Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Programming and more

For the past year, I have been as busy on programming the music at the Vortex in Dalston, as releasing on Babel.
It has helped focus my mind on the changing nature of getting to hear  this innovative music, especially live but also recorded - who is playing, where do you find it, what does it take to best hear it. Many of these questions move into more general ones about where we have time to get to experience culture, how it can be created - the problems of time, location and value - and more.
So, for now, here are a few initial thoughts on how the Vortex is placing itself.
The first thing to notice is the increasing difficulty of existing in the expensive environment that we are in. Rents are rising, as are all running costs in London, but income isn't! The chance of getting public funding, such as from the Arts Council, is getting harder; the number of venues is on the decline, according to a recent report commissioned by Boris Johnson by around 30% since 2008; yet the number of really good musicians who want the chance to play is rising. Jazz courses are doing a great job in nurturing some fabulous young musicians, even though they have to get smarter to work out how to survive. There used to be big record labels willing to help too.
Luckily, we have a sympathetic landlord in Hackney Co-operative Developments who has been able to keep the rent relatively steady. The changing nature of the area where the club is, in Dalston, and its accessibility by public transport (especially the Overground) has also been helpful.
Next then is to consider how to balance out the need for the music to be experienced and selecting what might be right for us. It's about finding the right audiences for the music and a steady income without compromising on quality.
The various solutions that the Vortex has been going for, over the past year in particular, include: moving towards more gigs per month (in February alone 46); encouraging more volunteers to do functions both in the office and in the evenings; and keeping a good relationship with the musicians. While the marketing has suffered a bit in terms of the spend, the club has nevertheless been able to increase turnover and numbers coming in through the door. Meanwhile, we have tried to balance out the music that is performed at the club. A whole range in terms of the styles which one can look at when considering the words 'jazz' and 'improvised'.
This weekend is a good case in point. On Friday, Ian Shaw delivering his customary balance of entertainment and musicianship, followed late by Wolf Off, a blend of electronica, grooves and improvisation from Loop Collective members; on Saturday, Julian Siegel Quartet (the highest quality original contemporary jazz) followed late by a jazz-rocksteady-ska band late, then on Sunday, two doses of free improvisation (Mopomoso and a night curated by Loz Speyer) and our Downstairs session led by Hannes Riepler. The busier more mainstream gigs help fund the less busy free improv.
As the number of musicians passing through the club rises, so the amount of interest in performing also increases. Both from the scene in London, but also from elsewhere in the UK and overseas.
There is partly a degree of self-selection in who is asking and who we interact with. We can't put on gigs with too little audience indefinitely.
So we have to keep looking, The club is hovering just above the levels to survive but it needs to strengthen.
But more on different elements of these anon.

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