Harold Heath reports back from this year’s Brighton Music Conference
A gaggle of young DJs - all haircuts, new trainers and big watches - waft into The Tempest bar on Brighton’s seafront on a cloud of aftershave and Airwaves gum. Their sheer exuberance simply at being out and about at an industry event is instantly infectious, shaking the more mature attendees out of their discussions of how their kids are getting on and if anyone’s got any ibuprofen. It’s a demonstration of the particular appeal of the Brighton Music Conference (BMC): 17-year-olds and crusty old industry relics happily getting down together, the olds secretly receiving a small shot of gratis psychic energy from the kidz, who are overflowing with the stuff.
BMC is the UK's biggest annual dance music industry get-together, consisting of three days and nights of professional conference sessions, panel discussions, an exhibition, workshops, seminars, club nights galore and some hardcore networking. The event's aimed at industry professionals and newcomers alike, and the varied programme of speakers and workshops reflects these two distinct audiences.
This year's event kicks off with a nice relaxed pre-party on Wednesday evening, where approximately half the attendees travel through an identical narrative arc:
8pm: “Yeah, definitely going to have a quiet one tonight, got a busy few days ahead, last year I was up till 5am on the first night and then had to speak/exhibit/be conscious the next day.”
9:30pm: “I’m on my third drink, when I finish this I’m definitely going home”
2am: A crew of producers, DJs and industry bods - clearly still taking it easy - are now attempting to commandeer a leaky dingy to 'sail' out to the pier and capture it, because hey, pirates.
Wednesday evening was also the first of several occasions during BMC that the sounds of DJ Koze’s Pick Up did what all great dance records do, which is entirely split the opinion in a room.
Thursday morning and we all turned up bright-tailed and bushy-eyed and get into conference mode, which firstly involves fond recollections of event bags from days gone by:
“The convention bag from ADE 2011 was sweet, still use that.”
“Yeah. Do you remember the WMC 2008 bag though? Classic!”
One of the very best things about industry events like this is that everyone wears name badges, so you know who everyone is without having to remember tricky things like names and faces. Personally, I’m all for name badges in day-to-day life (and also in TV dramas and films, so that I don’t one day end up battered unconscious by my wife after asking her who that dude is and what’s he doing now for the 100th time).
The circus of strife
I had a great chat with a well-known producer who told me he’d made more money in the last year from selling sample packs than from actual music. He’d then heard his samples being used in a new producer’s track - that producer had got some traction from the release and was now putting out his own sample collection. Presumably, other people will then use that sample pack to create loss-leading music that won’t generate any income but might work up enough of a buzz to make knocking out a sample collection worthwhile. Which will then be used in other people's loss-leading music, that won’t sell much but might lead to a sample pack…
I think this is what they call the circle of life. Or perhaps the circus of strife. Either way, it made me think of two snakes eating each other until they both just disappear.
The first conference session of the event was both the most important and the one we wished we didn’t need to have. The ‘Time’s Up For Sexual Harassment’ panel followed DJmag’s harrowing article from February this year about sexual harassment in dance music, inspired by the #MeToo movement.
There isn’t space here to report back fully on this session, as the panellists and audience all had so much to say, but that is perhaps the most positive thing about it. The very fact that this panel took place meant that people were talking about it all week and I’m writing about it now. We are now, as a community, talking about sexual harassment, inequality and misogyny, and talking openly and honestly about these issues are the first step in addressing them.
I later chatted with an old friend who’s worked in the industry for years, and who's often asked to speak on panels at conferences. He mentioned that he trains all his staff to be able to present, so that he can offer a female speaker as well as a male whenever asked, as he got fed up of appearing on ‘manels’. He’s also taken steps to ensure his company’s intern intake is as diverse as the city he works in. One thing everyone in the Times Up session agreed was that addressing the gender imbalance in certain roles in dance music would be a great start in tackling sexual harassment, and while there's a lot of work to be done, this brief conversation clearly demonstrated to me that we can all affect positive change in the everyday.
Later in the week, we all piled in to hear "dual citizen of punk rock and disco" Irvine Welsh being interviewed. He told some great stories: he hated his first night at Shoom, as after a few bad years on the heroin he was a respectable, drug-free middle manager at the time. And he was once the bassist in a band, unti the day he saw a 'bassist wanted' ad in a music shop and recognised the number as belonging to the guitarist in his own band. Welsh also read a section from his new book Dead Men’s Trousers in that unmistakable accent, the cadences of Begbie’s voice simulating the energy and momentum of the rave. The word raconteur is terribly overused, but Welsh can definitely tell a tale.
Each evening there were, of course, a superb selection of club nights and parties to go to, all within walking distance of each other. Brighton’s own Tru Thoughts & J-Felix hosted a particularly gnarly funk-fest on the Thursday evening, which was followed swiftly by the banging tech beats of Eats Everything at The Arch. The annual Wiggle birthday party featuring Terry Francis and Eddie Richards was a well-attended feast of deepness all wrapped up in some lovely old school acid house ethos, same as it ever was.
Elsewhere, attendees were treated to DJ sets from a wide range of selectors including Graeme Park, Craig Richards, Just Her, Friction, Seamus Haji, UKG beats and bass from Matt 'Jam' Lamont & Oneman, and some serious techy business from Alex Niggemann at Brighton’s gloriously ramshackle Green Door Store, a dance club with a cobbled floor. Really.
What BMC also does very well is cater to the new producer/DJ sector, with masterclasses in composition and production from the likes of Hospital Records, Keeno, Alex Arnout, London Elektricity, Mark Knight, Rachel K Collier and Doorly, as well as sessions covering broader industry issues like the impact of streaming, how to use social media, how to clear samples properly, sync, and music piracy, as well as plenty of label/producer question and answer sessions.
Slaves to the rhythm
Perhaps inevitably, though, the sad news about Avicii hung over BMC this year. The Association for Electronic Music ran a special showing of the documentary Why We DJ: Slaves To The Rhythm, on the evening that the nature of Avicii’s death was revealed. Pete Tong’s comments in the film about his experience of the atmosphere in the Avicii camp couldn’t have been more prescient: “It just felt like every minute, every second was accounted for. I think there was an attitude in the camp that it was like, ‘We know this is not going to last forever, so we’re going to milk it for as much as we possibly can as quickly as possible."
The Avicii tragedy and what it says about the pressures of this industry, along with the Times Up session, were a constant subtext throughout the week at BMC. In breaks, over meals, over drinks, at bars, clubs and parties, I heard people discussing inequality, misogyny and the problems that can arise from working in a ‘party’ industry at length. It almost felt like a change was happening - that some new space in which to speak has been carved out, where previously there was just a heavy wall of silence.
BMC should be congratulated for their contribution to creating this space. All the parties, exhibition, seminars, DJs, new tunes and complimentary drinks were great, and I really enjoyed BMC. But the real victory from this year's event was simply hearing people in our scene talk about problems that we never even used to acknowledge existed.
Words: Harold Heath
Tags: Brighton Music Conference, BMC, Avicii, Association for Electronic Music, Pete Tong, Graeme Park, Craig Richards, Just Her, Friction, Seamus Haji, Matt 'Jam' Lamont, Oneman, Hospital Records, Keeno, Alex Arnout, London Elektricity, Mark Knight, Rachel K Collier, Doorly, Irvine Welsh, Tru Thoughts, Eats Everything, Terry Francies, Eddie Richards, Wiggle, Green Door Studio, The Arch, Alex Niggemann, Green Door Store,