Urban Music is a broad term and includes diverse genres such as house, drum & bass, hip hop, dubstep and grime, all genres that generally only make an appearance in informal music making, yet often make up the whole musical fabric in the lives of many young people. Since SoCo began delivering music making sessions in 2008, we found that in the youth clubs, the town centres and outside of school there was a passion for gritty, DIY Urban Music that was accessible, achievable and shareable for young people, especially those that would be considered “hard to reach”. Many an evening was spent in youth clubs across Hampshire, downloading instrumental tracks from YouTube and recording complex crafted bars with young MCs, rappers and poets. Their 8 or 16 bar pieces would have flow, expression and rhythm, conjure images of real (or imagined) life, be full of humour, anger and pathos. These were young people on the fringes of mainstream education, disengaged from the English, maths and music lessons that had no resonance in their lives, yet their creativity, their intelligence and their passion came alive through this engagement with a music rarely offered or even understood in school. It’s no wonder these young people were disengaged with their education.
Fast forward to 2017, the most recent recipient of the Mercury Music Prize, Skepta, is a grime artist, YouTube channels showcasing grime and Urban music reach audiences in their tens of millions but grime has not lost its connection with its roots. Prominent and popular artists including Stormzy, Kano and Wiley still record videos in car parks or town centres, and fame and notoriety can come not through intensive gigging, or label support but through a viral video. Young grime artists feel connected and have ownership over their music, grime can be made on a smartphone, they see those at the top of their game and see that it’s achievable.
So a vibrant and exciting genre that engages some of the hardest to reach young people and provides an opportunity to showcase their skills and talents in areas they find “challenging” in school. It’s a genre that has been supported for years in informal settings but is mostly avoided by schools, formal settings and music services. The formation of Music Education Hubs has promised to support “all” young people engage in music but still we find that Urban Music is not given the status or credibility in education that other genres are given, including contemporary music such as rock and pop.
This makes it even more important that there continues to be a supportive and inspiring offer for emerging talents in Urban Music in the community. Here at SoCo we believe we’ve found a way too take this informal activity and provide pathways and progression for aspiring young artists: we are creating a specific role within our organisation, an Urban Music Development Officer.
This role will have 3 distinct functions: mapping and supporting the Urban Music offer in the city; exploring potential partnerships and best practice across the country; and building a strong evidence base demonstrating the impact of positive Urban Music pathways for young people. Urban genres have been at the heart of our work for nearly 10 years, and now we want to extend that informal support, creating a solid and visible ecosystem for urban music to flourish.
We are at the start of this journey, focusing on the local offer we want to bring artists, producers and performers together, developing a culture for positive performance, collaboration and support. We want young people to share their ideas and skills, and bring in experts to increase the industry knowledge in the city. We are aware of some great projects taking place in other parts of our region: AudioActive are supporting emerging talent in Brighton; Music Fusion in Havant are supporting young artists with a label led by young people; Readipop’s Urban Orchestra provides innovative performance opportunities; and Gilles Peterson’s Future Bubblers project is providing much needed support for leftfield artists outside of London.
During this pilot phase we are working with Southampton Music Hub to build a picture of Urban Music in the city and start laying the foundations for a supportive and nurturing environment for existing, emerging and aspiring artists. We would love to hear from organisations and projects from across the country that are on this journey or who have made progress supporting Urban Music in their area. For more information or to discuss your journey with us please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org