While most may associate the name AVA with Belfast’s slamming multi-venue techno festival, on the 18th of March the behemoth promoter took over Southeast London’s Printworks for a combined day and night event.
AVA London is a unique setup. With a conference held during the day as well as a four-room takeover of the cavernous and immersive venue until the early hours, it’s definitely more than just an industry event. It is an opportunity for those on the industry side to reconvene, reconnect and discuss the business behind electronic music. However, it’s also integrated into a mass event that feels part of, not separate from, the electronic music community.
After clubland’s hibernation through various lockdowns, the opportunity to discuss how the scene/industry can develop and move forward felt more needed than ever. Velocity was there from the start of the conference to the end of the night’s antics, and here are our three main takeaways from the event:
1. The Future is Visual
Nobody in electronic music, even the most all-powerful super-producer will ever be able to see into the future, but according to Weirdcore, AJA and Matt Swoboda there’ll be plenty to look at when watching electronic music performances over the next decade…
The ‘VJ’ or curator of live, interactive or intricate visuals to accompany electronic performances is a creative role that has been gaining traction within the electronic music community over the last decade, as technology has grown more advanced. In their discussion ‘Creating a Visual Language for Music’ long-time Aphex collaborator Weirdcore, artist AJA and Matt Swoboda took us through the rise of visuals and took us through some of the visual work they have created to accompany electronic performances. Even since the 00s the difference in what has become possible with modern graphic technology was staggering to see. It was blatant that the visuals elements of an electronic performance are only going to grow more interactive sophisticated and impressive.
However, the discussion also raised the important point that while it’s becoming possible to weave more complex visuals than ever before, creating visuals for music is also more accessible than it has ever been before. Many of the visuals AJA shared in the talk were pretty DIY. AJA shared how she created the visuals by photographing patterns projected onto sheet material stretched over breeze-blocks and even over herself wearing costumes, and then edited the images using post-production software.
Matt Swoboda was also quick to point out that sophisticated graphic software is also much easier to obtain online than it was even fifteen years ago when you would have to hunt for cracked copies of industry-standard software on message boards and in chatrooms if you were interested in getting started making visuals on a low budget. Software like VDMX and Resolume is now readily available to those wanting to start getting creative with the visual aspects of their performances, even Ableton’s Max for Live can be used to manipulate visuals.
While a red light and smoke machine will still be enough for some, it’s clear a new era of visual experimentation for electronic performances is on the horizon. AVA themselves didn’t pull any punches with the visuals at their own event following the conference that evening…
2. More diversity work is required within the industry, particularly behind the scenes
While there’s no denying that there’s still a long way to go, one of the positives of lockdown has been increased discussion about creating more equal line-ups at electronic events. Initiatives like Black Artist Database, EQ50 and inclusivity riders are now pretty well-known by artists producers and promoters. It’s also relatively straightforward to observe the progress of these initiatives. If booking agents and promoters are living up to the pledges and promises they are making, we should start to see these initiatives taking effect, and our industry’s event line-ups should start becoming more diverse.
What can be a little harder to spot and acknowledge is the inequality that still exists behind the scenes in management roles. In their talk NIKS, DJ/Radio Host Jaguar and agent/manager Hannah Shogbola discussed the reality of racial and gender bias in the industry that is harder for those on the outside to see. Shogbola pointed out that only 6% of the electronic music industry’s execs are black.
Jaguar and Shogbola then highlighted how, while creating equal opportunities in these positions can be more difficult than on event line-ups it is just as important we should be trying to level the playing field. Most, if not all the electronic music that execs, managers and agents work with, and directly profit from, has black and/or queer origins so it is only rational that individuals from these backgrounds are represented in the top end of the industry.
Shogbola called on her own management agency Daju (the Yoruba word for ‘Positive’) to exemplify the steps that individuals and organisations on the business end of the industry can take to create equal opportunities. Daju takes a hard stance on only working with promoters who live up to their pledges and book diverse line-ups, even if that means missing out on business opportunities. Within Daju as well Shogbola has gone to great lengths to create a diverse and equally represented workforce.
The talk was a well-needed, pragmatic conversation about actions and approaches that individuals and businesses within the electronic music industry can take to fulfil the pledges many committed to recently or during the lockdown period. Partaking in panel discussions about creating equal event lineups are all well and good on the surface, but if all of electronic music’s biggest decision-makers behind the scenes are all from very similar backgrounds, is our industry and community really as diverse as it wants to be?
3. London’s Venues Aren’t Dead Yet
In their ‘Future Sound of London’ talk, Chal Ravens sat down with Hyperdub boss Steve Goodman (aka Kode9) and DMZ’s Mala. Chal hit the nail on the head by stressing that nightlife in London is under attack. You only need to look at the number of club closures in the capital over the last year to see that.
It’s hard to see any positives in increased venue closures in the capital and Londoners having fewer places to dance, but Goodman was quick to highlight that situation isn’t all doom and gloom. While he feels that London’s reputation as a nightlife hotbed and the chief bastardiser of other people’s sounds (intended as a compliment) may be beginning to slip, to Goodman exciting events and venues can still be found in the capital.
In the age of online music sharing platforms, sounds and scenes can be launched from cities and cultural hubs all around the world, like the recent Amapiano explosion out of South Africa and Johannesburg. While previously people would bring new sounds, scenes and ideas to London’s armada of grassroots clubs and venues by default, London’s nightlife is having to diversify to keep up and keep pulling punters through its doors.
To give examples of how London’s nightlife is evolving and diversifying Goodman cited his own Ø nights at Corsica Studios. At every Ø night, in one room they would screen a film, and in the other throw a rave, the idea being that neither room is the main attraction, they are both equally important elements of the night. He also mentioned noticing a rise in the number of DIY warehouse venues appearing in the city’s outer zones, where you could smoke inside and enjoy the experience of a night together without security staff looming.
It’s a refreshing perspective and is encouraging to think that just because the landscape of London’s scene looks different to how it did ten or twenty years ago doesn’t mean it isn’t evolving and developing, or has run out of fun to offer.
The rest of the night’s festivities at AVA certainly supported the notion that London’s nightlife is alive and well. There was no denying it was a slick, large-scale commercial operation (twenty quid deposit to hire a locker..) but the event delivered spectacularly on all fronts.
A real highlight of the event was the smaller bass-leaning stage located in the Inkwells room. From instrumental Grime, Drill and Dubstep courtesy of Kode9 and Mala, to Kessler’s fusion of the Northern Irish taste for techno with 2-step rhythms and breaks, the diversity of the sounds on tap at the stage was seriously impressive and well-integrated into the rest of the event.
From the massive venue, the day’s discussion and the evening’s stacked lineup AVA London was a masterclass in running a large-scale event.
If you’re keen to read more about club community and culture on the techno side, check out our latest release ‘Coming to Berlin‘ about the rise of Berlin’s electronic music scene, and the experience of moving there.