BOTH SIDES NOW
GWENNO, the Welsh and Cornish polyglot, is gracing this year’s Sound City with a one-off performance of brand-new works with her producer, Rhys Edwards. She’s also running a five-day residency for local artists, mostly women, to join her in interpreting a Scouse sense of place into a collaborative musical project. The group of artists have been selected for diversity as part of an ongoing partnership with Both Sides Now, a pioneering initiative from music charity Brighter Sound to support women in music across the North.
Last year, the workshop was led by Gwenno’s Heavenly label-mates Stealing Sheep. This year, she hopes to take up the mantle of engaging with local musicians and artists of all disciplines, backgrounds and skill levels to create a musical response to Liverpool’s physical spaces. As an artist, Gwenno weaves elements of folk, electronica and psychedelia over a trilingual phonetic soundscape which at times borders on surrealism. This cultural and musical flexibility makes her an ideal mentor for getting the best out of the programme’s diverse musicians. Bido Lito! favourite BEIJA FLO, another artist performing at Sound City this year, shares a passion for inclusivity and acceptance within music. Beija called up Gwenno to talk about loving Liverpool, creative freedom the importance of addressing the lack of diversity in music. The two obviously share a certain eccentricity, and openness towards the unfamiliar…
Beija Flo: So, are you excited to do Sound City and come to Liverpool?
Gwenno: I can’t wait. I’ve been a huge fan of the project for years from a distance and I’ve always thought it was really diverse and eclectic, a real variety of different artists leading the workshops.
BF: You get to be in charge of your own round of it now.
G: Yeh, I can’t wait to meet all the artists and see what’ll happen. I’m excited to explore Liverpool, get to know the city better. We’re hoping to respond to it musically in terms of buildings and architecture.
BF: I think you’re going to love it. Obviously, I’m not Scouse. When I came to earth I was, sort of, plonked on Essex and I was like, I don’t really think this is the place for me. I ended up here for uni and whatnot – I just love it. I think you’ll enjoy it because everyone that chooses to live here or is from here is so aggressively passionate to be from here or be living here. Have you been here much before?
G: I have, but I haven’t had a long enough length of time really. So, it’s a lovely opportunity to explore the city really and learn about the history and the communities that make Liverpool their home. I like the idea of places where people really congregate as well. That could be anywhere – a shopping centre or a football ground or a church or whatever. But I like this idea of people coming together in one space within the city, and what that means to the people who congregate in it. So, I’m hoping that I’ll work with the artists to explore that, and try and figure out which places to play and collect sounds, to celebrate those places. Trying to find a philosophical meaning, but also exploring that through sound, to work out what the identity of that place is and how can you capture that and explore that. So, it’s going to be quite abstract, but I’m hoping you’ll be able to feel the energy of that community.
BF: I’m with you Gwenno, but I sort of feel like ‘abstract’ is code for ‘magic’ really.
G: It is, isn’t it? I want the project to give a lot of freedom of expression. I think that there will be a diverse range of artists with different skills. It’s trying to push everyone out of their comfort zone. Things like improvisation are always brilliant within music, doing it in groups, trying to see how you respond to other people – the artists that will be there taking part completely shape what it is, and that’s the most exciting part for me, really.
BF: I love group work – it’s such a great tool for getting a large group of people to figure stuff. There is power in numbers; it’s sort of stupid to not swap skills. So, what do you think of having all women on the project, bar Rhys?
G: That’s what’s great about the project. There’s a huge lack of diversity within music, beyond gender. I’m talking across backgrounds; it’s to do with race, it’s to do with class. This is a very practical way of creating opportunities for artists to explore – there’s not a particular goal or particular box that you need to try and fit into as a creative, and you don’t have that sense of commercial pressure at the end of it. It’s about giving people confidence, and sharing skills outside of an academic environment. It’s not about winning or failing, it’s just about trying stuff out and seeing what happens.
BF: I think it’s really, really cool as well that the overall topics within what you’re going to cover, is not necessarily feminism and women’s politics. I mean, I talk bloody loads about sexual health issues for women, so I just shout about my vagina all day. But I do also think that it doesn’t really help all the time if people are just going, ‘Well we have to celebrate women, so we have to do an all-women line-up and just talk about women and blah, blah, blah’. As much as we really, really need those moments of isolating men, we also need these other moments. We need both.
G: We do get boxed in, and we box everyone in. But underneath all that, we’re all human beings with brains that like thinking about stuff and challenging ourselves. I’m made aware of being female by other people, really. It’s just trying to escape that, and going beyond the way people define you. As an artist, when I think about subjects and concepts, it frees me from myself. I don’t have to think about my personal experience. I can project all of my energy onto another idea. That’s the idea behind it – creative freedom. I just hope that the people taking part will gain an experience that gives them more confidence to pursue their own path, without needing to fit into a particular category that’s already been made and created by a market. Everyone’s perspective on the world is unique to them, and that’s what’s interesting. There’s always been an amazing Welsh language music scene in Wales and it took me a long time to become confident enough to use the language. But that’s your tools in your box – and they’re just lying around the place at your feet most of the time. I think it’s that diversity that makes us all really interesting, particularly in the arts as well – hearing music you’ve never heard before, watching a film of a place you’ve never been to. Our small differences make us. I don’t know, it unites us I think.
BF: I think it’s so important to swap cultures. There’s also something so special about getting creatives and creative thinkers into the same space for a period of time, be it five days, or whatever. I always find myself feeling warm, sort of like I’ve learnt a lot, and a little bit superhuman, after a situation that you might not necessarily feel comfortable in. And then you’re like, I bloody nailed that – ‘Cool, yeh, I can do anything, I can take on the world’.
G: That’s the whole point of the opportunity. You shit yourself, but actually feel really brilliant and exhilarated after you’ve done it – like, ‘Oh my God, I just did that’.
Gwenno’s special performance at Sound City takes place on Saturday 4th May at District, featuring collaborations with some of the UK’s best emerging female talent. The artists taking part in the residency are Abbi Woods, Annabel Grace, Eleanor Cheetham, Evja, Niki Kand, Rachel Nicholas, Sarah Grundy and Stephannie Stokes.