INTERVIEW: BRAVE EXHIBITIONS | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: GNOD

There is more to Brave Exhibitions than meets the eye. Keen music lovers may notice that the Cluny-based festival, now in its third year, has grown quite considerably since its inception, but that’s not the whole story. On course to become a shining example of what principled, ethical and diverse programming can be, it has been shaped by a collaborative effort to give the region a basis for what ‘better’ could look like.

Organiser Joel Thomson sets the scene: “The first two years were pretty much an experiment in whether or not I’d be able to pull that sort of an event together and make a success of it, and I intentionally wanted to do as much of it myself as possible, to teach myself how to be a festival producer. I’ve always liked to learn how to do things myself before delegating tasks to others. Of course, it could have all gone horribly wrong and I could have found myself massively out of my depth, but I think it worked out alright.”

Building on the festival’s growing reputation as a place for musical misfits to find something new to love, some of this year’s many highlights include noise rock titans Part Chimp; urgent alt. punks Blóm; celebrated avant artist Nuha Ruby Ra; experimental polymath Kapil Seshasayee; endearing post-punks Trash Kit; psychedelic noise collective GNOD; dark dance band Evil House Party; Newcastle’s electro folk artist Me Lost Me; composer, turntablist and performer Mariam Rezaei; found sound electronic project Late Girl; genre-defying electronic composer and viola player Astrid Sonne and improviser Shelly Knotts among many others.

Joel gives special mention to Sunday night’s headliner, CURL. “There are no artists on the bill that I’m not really looking forward to seeing, but if I had to pick one that I’m particularly excited about it would be CURL, a collective made up of producer and MC Brother May, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer Coby Sey, and Oscar-nominated composer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Mica Levi formerly of Micachu & The Shapes. I’ve been obsessed with everything Mica has ever done and was pretty desperate to get one of her projects on this year’s bill. They are going to be an absolutely perfect end to this year’s festival.”

This year’s event sees a considerable step up in terms of both artists performing and the general scope of the event. “I think having a year of sitting in my flat by myself during lockdown really helped me to get my ideas together for this year’s festival, and think about some great people and organisations I could approach to partner on some activity.” Enter partnerships with Salford’s Fat Out Festival, North East music support agency Generator, Black-led feminist community interest company Sister Shack and feminist music company Tits Upon Tyne, who have been instrumental in programming a fringe programme which equals the delights of the main festival.

The ethos and intention behind Brave Exhibitions festival and F54 Promotions is to showcase a broad range of genres, through inclusive and diverse programming; something Generator is passionate about.” Says the organisation’s Helen Walkinshaw.At BEF you’ll see more established artists billed alongside emerging talent, both local and international, and this year sees more partnerships and collaboration; meaning the activity is responding and reflecting to the North East music industry and audiences in a much broader way. Personally, I’ve attended every year of BEF, and I’m really excited about what Joel has produced again this year.

At BEF you’ll see more established artists billed alongside emerging talent, both local and international, and this year sees more partnerships and collaboration

Fringe events include a discussion with author and musician Stephanie Phillips from feminist punk band Big Joanie about her book Why Solange Matters, followed by DJ sets from Awkward Black Girl and BEF residents (Journey Cafe Bar, Wednesday 17th); a field recording workshop and live demo from AJA (Cobalt Studios, Saturday 20th); and a weekend of panel discussions and live music curated by Tits Upon Tyne (Saturday 13th & Sunday 14th).

The fringe events will provide opportunities for audiences and creatives (at any level) to engage with industry professionals in a supportive safe environment, network and hopefully gain some new insight and skills.” Helen explains. “From more technically focussed workshops, to panel discussions and live performances – the events will explore a range of themes, led by previous performers and new partners.”

Natalie Greener, aka Tits Upon Tyne, has been instrumental in building a safe space policy for the event. “Our safe space measurements are part of our nationwide campaign to promote education and information within the arts to help better the community, not shame it. Nobody has all the answers, but we hope a collaborative manifesto written by and for the community might help provide a starting point that is more current and reflective of modern creative and cultural social issues.”

Natalie explains why working with BEF has been an important first step on the road to a fairer and more equal music scene. “As a non-profit, there is only so much we can do within our means without the relevant backing or support. We needed that first festival to take a chance on us but also listen to the message at hand; not just seeing some raging liberal feminists, but rather colleagues and peers who just want to enjoy live music.”

2021’s incarnation of Brave Exhibitions comes at an interesting point in Joel’s career as a promoter. Previously working as venue manager at The Cluny, he made the decision to venture out on his own this year with new outfit F54. Having spent a year sat in his flat and considering his career prospects, watching some pretty awful behaviour come to light in the North East’s music scene, he knew the region deserved better. “I want to provide good experiences for all artists, venues, event staff, crew and audiences, and hopefully make any touring artists, from grassroots to high profile veterans, leave town thinking, ‘Yeah, the North East and its inhabitants are really nice’. I feel that having about 17 years experience playing in bands, as a promoter and as a venue booker, I’m in a pretty decent position to do that, and hopefully make things a bit nicer for people before the world burns to the ground within the next 50 years.”

Brave Exhibitions Festival takes place at The Cluny, Newcastle from Friday 19th-Sunday 21st November, with Fringe events taking place across various venues the weekend prior and on the run-up to the festival. Check their website for full line-ups

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