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

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Image: Thomas Truax by Chris Saunders

In a response to the challenging aspects of running a venue – from getting bums on seats to programming interesting and varied line-ups, not to mention the day-to-day graft – Newcastle’s Cobalt Studios have decided to focus their energies on scheduling regular events, announced in ‘seasons’.

With community-led and creative activities, food and music pairings and live music and club nights on the weekends, Cobalt’s events remain as diverse and well-thought out as ever. FRESH, the Thursday night veggie food and live music pair up, is of particular note, with October’s events featuring dark synth pop from Tony Njoku (Thursday 3rd), local alt. folk band Detroit Tourist Board (Thursday 10th) and inventive pop maverick Thomas Truax (Thursday 17th), with tickets a mere £8.

Venue owner Kathryn Hodgkinson gives us the lowdown on their new programming…

You’ve decided to change your programming to a revolving mix of regular events throughout every month, with the programming announced in ‘seasons’, can you explain why?

Going forward  we are going to be working in three seasons: Autumn, Winter/Spring and Summer. Each one is approximately 10 weeks long. In between there will be totally dark periods with very occasional pop ups on public holidays and for special events that fall out of season (e.g. The Northern Electric Festival).

We are doing this for a few reasons, firstly  the stuff we do is very diverse – ranging from community events, to book launches and life drawing, from  banging techno to party nights or leftfield live music, it can be quite hard to communicate what’s on and when. We want to make it easier for people to figure out what they want to come to by giving people much more advance warning, also each week will follow the same pattern so that people can get a better grip on when  they want to come.

Secondly, as a very DIY project and a tiny, mainly voluntarily, team the day to day delivery of events is all consuming and at times the programming can have a reactive element to it. Now we know that we have dark periods where we can get into the office without interruptions and focus on pulling together the most exciting and considered programme that we can, as well as more time to create all the artwork and videos that go with each event. On top of this we also have the rest of the building to run (artists’ studios, top floor co-working space in development and a backyard that needs to evolve in some way at some point!), the down times will allows us to keep the rest of the project moving forward. We might even to have a bit more time off as the last three years have often been seven days a week and over 12 hours a day and that’s not sustainable forever !

 Can you tell us about the regular events and what they’ll entail? 

Every Monday and Tuesday its CHANGE, where we facilitate space for community led activity with ‘good’ intentions – ( btw we have space on Tuesdays if anybody out there has ideas). Wednesdays it’s LEARN & DO, interactive creativity and educational stuff. Every single Thursday it will be FRESH, where you can get homemade evening meal such as chilli, veggie burgers or homemade pizza and salad plus a gig of two or three exiting new or emerging acts. Fridays are always LIVE music or performance and Saturday is always CLUB night.

How do you envisage this method will benefit both you and your audience?

For the audience I hope that they will really notice the focus and quality of our programming will keep increasing and the overall offer growing stronger all the time. For us hopefully it’s a good chance to build better relationships with our audience; to communicate more directly and to encourage them to trust us and try new stuff. We also benefit from much more time to research the niches that we are interested in bringing to Newcastle; these could be defined by the best in global music/beats, experimental and new music, Afrobeat, jazz fusion music and our mission to get 50/50 gender balancing on stage and on the decks.

What will be the highlight of the coming season for you?

That’s really hard because I’m excited about all of it! But if I had to pick one aspect there is a strain of new bands coming out of professional jazz musician backgrounds and then creating bands that are firmly rooted in jazz but also unafraid to freestyle and cross fertilize with other genres. We have three amazing bands in this category to watch out for Ishmael Ensemble, PYJAEN and Cykada who play our first ever Late Night Jazz Club on Friday 22nd November – late live performances and smoky jazz/global beats DJ sets until the early hours. If it’s not cheeky to add one more, The London Afrobeat Collective alongside live house outfit Éclair with Jelly Jels on the decks for Friday 29th Nov will be a massive gig.

As a venue which isn’t afraid to take a chance on new or lesser-known acts, getting bums on seats can often be a challenge. What message would you like to get out there to music lovers in the region about Cobalt?

It really is so hard to get bums on seats – pretty much every event feels like a massive gamble, it’s easy to understand why small music venues are closing up and down the country, we often lose a lot of money for the quieter gigs – selling tickets is vital for survival! The biggest challenge that we face is that one of our greatest interests and passions is bringing new or unknown acts to Newcastle and this can make selling tickets event harder! So our message would echo Radios 1’s phrase ‘trust in new music’ , it’s good to go out and try stuff that you don’t know. We try to make this easier with the FRESH gigs because the tickets include homemade food, so if you aren’t 100% sure about the music you still get to leave with a full belly and tea sorted for £8!

I think I’d also add  – and  I can’t think of a way to say this that doesn’t sound cheesy – but the more  live music I see the more I’m convinced it’s a very easy  and accessible way to offset all the pressures and depressing realities of our world at the moment. It can be very absorbing and transformative and kind of uplift you out of normality for a while with an instant serotonin hit. Add dancing and that hit gets doubled!


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