Saturday, June 09, 2007

A brand new sexy audience ...


Between January and June 2006, a series of ‘classical music club nights’ took place in London’s fashionable Shoreditch. This monthly ‘club’ night went by the unfortunate handle of TI4U, which when translated out of its yoof txt spk unravels as This Isn’t For You – a moniker that exemplifies classical music’s traditional warm welcome to we thicko neophytes. Presumably, like everything else in Shoreditch, the name was supposed to be ironic, but then who knows? Classical music being elitist? There’s always a first time for everything.

I went along to one of these evenings with my friend Paul, although I honestly now can’t remember why we went at all. The whole idea of a classical music nightclub seemed bizarre to us; we had no idea what to expect - would TI4U be down in some dark and dingy underground club space, with a huge speaker system, dry ice and coke-queuing in the lavs? Light show? Lasers? Comin’ on like an augmented G-minor seventh sense? Or was this whole ‘club night’ thing merely canny marketing spin – an attempt to attract those who wouldn’t be seen dead in a traditional concert hall but were now in their mid-to-late 30s and worried that perhaps they soon oughtn’t really to be seen in a normal club any more either? Was this a pointer towards the future, or another cynical sign of the times? Would the prospect of a bar that remains open during the live performances (oooh!) and an invitation to ‘dress down’ for the evening succeed in pulling in the relatively young punters? Of course not! But still. It was a brave idea anyway.

Paul and I arrived on the steps of Shoreditch Town Hall neither mashed to the gills on hallucinogens nor decked out in Paul’s usual clubbing garb of rubber bondage gear and nipple clamps; rather we had arrived dressed club-soberly, as if for, say, Aphex Twin’s funeral. And Shoreditch Town Hall turned out to be a rather elegant bona fide town hall and not a heaving, scabrous underground pit, so that was that one cleaned up too. So far: as ditchwater. We entered the town hall and went through to the main, erm, hall bit, which was a large, brightly-lit wooden-floored you know, hall-type thing, with a table up one end with wine and beer on, upon whose wares we began to intoxicate ourselves in order to be in an inspirational frame of mind for the music. Up at the other end of the hall was the DJ - a mousey young lady sitting on a chair by a pair of CD decks with mounted speakers on either side. This was, wonderfully, ‘DJ Eleanor’.

Drinks in hand, Paul and I went over to watch DJ Eleanor spin her blazing wheels of burnished pewter. She was wearing a nice Laura Ashley dress and selected classical CDs to play from out of a faux-leatherbound folder. There were no shout-outs or anything, just nervous-looking Eleanor putting on some Purcell, and then some Schubert, and then some Byrd, and then a risqué soupcon of Webern. None of these were ‘mashed-up’ either. It was so sweet. A few people stood around the edge of the hall, looking awkward in suits with their ties self-consciously removed, like a hall full of perspiring, Becks-clasping David Camerons. There was also the occasional rakish chap in devil-may-care leather jacket. Less Brando, more Lovejoy.

Then the live music started, and it was like a ‘flash mob’, I think, ish, in that the chamber musicians just set up anywhere on the floor of the hall and started to play, willy-nilly. The punters self-consciously gathered around. It was pleasant enough. When they had finished, we dispersed back to the bar and the walls and DJ Eleanor went back to work, smiling shyly. It went on like this for a few hours, until a lone cellist came out and played some Bach and everything changed.

I find that Bach, especially his six solo cello suites, always manages to evoke a general fatalistic resignation to everything. Not just to one’s boring old lot – thought that does come into it – but everything else you can think of too: the sun the stars, the clouds, the Earth, air, trees, toy dogs, traffic wardens and so on, plus, most importantly, one’s own place in the Greater Context (utter and fundamental meaninglessness). This was like a kind of mass hypnosis; a shared consciousness-raising (or lowering, depending on how one’s dealing with the meaninglessness) experience for all within earshot.

You could just tell, by glancing around, that everybody was on the same trip. Was it just the algebra? Bach’s music is famously mathematically rigorous – are such collective ‘trances’ simply a subconscious reaction to the logic that’s underpinning the notes we can hear? Or are there deeper forces at work? Was Bach simply a genius who was able to thread into his music, even 250+ years down the line, specific and innate elements of profound transcendence? I suspect the answer is a little bit of both and a bottle of beer. Or however many we had. Fourteen or so. Plus the ketamine.

Would I go again? Yes, were we not now banned. And especially if they focused more on the ‘challenging’ 20th century stuff (Cage, Xenakis, Schoenberg, more Webern et al) rather than the same old Baroque (Bach excepted) and Romantic chamber music standards. But this is just personal preference. I’d also kind of prefer it if they raised DJ Eleanor’s volume at least double, turned the lights down by half, and actually banned people wearing suits from attending. I mean, if you’re serious about attracting a non-traditional audience, at least encourage the traditional audience who you can’t really stop from attending to pretend to be otherwise. If not, you’re just prolonging the status quo, Shoreditch or no Shoreditch.

It says on their website that TI4U will ‘have a new home’ from June 2007. If these dudes are truly looking to bring classical music to the attention of a brand new, sexy audience (without dumbing down to Katherine Jenkins levels of hatefulness), they need to take this underground somehow – make it weirder and darken its hues. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always Stringfellows. OK that’s the end now.


Seb Hunter writes in Issue 6 - Clubbing of his Bitterest Pill ezine, subscribe for free here.

For the back story read Rock me Amadeus
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