Interview: “Compare the times” Rare x Fiona Cartledge

Today I interviewed Fiona Cartledge. Fiona used to put on raves back in the 90’s, she has been in the club scene since she was 15. From 1991-1996, Fiona put on her own events.

I also interviewed Nathalie Miller, Constance Power and Sumara-Laika, a few members from up and coming collective Rare. Rare put on events, live music performances and raves around London. Collectives are a movement right now. Everyone is working together and collaborating to create something special. Something big.

I thought it would be interesting to ask both Fiona and Rare the same question and hear the differences between then and now.

I asked Fiona the question: Does popular culture offer the same opportunities for young, ambitious artists as it once did?

Fiona: In those days (the 80’s and 90’s), it very much was a DIY culture. You would just go to a club and ask them if they had a free night, and you’d put on a night, promote it yourself, there was no internet, so we used to do flyering. Flyering was the big thing. You used to get up in the middle of the night and go and stand outside clubs at 4 o’ clock in the morning and go and hand out flyers to people coming out the doors.

It was very cool to be a DJ, they didn’t have agents in those days, well very few of them did, so you would literally phone up the DJ’s direct or maybe one person and you’d say, “well I’ve got a party on the 29th, would you do it?”, they would say yes or no, they usually said yes if they liked you and that was it. It was that simple. It was really that simple. There wasn’t all this middle-men stuff, all these PR’s. Even mixmag had only just started, so this whole sort of corporate culture that’s grown up around the music industry in that way wasn’t there. Record companies were there obviously, but the record companies were more band orientated then. Funny enough I’m doing the book (sign of the times) on the 90’s and the environmentalist and artist, Jeremy Deller took some of the pictures at my parties, and there’s hardly any pictures of DJ’s. People took pictures of the crowd, all the pictures are of really gorgeous girls, and cool clubbers and stuff. There are some pictures of the DJ’s, but I noticed a big change when I booked Sasha, this big house DJ from the North and that was in 1994 at a party we did at Brixton Academy and I noticed that he brought these fans with him and they were these young boys and girls who were just taking pictures of him round the DJ booth, and we were all like, whats going on? Because we had never seen this before, this was like a new thing you know, people were taking pictures of a DJ, why would they do that, you know? And that was when it really started to shift and then magazines like mixmag and all those sorts of mags would start to build up the DJ’s as stars themselves and then suddenly, the DJs became bigger than the party. Because before people would say I’m going to Boys Own, I’m going to Shoom, I’m going to sign of the times which was me, they would say I’m going to all these parties, but now people were starting to say I’m going to see this DJ, that DJ, so the DJ actually became bigger than the party. For me that sort of became difficult because DJ’s who were asking for 300 quid a gig, suddenly started to ask for a thousand pounds a gig because they had an agent so the agents were pushing up the prices, which I understand, they were worth it but it made it difficult for people like me because my parties weren’t that big and we spent a huge amount on decor and all these other things so the profit just went like that, it became harder. At first I combated it by promoting new talent all the time, but the industry started to get quite big and suddenly everyone had an agent. It just started to become harder and harder for smaller operators like me.

The really big shift happened in the new millennium. DJ’s that I knew that were getting a thousand pounds a gig were getting 15 to 20 thousand pounds a gig and being flown all round the world because that was the other thing, the rave scene in the 80’s and early 90’s really was London, Manchester, Glasgow, New York obviously, Chicago, Detroit and Tokyo really. It wasn’t this global thing and now you look on Soundcloud and they’re from everywhere. This may sound stupid, but I didn’t see that coming, because it was so London-Centric you know. This is where everything happened first. We didn’t think globally you know because the Internet wasn’t there.

There was a lot of money in the club business in the 90’s. The other thing, there’s this group you should join on Facebook called Bring The Noise. It’s an amazing group because everyone’s posting up things from the 80’s and 90’s mainly and some 70’s. It really shows how many venues there were. So many venues! Someone said that there was apparently over 100 live venues in Soho. Now there’s only about 6. I just heard they’re about to close the Coronet in 2017. So all these historic venues are shutting and when you go on Bring the Noise, scroll down and you’ll see all the venues that held garage DJ’s and house DJ’s. It’s just the amount of venues and we just took it all for granted. As a club runner it was easy to get somewhere and what I’m seeing now, it’s all these bigger stadiums, but that means its controlled by the corporate world. So as a small promoter, you can’t hire the o2 or anything like that and yet that’s where all the actions happening. The whole thing happening is much more controlled by the corporates that way.

I mean somewhere like Shapes, that whole area of Dalston is probably how it was and same with Deptford, and I mean, you know like round here (Soho), its changed forever which is really sad. But things change.

The good thing about the internet for me, was that suddenly for an older person who doesn’t go out much I could suddenly listen to everything that’s happening so that was good, but obviously I can see how much competition there is.

One of the things that occurred to me when I was doing this book is this collective thing funnily enough. I think, in the 90’s there were a lot of collectives. It wasn’t as easy as probably I’m making it sound in the 90’s, basically, the culture was underground. There was very little overground culture apart from the record companies and so we had to form collectives to support each other really. That’s what I think people should do now because you are much stronger as a group and you also have all those different skill sets when you have a group. A lot of collectives that formed in the 90’s are still operating as groups now. I was reading an article on Lethal Bizzle and he was saying that he has only just started making more money off his music than his t-shirts believe it or not. He also said, you really need to build your own audience. Which is why it’s good we have all this social media stuff now. If you build your own audience, they’re always there. So it gives you a bit of power, you know? I’d say that’s essential in all businesses now. The thing with social media is, I really think it’s important to be authentic. Instead of all these crafted, curated sort of record company images of what you should be like, or fashion images, you actually get to see all flavours of something.

I asked Rare the same question: Does popular culture offer the same opportunities for young, ambitious artists as it once did. 

Nathalie: In the UK, we’ve lost funding anyway. So of course there are less opportunities for young artists now.

Nathalie: Every single person that won an award this year, apart from FKA and Shakka, won a Mobo last year.

Nathalie: I think underground artists will get the opportunity to do well when it is popular for underground artists to do well, it’s sort of getting there.

Sumara: But then there is a difference between underground and sub-culture. Like the music that Connie makes is very much subculture. Soundcloud is maybe the one platform that is very good for subculture to come to mainstream. Because if you think about it, Soulection would not be who they are now without Soundcloud.

Nathalie: But then, if we’re talking about underground artists in general, Soundcloud has become the home for a certain genre of producers to blow.

Sumara: It depends on taste

Nathalie: Soundcloud’s doing a lot for all the “futurebeatsy” people that want to make that new neo soul sound stuff. It’s become a really big platform for producers.

Sumara: So you see gentrification? It has definitely persuaded and kind of tainted the way people view music and the arts and anything creative, anything subject to opinion, because it’s like anything can be popular if there are more than 20 people. So I think, the time of Dalston has kind of fucked up the cycle of what pop culture is, because it is now no longer. Back in the day, pop culture actually did make a platform, like my mums era, when she was our age and on the club scene, she was basically doing exactly what we do now. Everything that they were doing was for the first time. They lived in the time where to wear a tracksuit into a club was really like, “oh my god, who are these people?” They were like the original Vivienne Westwood hat wearers. Club culture promoters were coming out of the woodwork, it was cool to be a DJ, and I feel like nowadays, everything’s just being recycled, so you have to be doing something years ahead of the time we are in now for popular culture to give you anything.

Nathalie: Everything is influenced by something.

Nathalie: Notting Hill Arts Club, Box park, they have Busk the box every Sunday, Boiler Room. These are all really good movements of our time now. The promoters that Notting Hill Arts Club allow to go into their venue bring new art to the table. No matter who is there and because it’s so established as a venue, it’s good for anyone that comes there. Boiler Room creates a platform for producers and DJ’s. DJ’s and producers, those are underground job descriptions. As a producer and DJ, you are always going to be in the background of someone else’s stuff, it’s like being a dancer or a performer in a show. You are never at the forefront of the product. So that’s why I think Boiler Room is good for that. Creating a platform for producers and DJ’s.

Sumara: What I think, is just, our generation.

Pearl Morris: You had the punks, the mods, they were underground movements before. We do have underground movements now because underground movements is just something that is not in the mainstream. We see it as more mainstream because of the people that we are involved with, but if you think of the general public, they don’t have a clue what’s going on.

Sumara: Tumblr, Instagram all the social networks just takes all the substance out of everything.

Summer’s Summary

How fascinating to have two very different perspectives and first hand experiences of making things happen in popular culture and the difference between the 80’s and 90’s then, and now. It seems to me that neither popular nor underground culture offer us the same opportunities anymore. We are very restricted as a generation. We may have all these social networks such as Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, which is good for networking and self promotion, but as Fiona said, back then you could go into a venue and ask if they had a free night and it was just a yes or no answer. It seemed simpler before, and there was more freedom and less people judging you and therefore less to lose. You could do whatever you wanted. Money was also an advantage back then. Nobody is willing to back you financially now until you have a huge following. You need to have over 1000 followers to promote something in order for people to come to what you are promoting. Nowadays, it’s a long process. You used to be able to flyer an event back in the day, which you can still do now, but if people don’t know who you are, they won’t go. There also are not enough venues for people either. As heard from Fiona, some of the most historic, beautiful, creative spaces are shutting down which means now, everyone wants to use the same space, which means it’s more expensive.

However, popular culture does offer different opportunities for young artists today. Today we have reality TV programmes and performing arts schools such as The BRIT School, Sylvia Young, Italia Conti and many more. Artists such as Amy Winehouse, Adele and Jessie J attended these school and they have had huge success. We also have many distribution platforms such as Soundcloud and Youtube which allow people across all art forms get “out there”, it allows unsigned singers put on huge gigs and have enormous followings without being signed to a label. Nowadays, the creative, less well off, young artist can have just as big a following as someone who grew up with everything. But then again, although we have these reality programmes which may mean more opportunity, it doesn’t necessarily mean longevity as we have seen many times on programmes  such as ‘The X Factor’ and ‘The Voice’, young ambitious artists today believe in these programmes, but do not realise the outcome, which can eventually make them not believe in themselves although programmes like these are usually fixed. Our DIY culture is very different to how it was back then.

We are sat behind screens. There was more “doing” back then, and more productivity. As Sumara from ‘Rare’ said, maybe social networks are taking the substance out of everything.


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