FEATURE: Alternative BRASS | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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This week sees the return of the Durham BRASS Festival, with acts including funk-infused New York icons Fun Lovin’ Criminals playing at the celebration of all things brass-infused. The team behind the Empty Shop are opening The Alligator Club and presenting Alternative BRASS as an offshoot of the festival that’s bringing the sounds of the festival to even more people and welcoming some special exclusive guests along the way.

Ahead of the festivities, we talked to Carlo Viglianisi, Director of the Empty Shop, about why they’re opening up The Alligator Club, what’s in store for Alternative BRASS and the current music scene in Durham.

Why has the Empty Shop decided to put on an alternative BRASS Festival at the pop up venue of The Alligator Club?

We’ve always been a fan of the BRASS festival, having both worked and volunteered at it over the years, it has a fantastic energy. We’ve talked about doing stuff for BRASS for a while and we thought this year felt right and, coincidentally, they approached us so we leapt at the chance to do something. As for a themed pop up, we thought it would be nice for it to feel like a separate entity, to have its own look and branding, given that it is a fringe and programmed entirely by us. We want it to feel like it’s complementing the festivals already impressive output.

Tell us a bit about what you’ve got in store for the four-day event.

We’ve been developing some great contacts with our permanent City Centre venue, Empty Shop HQ, so we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to showcase some of the amazing talent that comes through HQ on a bigger stage. We have old school swing dancing to a live band, two amazing Latin jazz bands from our monthly Jazz Sessions curated by Newcastle’s Jazz Co-op, incredible DJs and live brass bands for the official closing party. Then we’ve programmed some big names from Bristol to add something new to the mix on the Friday night, in the form of Mr. Woodnote, Lil’ Rhys and Snareophobe. They’ll be supported by some more local talent – Zero Db, successful in his own right and signed to Ninja Tune, plus Outside Your House, a brilliant example of the genuinely incredible music coming out of Durham right now.

The four days are incorporating a variety of genres including hip hop, jazz and swing. Was it important when organising the events to make them diverse with a wide appeal?

Those four genres are actually a nice fit with each other; they may sound diverse but the crossover is huge, they all come from the same seed really. All of those genres in their own right are fantastic, and yes, that’s where broad appeal comes in, but for those who are open to discovery, things get really interesting where they intersect. You can see and hear some of that with the likes of the Mr. Woodnote gig on Friday night and the official closing party DJs on Sunday.

You’ve worked with Newcastle’s Jazz Co-Op on a lot of upcoming and past events and they’re also involved in these fringe events. How did you first start working together and how important is their help to you?

The Jazz Co-Op are amazing. Collaboration is huge part of Empty Shop, and they are a great example of it. Debra Milne, who is part of the Co-Op approached us for a gig with her ensemble a few years back, and following that we decided it would be nice to programme more gigs to see if there was an audience for jazz in Durham, and the response has been fantastic! What started out as four trial sessions has become a regular monthly gig for over 18 months with full houses and an incredible stream of bands form Newcastle. It was a no-brainer to invite them to get on board with the Saturday night Jazz Session Extra.

The fringe events are promoting local music as well as bringing some bigger names in brass to the venue; is promoting local talent something that you’re particularly about?

Definitely, although I’m not sure I would describe it as us promoting them, that feels a little one sided. I prefer to think of our relationships as symbiotic, you know, together we prosper! That’s why we value collaboration so much. It’s not exclusively local however, we are open to anyone and anything, but the North East has an abundance of talent and that well and truly includes Durham. It’s interesting, as people still don’t think of Durham as a place for gigs, even though we have loads of live music. You just need to know where to look.

“the North East has an abundance of talent and that well and truly includes Durham”

You’re taking over an empty shop in Durham and transforming it into the Alligator Cub for the duration of the events. Has organising this been challenging or are you masters of transforming Durham’s empty sites into pop up venues now?

Ha! I’d like to think we are pretty good at it, we’ve been doing it long enough! It’s actually one of the most exciting parts of running Empty Shop, walking into dead space and transforming it into something special, and the temporary nature of it is part of the appeal – miss it and you well and truly miss out.

A couple of years ago you commented that Durham was often seen as the cultural hole in the north east’s doughnut. Do you think the situation in Durham has improved over the past couple of years?

It’s getting there, but it’s a slow progression arc. There is energy in the right places but you’re constantly fighting perceptions. I was talking to someone the other day, in Empty Shop HQ, and he was saying how there is no live music in Durham. He was literally standing in a venue surrounded by gig posters! It’s interesting, you know, and it can be frustrating at times when you know people would go to the exact same event if it was in Newcastle or Leeds, but the progression was always going to be slow, it’s how it happens I guess.

What events have you got planned for after the Alternative BRASS Fest?

Straight after BRASS I’ll be working on a scaled down, nomadic version of our HQ venue using a shipping Container for Shambala music festival in Northamptonshire. Basically it will be a mini venue inside and arts space on the roof. That should be loads of fun. We have a few other projects on the go, but I can’t tell you about those just yet!

Alternative BRASS takes place between Thursday 16th and Sunday 19th July at The Alligator Club, Durham. Find out more at Empty Shop’s website.

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