Sep 142015
 

This weekend I was at the Community Media Association conference in Luton. The annual get-together of people who run and support community media across the United Kingdom.

The conference is organised by the Community Media Association to bring together volunteers and activists who run community radio stations, community art projects, community newspapers, and so on. I always enjoy being with people who volunteer in community media, they have a passion and commitment to transforming people’s lives through participation by making media for themselves.

We all have stories of how transformational this process can be, and what a difference it makes to the people who volunteer for community media. Changing lives and a sense of expectation about what can be achieved is a powerful selling-point for community media.

Chris Burns - Radio Academy

Chris Burns – Radio Academy

We were addressed by Chris Burns from the Radio Academy. What was interesting was the extent to which she was concerned to address common standards of training between the radio sector, ‘the industry’ as she kept calling it, and the community media sector.

I’m sceptical about linking to closely with the major broadcasters and following their agenda for skills and training. People who support community media have plenty of experience working with non-traditional learners who would struggle in an industrial environment. This suggested to me that there is a gulf of understanding about what community media is about, what it tries to do, and how it tries to do it.

I’m sure that there is a lot of well-meaning and good intentions from people who want to see a vibrant community media sector, I’m just not convinced that community media can thrive if it is only viewed as a poor-relation to the ‘grown-ups’ in the national media businesses.

Community media has to fashion an independent identify that is different from professional media. An identity that is focussed on social and personal transformation, and which is clearly marked as different from the game that is played by the BBC or the Radio Academy.

May 242015
 

I was won over to Liverpool Sound City a couple of years ago, with it’s innovative mix of music festival, conference and the creative opening-up of regular and hidden music venues across the city. I could book into a hotel then dodge between bands, coffee shops, and shopping. Chilling out and exploring some amazing temporary venues, like Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, or a run-down car park that had been turned into a performance space.

This years Sound City Festival has a new format though, and it’s taken away the joy and the pleasure that made this a unique festival.

Firstly, getting to the new site down on Bramley-Moore Dock, is a major pain. There are no regular buses that service this part of Liverpool. There is a train service that runs nearby, or a special bus service, but otherwise it’s a good half-hour walk away from the Pier Head.

The site is now a self-contained festival with restrictions on what you can bring in, and bag searches to get through the gates. In the past the major venues operated a bag-check policy, so it’s not much different, but the big difference now is that the site is locked-down, and once you are in you can’t get out. So if you don’t like wraps, burgers, noodles or pizza then you are pretty limited in what you can eat.

It sounded worse than it looked!

It sounded worse than it looked!

There are few places for sitting and chilling out. A couple of wooden pallets have been set-up for people to sit on, but otherwise its hard to find a space among the rubble and the hard-standing dock-sides. This isn’t a space to relax. Quite literally it’s an industrial dock, with metal railings erected to keep people in or out.

Being on the banks of the Mersey seems a lovely idea, and when the sun is out it’s pleasant. But once the weather changes and the wind whips-up, then there’s no protection from the harshness of the Irish Sea.

These are small complaints though, compared to the quality of the sound of the festival. Whoever chose the locations for each of the stages and tents never gave a thought for the way that they would sound. The central area around the North Stage is surrounded by five other stages. The bleed of noise from each of them is overwhelming and exhausting.

The main stage sounds anodyne and insipid as most of the sound is whipped-off by the strong winds in a vast riverside open space. This is not a natural amphitheatre that would enhance the delicate nuance of the performances. Instead it’s a harsh, post-industrial concrete landscape that is unforgiving to anything but the most brutal sounds.

The Baltic Stage should be more interesting than it is, as it’s inside a warehouse. But by blasting the sound systems to their maximum it’s generally impossible to hear anything of the performances. I measured 100db on my phone sound meter. I’m sure people left with permanent damage to their hearing.

I thought I would be writing about the bands and the music, but the environment and the sound management of this festival is so poor that I can’t really tell if the bands that I’ve heard and seen have been any good. It’s become just another boring rock festival. I won’t be coming back next year.