Off The Record music festivals inspires, aids and equalises in Manchester’s Northern Quarter

With talks about gender equality, the housing situation and new performing acts, Off The Record provided a powerful connection to the world of music this month.

And it made you wish you had more time.

The festival was started officially by Clint Boon at Band On The Wall on November 15 as the drinks flowed and people networked.

All the participants were true music aficionados who couldn’t wait to talk to each other. Everybody went home with names, business cards and a handful on interesting conversations with artists, managers and directors.

The morning after, conferences and masterclasses kicked off early at 9.30 at the Methodist Central Hall in Oldham Street, the heart of the Northern Quarter. The Main Hall was so full that many people had to stand up to follow the panels, all of which were accurately researched and mediated.

The first one was about women in music, called Be inspired… a celebration of change, which shed some light on the obstacles this industry is still facing in 2018. Even if the music industry is almost exclusively led by men, there are some important changes in place such as plans to help female performers get recognition for their work despite their sex.

This conversation involved many women, including Shell Zenner (BBC Introducing/Amazing), Becky Ayres (Liverpool Sound City COO), Kate Lowes (Both Sides/Brighter Sound) and Winifred Sandy (PRS Foundation).

Also present was Tony Ereira, the founder of Come Play With Me, a social enterprise based in Leeds whose mission is to help the creation of new sustainable music careers in the area.

All the panellists were involved in different programmes such as Keychange, an international campaign launched by PRS Foundation investing in female acts and strongly linked with music festivals, encouraging them to have a 50:50 balance.

Would you feel more comfortable knowing that the headline act in a festival is led by a male performer?

In conversation with… Simon Sparkes, the founder of Brixton Academy, was like a chat with an old friend. The power of his passion for music led to the creation of one historical venue for the country and for many musicians who grew up wishing to play there one day.

It was like listening to a fairytale where the hero has only his good heart and the willpower to create something meaningful in an area that has always been mistreated.

Another successful conference was DIY vs Indie vs Major. The aim was to help emerging artists to choose how to proceed with their career, from discussing the pros and cons in working with a major label, to pondering whether to stick with an independent label or go DIY.

The panel saw the active participation of many young musicians who chose Off The Record to check their options. It was a critical topic but led in a way where it was impossible to not enjoy the conversation. Particularly notable were the gentle but funny and interesting anecdotes as Jennifer Otter Bickerdike, the author of extensive work on the history of rock’n’roll, mediated expertly.

The panellists, Julie Weir (Sony Music), Mark Orr (LAB Records), Tony Ereira (CPWM/Hatch Records) and Cath Hurley (Modern Sky) were nice and friendly, open to questions and available for a chat at any time.

Which applied to every single panellist at the event.

Off The Record also gave us the chance to watch new acts and meet great people, such as art-rock band Libralibra, whose music is a combination of different pieces put together in a community style.

The sound was curated and precise but the show had a tribal accent, due to the powerful rhythm mixed with the ethereal vocals. They are one of the many reasons why the festival was so successful.

The passion for discovery and the satisfaction of seeing a performance like no other you could remember happening in front of you is almost magically always a plus. If you’re a real music lover you’ll know what I mean.

Similar emotions were palpable when watching Wooze. One of the friendliest bands around, the main duo (lead guitar/vocals, drums/vocals) come from an art collective. In fact, an artist painted them with a pen tablet during the performance.

It was an incredible art piece within an art piece. So fresh, new and fun at the same time.

The only flaw of Off The Record is that there wasn’t enough time to explore everything. So many emerging performers were worth watching, like hip hop singer Olivia Nelson, old school punk band Rascalton, nu-jazz Kinkajous and alt-rock Avalanche Party.

Choosing a band meant giving up on four other shows while following a masterclass meant you would definitely miss a conference or the chance to talk to somebody you want to.

Our one and only suggestion for next year: make it a two-day event, please!


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