BBC Manchester - 2nd October 2008...

In The Other City

Running a music convention in Salford at the same time that the massive In The City hits Manchester could be described as either a masterstroke or madness – but that's exactly what the organisers of the inaugural Un-convention are doing.

Jeff Thompson of Fat Northerner Records and Un-convention is firmly in favour of the former description, saying that the two events aren't that similar, though he admits that the event did kind of snowball into something he never expected once people heard about it.

"Un-convention isn't set up to run against In the City; for us, we are doing two very different things. When we started talking about this, sometime around April, it was a very small-scale idea.

"Basically, a couple of the Manchester labels had started talking about getting together to discuss the current climate. We thought it would just be an afternoon in the pub having a chat.

"Given the DIY roots, it made sense to try and do it whilst ITC was running, since some of the people we'd asked to come along would be in town anyway.

"However, as the months went by, the event took on a bit of a life of its own. People talked to their contacts about it, they wanted to get involved too, and it became apparent that a pub wasn't going to be enough.

"That's when we decided to try and set it up as more of a conference. Howard [Mills of Humble Soul] already had the Sacred Trinity Church for putting on some showcases and we figured we might as well try and organise something there in the day.

"Really, by the time it all came together, it was too late to change the dates - we have people flying in from Europe - so we decided to stick with them, at least for this year."

Reinventing the wheel?

That’s the how of Un-convention dealt with, but what about the why? With In The City bringing unsigned bands and new music into the area, what made Jeff and the rest decide to put Un-convention together at all? He says it’s for two main reasons.

"First of all, from running a label in Manchester, we always felt that our local industry was a bit fragmented. The industry is still very London-centric, but there seems to be a much more vibrant scene for labels of all sizes down there, and plenty of opportunity to meet new people and network.

"Sometimes it feels like we constantly have to reinvent the wheel up here, so we wanted to try and get people together, not just from Manchester, but generally those working at the same level as ourselves to share ideas and experience.

"There are a lot of small labels all around the country doing amazing things and we wanted to get those people together, so we could all share a little of what we'd learnt.

"The highlight for me will be the opportunity to meet other people who genuinely love music the way we do and make all these wonderful things happen."

Jeff on what he is looking forward to at Un-convention

"The second impetus is the changes in technology and the effect they are having. A lot is being made of the current changes but it the smaller, DIY labels are the ones breaking new bands to the most savvy audience ever.

"We wanted to get people together to discuss the future of small labels. It is easy to view the current market in a negative way, but the power genuinely is shifting back towards the artist and there are a lot of positives to be had from that.

"The uncertainty is what makes this such an exciting time for the industry, particularly for those at a grass roots level."

Back to the roots

It is that idea of the 'grassroots' music industry is the one that drives the event more than anything else. Jeff says that while other conferences have been great at looking at the "bigger picture", Un-convention is for the "huge number of people [who] are involved with music that genuinely do it for the love; [who] if they break even, then that's real success for them."

"What we're looking at is the people who have something they truly believe in and are trying to make it work, whether it be from their bedroom in Sheffield, kitchen in Aberdeen or basement in the Northern Quarter.

"We've attended conferences where the 'marketing on a shoestring' panel involves having £15,000 to promote an album – it just isn't that relevant."

To that end, the team have tried their best to keep costs down for delegates – their price for three nights of music and two days of panels is a fraction of the cost of an ITC pass – and they're hoping, as a result, to get some forward thinking, like-minded individuals coming along.

"We really believe that the people who attend are as important - if not more so - than the people we have on the panels. Although we have panels to give it some structure, it isn't a case of people sitting there to listen – we want people to contribute.

"The debate isn't particularly about labels either; it's about independent music. To that end, we're expecting labels, self releasing bands, promoters, venue owners, designers, photographers, PR people, journalists; basically anyone interested in the future of independent music."

Meeting music lovers

Being so passionate about the whole event, Jeff says it is difficult for him to pick out highlights, but if he's pushed, there a couple of things he admits he's really looking forward to.

"First off, the bands. We're showcasing 12 bands that we think exemplify everything that is wonderful about what we do. We've got some amazing local talent from the like of Denis Jones and Sophie's Pigeons, international bands such as Iceland's Cynic Guru and Sweden's Pacific, plus established masters like Graham Massey’s Toolshed and new breaking talent like Silverclub.

"As for the industry event, we’ve got some really influential people coming, like Radio 1's Huw Stephens and Stephen Bass from Moshi Moshi, and I think it will be really interesting to get their take on the current scene.

"But I think the highlight for me, and the reason we started this in the first place, will be the opportunity to meet other people who genuinely love music the way we do and make all these wonderful things happen."

It might still seem a little bit mad, but it sounds like for anyone who genuinely loves new music, it will all make perfect sense.

Un-convention runs from Sunday 5 to Tuesday 7 October at Sacred Trinity Church in Salford