Tell me about your background, why and when did you come to Brighton?
I arrived in Brighton about 13 years ago. Despite being a Londoner I pined for the countryside and sea, so at 22 I moved to South West Wales and lived on the Gower Peninsula, a place that has my heart. It’s stunning and wild and vast. After five years in the beautiful Gower, I was pining for more cultural stimulation and I knew I couldn’t be away from the sea… so I headed for Brighton. I had diverted away from music and been attempting to write a book and studied Oriental Medicine systems for 4 years. I realised however during a batch of illness that I got my fuel from music, so returned with a clear head and exciting clarity. I think stepping away from music strangely helped me. My life and studies as a young person were music-centred; I played the cello. When I returned to music I wasn’t sure where I would land so I set out the parameters which I could identify, which was Music Is Art and I will treat it so. I would work with artists, organisations, companies that I respect and stick to an artistic honesty. I have turned my hand to various things including playing in a band, worked as an artist manager, ran club nights, set up a management and music promotions company, contracted on festival programming, had a lot of fun with a radio show… and now I am here. It’s all part of the same thing really.
What is your job, and what does it entail?
I work as Music Producer for Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival. I tend to cross over a lot into art forms which I love. The job ranges from simply booking artists, to curating on themes, devising and producing new work.
Can you give me an ‘average’ day scenario?
Well there is the daunting task of selecting which of about 150 emails to open and respond to each day. Invariably there will be several meetings per day, this could be operational, finance, marketing and, of course, the best ones, with artists themselves. I listen to music most the day when I am not in meetings, when I have my head in Excel spread sheets, costing shows with a view to making offers or assessing organisational budgets for the year. I also ensure that – every now and again – I don’t have ‘average days’. Sometimes I remove myself from the work environment so I can get my head stuck into something and spend an afternoon with an artist helping them think an idea through… or maybe they are helping me think an idea through!
And tell me a little of your work history prior to your current job. Working at the De La Warr Pavilion must have been an interesting challenge, as they programmed very little music before you came along…
It was ideal for me. The fact that they weren’t particularly on the music map, gave me a clean slate. It was known for its visual arts profile and architecture primarily, which I loved as a starting point. I couldn’t really see the challenges – just that this visual arts organisation was prepared to support me to bring in a strong artistic programme. I’m not someone who has embedded themselves in the deepest darkest music industry and I am more comfortable in the visual art world/model/thinking. I guess I am referencing the considerations around how something is presented, the testing of concept, the drilling down on ideas and general level of respect shown. I’m of Italian descent so maybe here I am also talking about food. I like to feed people very well. It’s closely akin to art. My first meeting when I joined the De La Warr was to have lunch with Grayson Perry and talk music. I love this way of working where you have to think out how to respond to parameters. I got to really consider exhibitions coming in with the curators and come up with responding programmes; for example, the one we called A Nod To Cage: I would encourage music producers to learn in non-music environments. It’s priceless! One of the things that saddens and frustrates me is that in the music industry – at conferences, etc – very few people talk about the ‘art’ that is music, which is weird as so many amazing artists known for their music started out as fine artists, poets etc. As you can imagine, they want to be treated as ‘artists’. It transformed the way I worked and I learned a lot from a very feisty Artistic Director called Alan Haydon, who made me artistically justify every decision I made. It was a fascinating process; as trust in me increased, I got to challenge some of the visual art decisions where sound was incorporated. So, over the years of working in this way, it means that a lot of my relationships are direct with artists and creators. The international art world within music is pretty small, so it worked for me in building a clear programme. As the music profile built up, I then got to build more on the experimental side of programming… which then starts to open the eyes.
How do you go about programming for Brighton Festival?
It’s a collection of approaches really. Brighton Festival tends to be about non-touring work; one-offs, new works, commissions, so that comes about through a combination of approaches. Any new work tends to come from direct artist relationships, or perhaps there is a close working relationship with the manager representing that artist. Regarding the programme in general, I tend to make a wish list of whom I would like to see there, then I take a step back and think about how it fits together as one programme. If it feels balanced, I then begin to decide what artist approaches I will make. It’s at this point I turn to the Guest Director. They come up with central themes, which we then respond to. The ideas tend to come from the full producing team sitting around the table together with the Guest Director. I love this element. As I say, I like parameters – it’s fun to be challenged in programming; it makes things much more interesting. The Guest Director may also have specific artists in mind and they’ll ask me to help in making an approach to them; they also have a steer on my suggestions should there be any artists they don’t necessarily think fit with their themes. I secretly like this, as it’s good to tussle about art and justify choices made.
Can you tell us about any particular highlights in this year’s programme?
The new Peter Strickland film, The Duke of Burgundy (22nd May, Brighton Dome Concert Hall) has a soundtrack from Cat’s Eyes, and they have agreed to prepare it to present as a live film score with an extended lineup for Brighton Festival. It’s lush and beautiful and the acting superb. Its lead actress is the fantastic Sidse Knudsen, who plays Borgen in the Danish political drama. The night after that is Tricky (23rd May, Brighton Dome Corn Exchange); to me he is a very special artist. This year’s Guest Director Ali Smith is interested in ‘edges’, both in the sense of where art forms and thinking collide and also ‘the edge’ in the arts.
Tricky, to me, comes with oodles of edge. I’m also very happy that the Ukrainian outfit DahkaBrakha (10th May, Brighton Dome Corn Exchange) are performing. I have seen them internationally and they pretty much leave audiences gobsmacked. Dahka is a theatre company, out of the Kiev School of Contemporary Art, and you can tell. They are a phenomenal force, fusing lots of world sounds that on paper should be a nightmare but in reality is wild. It’s as eccentric as hell and similarly full of edge. It reminds me of Chicks on Speed, Bjork, Radiohead, Ice Cube, all at different moments. The great Carleen Anderson (22nd May, Theatre Royal Brighton) – accompanied by the Julian Joseph Trio – is also performing in the Festival, leading in a tribute to Sarah Vaughan.
And highlights from previous years?
I have to say Live_Transmission in 2012. This was a Joy Division-inspired project we produced. It was particularly profound for me as it’s the first time in my life I have seen a project in full in my head and knew we had to do it. I actually dreamt it. Sounds trippy, but I swear I dreamt sonically and then woke up and plotted the project out in about an hour, so that was its starting point. I have been waiting for the next time for it happen, I think I need to sleep more. It went onto sell out the Sydney Opera House as well as many European venues and is still touring! Last year Peaches Christ Superstar was a highlight for me. Peaches showed what she was capable of by singing all the parts of Jesus Christ Superstar. It also involved the audience screaming ‘Crucify Him’ in the penultimate song… it was scary and berserk! I absolutely love Peaches; she is unstoppable and her theatre direction work is very apparent… it’s a nice combination.
How does the programming for Brighton Festival differentiate itself from the rest of the year’s bookings?
Brighton Festival is about sense of occasion, so it’s important for the audience that there are lots of new experiences. The year-round programme tends generally to be more influenced by year round touring.
What do you like (and dislike) about Brighton?
I love the fact that people are so politically, culturally and socially engaged. I love that the sea is on our doorstep and hills behind us. I love that when working with artists, they are nearly all very happy to be in Brighton. I hate the eternal bus replacement service on the train lines on the weekends.
How do you view the music scene here in Brighton?
I think it’s great; as there are so many venues it means so many tastes can be catered. There is room for everyone, although I wish there was more taste for the more unusual/experimental.
Tell me about your musical tastes, past and present?
Pretty mixed; I have two older brothers, one into American rock and the other soul and funk, whilst my mother was all over jazz and blues and used to be a dancer and my dad is into blues and classical… so I have lots of broad influences. I was raised for the most part in a fairly extreme religious environment that most would call a cult… so much wasn’t allowed, but music for me wasn’t restricted. They left me be, so it became my outlet for most things. Some personal favourites include Gil Scott Heron, Nina Simone , Cocorosie, Isaac Hayes, Mica Levi, Pergolesi, Dolly Parton.
Tell us about your best ever gigs, as a punter.
Cocorosie, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey with Tricky in c.94, Public Enemy
If you could book any artist, dead or alive, who would that be?
I’m going to go with Nina Simone.