music, new apps, DJ tales, stories and observations - he should be pre-selected on all ideal-dinner-party guest lists.
The panel on the Diversity Session has to get a mention too, for relentless passion, plain talking and inspiring pragmatism. If I had to make any criticism of BMC it would simply be that this session was probably the least well attended, although that’s not something you can really blame on the event itself, and the fact it was one of the very last sessions on the Friday at the end of the week might have had something to do with the lower numbers. However, as panel member Sammy Andrews (from Deviate Digital Agency and founder of letsbethechange.co.uk) pointed out, the fact that the diversity panel had the most diverse makeup of the whole week was perhaps a reflection of an unconscious bias toward treating diversity as only concerning ‘marginalised’ groups.
A theme that kept occurring in a number of the panels was the increasing acceptance of streaming in general, and Spotify in particular. Parts of the music industry have always rejected anything new (see CDs, MP3s, file sharing, downloads, CDJs, digital DJing, the global sphere paradigm, reason and rationality etc), and streaming has often been automatically denigrated, usually on the grounds of its distribution system apparently favouring larger artists. But with many dance music and electronic artists and labels now citing Spotify as their largest income stream, this attitude is definitely on the wane.
In addition to the serious daytime business, there was a succession of accompanying club nights and parties, where much of the real networking and most of the real partying took place. These included treats like the mighty Wiggle’s 23rd Birthday bash, Patrick Topping playing the official after party, Bruno Otranto & Marcus Saarlander’s Berlin bash and the 64 Bar MC Showcase at the Brapp / Levelz bash. Brighton’s many bars and basements were also put into use for a succession of events and parties. This was all going on within walking distance of the Dome, so the working days slowly turned into evenings and then into nights, roaming from bar to bar to club, soundtracked by disco and techno, and before you know it, you’re having a 3am convo in the smoking area with a group of people you’ve never met before and you’re probably not going to get that early night you planned.
A big shout has to go out to teetotal DJ Joshua, who on a panel about the temptations of the dance music industry informed us that his rider was "water, Red Bull, a banana, Oreos and a scratchcard". And gun fingers go out to whoever it was in the exhibition hall that kept playing the chords from Twin Peaks (as used on Moby’s Go) on a massive orchestral pre-set all throughout both days. I ended the week exhausted, hung over and happy. I lost my voice from one too many half-shouted conversations and gained a pocket full of business cards and some great new connections. I caught up with some old buddies, met some cool new people, heard some superb music and even briefly got job-title envy from meeting a “professional forensic musicologist”. I’ll be back next year.
Words: Harold Heath Pics: Brighton Music Conference, via Facebook
For more information on Brighton Music Conference, check out the conference website