CounterCulture: The Final Fortnight

If you read this blog, you probably have internet access, which means, you probably realise that the music business has changed a bit in the last decade or so. Sure, there are some folks out there who wish things still worked like they did in That Thing You Do (probably all busy suing housewives and college kids on behalf of the RIAA), but I suspect that the majority of you, as I do, see it as a change for the better. But in combination with currently less-than-stable economic conditions the world over, even more adjustments are necessary.

Opportunity does not simply present itself the way we like to think it used to. Back in the 50s, for instance, at the ripe old age of 18, Phil Spector essentially managed to charm his way into an internship at a recording studio and, within a matter of months, he had written and recorded the number one song in the country. But things are different now. We all acquire more skills by accident than our grandparents did in years of study. Talent and “the look” are no longer sufficient. Today, more than ever, we have to create our own opportunities. Enter CounterCulture: a team of twenty-somethings, already experienced concert and festival promoters, with a flair for the unorthodox and an appetite for innovation.

It’s that DIY determination that makes an event like CounterCulture so inspiring. I’m sure you remember CounterCulture from a few weeks ago, but let’s recap. Since late September, an ever-changing celebration of London’s underground and DIY arts culture has been taking place in a pop-up venue beneath London Bridge (7-9 Crucifix Ln, if memory serves). The concept itself is an intriguing one, so it can be no surprise that it has gained the attention of several traditional media outlets, including Time Out and The Guardian, as well as countless blogs around the world. Still, CounterCulture is something that has to be experienced firsthand to get a full understanding. I should know, I’ve seen it.

That’s right, I made the 4000 mile trek to London for the purpose of hanging out under a bridge with scores of perfect strangers. (Ok, they weren’t all strangers. I knew one of the artists performing and brought along another American friend who happened to be in London at the same time. But still.) It’s a major commitment for what, ostensibly, amounts to a few hours in a club, but everything—the financial cost, sleep deprivation, epic layover, humiliating airport “security precautions”, the entirely-too-long interrogation from the lady at immigration, and the pain of trudging several miles a day through the rain in brand new unbroken-in shoes—all of it was well worth the investment.

CounterCulture is a blow to “The Industry”. Surpassing all expectations of those writing it off as ‘just another pop-up venue’ and eschewing expectations, much to the dismay of those looking for a ‘Scene’, the small but passionate team behind CounterCulture have succeeded in creating a laid-back atmosphere where everyone (myself included!) is welcome. It’s that eschewing of image that has made CounterCulture the success that it has become. Because that’s really what we’re looking for, isn’t it. A chance to witness something new and innovative irrespective of what’s cool or what sells. It’s the atmosphere in which art and creativity at their most organic and visceral are highlighted and unavoidable.

CounterCulture was slated to run for 99 days and is now entering its final fortnight, set to come to a close on the first of January. If you are in or around London at any point for the rest of this month, I encourage you to have a look at their upcoming events and head down to London Bridge to check it out for yourself. I, for one, am holding out hope that they will be back around for another go somewhere and sometime in the future, but it would be downright shambolic to miss them now while it’s all at your fingertips.

99 Days of CounterCulture

I’m sitting in a Starbucks somewhere in the vicinity of Buckingham Palace. It’s a great location, I suppose, if you’re the sort of person who pisses themselves over the Changing of the Guard. But if you are, as I am, the sort who prefers to roll out of bed around midday and come limping back home (because your shoes haven’t been broken in, obviously) at 2:00 AM, then you know the curse of a sensible neighborhood. By all of this, I merely mean to excuse myself for not posting this three or four weeks ago. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I’ve just hated everything I’ve written about CounterCulture up until this point.

CounterCulture, by the way, is the reason I am at a Starbucks near Buckingham Palace rather than at a Starbucks near Potbelly Sandwiches. I’ve been going on about CounterCulture on Twitter and Facebook for a couple of months now, but tonight, for me anyway, it is finally happening. After I’ve seen it for myself at DIY w/ D&C tonight, I may be able to write about it more effectively myself. For now, I’ll let one of the organisers, Hannah Cox, speak for herself.

 

The Indie Handbook: Who are the people behind CounterCulture?

CounterCulture: Hannah Cox, Alex Brooks, Lee Denny and Alison Monk

TIH: What is the concept behind 99 days of Counter Culture?

CC: We wanted to interweave the best of the London arts in our eyes, music, art, theatre and and more in a exciting everchanging space. 99 days seem like a great defining number Edison once said “Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” I guess in a way we are working really hard to provide London a new platform and experience thats our 99%.

TIH: Where did the idea originate? At what point did it go from being “just an idea” to a reality?

CC: Lee and Alex run a fantastic Music festival in London and wanted to bring the ideas and ethos of their event to a larger audience. They went to a secret party at the space and everything just came together. I was at a music festival with them in May and that’s when Alison and I came on board to help make the project a reality.

TIH: There are several special guests involved with the planning of the events. Who are some of these guest curators?

CC: We have some incredible curators such as established promoters such as ‘Short and Sweet’ who will be hosting a weekly film, art and creative space. But its also been fun working with people likw Megan Wellington a recent Uni Graduate from Manchester. Shes completely unknown and did an amazing final year project on her grandma. her sister is one of my best friends and she showed me randomly a bit of her work when I visited recently. I love the idea we are giving people a exciting new way to showcase their work – whether its a DJ playing in a incredible space or an artist creating an instillation piece.

TIH: Tell me a little about the venue. Have you had to do anything special to transform it into an exhibition space?

CC: The venue had been used in the past as a warehouse rave space so the basic mechanics of a venue were there like bar space and toilets. We had to completely strip down and rebuild the bars, paint the venue and install a sound and lighting system; The promoters who say the venue before it was painted can’t believe the change. Its still rough and ready but that’s how we like it!

TIH: Time Out recommended the launch event saying, ‘it’s all very cool and hipster’ (or something along those lines). Care to comment?

CC: HAHA!! What’s funny is if you put us all in a line up I don’t think you’d pick any of us out as part of the ‘cool and hipster’ crowd. Londoners will know what I mean by this. Its understandable to label the project like that I suppose and we have taken it as a complement. All we are trying to do is create a nice chilled out environment with no attitude which is what we felt the ‘hipster’ venues in London lacked. The biggest compliment I received at the launch was several people commenting on how nice the crowd was. If we can continue to attract that kind of customer it would be great.

TIH: On the Counter Culture blog, there is a post by Lisa Wright about the idea of counterculture. Now it’s your turn. What is counterculture?

CC: For me its about no hierarchy or exclusion. Its about being open to experiencing new things and your opinion being respected for that. If you don’t know a band or artist not being made to feel stupid but encouraged to learn about them. Its about giving up caring what other people think or what you think is cool and just working out what you like. There’s no agenda with counterculture it can be whatever you make it.
CounterCulture has been in full swing for some six weeks now and continues tonight with an event curated by my good friend Laura from Dimbleby & Capper (who you’ve encountered here numerous times before). CounterCulture runs through the end of the year.  So, if you’re around London between now and then, give it a go. There’s so much going on, it’s virtually impossible that you’ll nothing to tempt you.