"Cool Cymru"

Womanby StreetIn the mid 1990’s, Wales saw a flourishing of musical talent rising to the top of the British charts. The phenomena was known as “Cool Cymru”, a time when the London based record companies sent their scouts to Wales to sign the emerging bands to their labels. (WALESONLINE, 2013). Suddenly, Wales was cool. Music that covered the spectrum of both Welsh and English languages was being noticed and celebrated throughout the United Kingdom. Bands such as Catatonia, Super Furry Animals, and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci became household names, bringing the Welsh language to the forefront of popular culture along with them.

Local venues that promoted live music became hubs for this new scene and some of them (Such as TJ’s) are now known internationally. But in this modern era, we ask ourselves what role these venues play in the Welsh music scene and whether live music is even relevant in the age of digital technologies such as the internet.

 

The Music City

In December 2017, Cardiff Council announced that the city would become the UK’s first Music City. (BBCNEWS, 2017). Details have been sparse but it would appear that one of the main ambitions is to increase the number of music venues within the area. These venues would aim to have capacities of 500, 600, and 4000 in order to facilitate small, emergent, and growing acts. (BBCNEWS, 2017). Another key aim is to attract visitors to the city. In the last few decades, Cardiff has transformed itself with the aim of becoming an established European Capital City. The bay area has been regenerated into both the seat of Welsh government and a cultural and entertainment resort overlooking the waters of the city. There are also newer developments within the city centre, namely the Central Square where the BBC have their new headquarters, and the proposed redevelopment of the Brains Brewery site adjacent to the river Taff. (BBCNEWS, 2018). Indeed, Cardiff certainly looks the part but it has a sense of its own history being erased under the shadows cast by these shiny new buildings. Where once there were venues teeming with an alternative crowd, a kind of gentrification has occurred replacing them with cocktail bars and craft alehouses. In many respects this is great for tourism, but live music has taken a back seat as venues have closed. The Music City idea emerged as a direct result of this. As the city centre has built new housing, many of the residents have filed noise complaints to the council, which then threatened the existing venues with closure. (Owens, D. March 2017).  After public protest, a law was passed to protect these venues that are mainly centred on Womanby Street. It is now the duty of housing developers to ensure their buildings offer appropriate levels of soundproofing, the so called “Agent of Change” law, and Womanby Street itself has been named an area of cultural significance, protecting it even further. (Owens, D. May 2017)

 

Womanby Street

A side road close to Cardiff Castle, Womanby Street is home to several venues that host live music including “Fuel”, “The Moon”, “Clwb Ifor Bach”, “Bootleggers”, “Tiny Rebel”, and the nearby “Blue Honey Night Café”. The area has a vibrant, hipster ambience to it at weekends, even more so when the whole street is host to the many street festivals that occur throughout the year. These festivals showcase some of the country’s finest local acts, locally brewed ales and street food. They usually span a whole weekend and a ticket can grant access to any of the bars on the street where different bands will be performing.

In the furore that followed submitted plans for a hotel and housing complex on the street, the area is now culturally protected and will continue to play an important role in the Music City project.

 

Other Cardiff Venues

Other venues in the city that are regular hosts to local musicians are “Buffalo Bar” and “Gwdihw”. They are situated on the other end of city centre and so miss out on a lot of the activity on Womanby Street; however Gwdihw in particular tends to have more specialist and diverse acts catering to a slightly different crowd than for instance “Fuel” which primarily focuses on Metal and Hard Rock.

Given that Cardiff is the site of two Universities; its large student population ensures there will always be a home for live music in the city, and that these venues will always fulfil a demand.

 

Digital Technologies

A question one may ask themselves, is whether live music will indeed always be in demand in the advent of the rise of the internet, social media and other digital technologies. Coupled with the rising cost of consuming alcohol at licenced premises – particularly the craft alehouses and cocktail bars – Is staying at home with the convenience of on demand video, social interaction and free music too much of a lure away from clubs and pubs? Social Media giant “Facebook” is now a big part of our lives, changing the way we communicate and share our lives with each other. In many ways, society has become less social as we move towards a more digital centric way of life, but this is to ignore the many positives of instant communication. We are in fact more social as we share everything from the inane to our political beliefs, romantic lives, and of course the music we love. Facebook is arguably one of the best advertising products that has ever existed, mining billions of people’s personal details and allowing corporations and small businesses to target potential customers with fine precision. This opens up enormous opportunities for local bands to find fans that are within increasingly specialised niches, and to promote their albums and live shows to those fans at a reasonable cost.

Another change we have seen in the music industry is the increasing prevalence of Streaming. Websites such as Spotify and Pandora have a catalogue of almost all music that has been released and customers can listen on demand for free. These companies do offer a premium, ad-free service which many people are willing to pay as it usually only costs around the price of a CD per month.

Artists are the main casualty of this trend. The amount these sites pay the artist per stream is extremely low and this poses a problem for emerging bands that simply don’t have the numbers to build a regular income from this source. Streaming, however is here to stay; it was a response to the problem of illegal downloads and the demand from consumers for cheaper, if not free, music.

 

Band Websites

The internet offers another opportunity for bands, however. It is now incredibly affordable for a band to build their own website that can host their content such as blog posts, music videos, merchandise links, and tour dates. During the “Cool Cymru” era, live music promotion relied heavily on flyers, posters and word of mouth until the scene erupted and became prominent on television and within national press. Nowadays though, musicians can build a niche following on Facebook and funnel them towards their website which not only serves as a noticeboard for upcoming gigs, but also as a community where fans can interact with each other and build friendships. These people are more likely to want to go to “bricks and mortar” venues to see a band if they know their friends will be there too. This is a significant change. In the 1990’s people would go to their favourite clubs at weekends, very often not knowing which bands were playing or if they would bump into anyone they knew. This could often discourage people from going out at all.

Flyers and posters are still important, as is word of mouth from enthusiastic advocates, but for the same cost of 1000 flyers, an effective online marketing campaign could potentially work out better. Digital entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk has suggested that Facebook adverts are currently under-priced and that in the future, as bigger corporations increase their marketing budgets towards this, demand for placement on the News Feed will push prices upwards dramatically. (Green, S. 2017). Will this price out bands once again or will there be new opportunities for scenes to become popular and gain the attention of the wider public? This is certainly likely given how interconnected the world has become. Viral marketing remains a firm goal for many artists specifically because it is free, but also because it is currently breeding a new type of celebrity; The Online Influencers.

 

Internet Famous

“Online influencers” are the new celebrities of our age. Some of them amass such a large following due to a viral piece of content that they are able to command huge monetary endorsements from other brands. (Kay, K. 2017) Whilst this is an interesting phenomenon in itself, it does suggest less of a need for genuine talent and the ability to perform live is now optional. However, human beings have an inbuilt need to congregate. We are social creatures. Gigs have always been about the atmosphere and environment. No doubt Virtual Reality will one day provide a simulated experience of our favourite bands, but it is our friends and fellow music lovers that will draw us again and again to physical venues. We just need to patronise them and support them so that the Music City can come into full fruition and keep live music well and truly alive.

 

Sources

BBCNEWS (2017) Cardiff to become ‘Music City’ to protect and grow venues. Available at:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-42351286 (Accessed 10 December 2018).

 

BBCNEWS (2018) Cardiff’s Brains Brewery redevelopment plans submitted. Available at:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-43140565 (Accessed 10 December 2018).

 

Green, S. (2017) SOCIAL MEDIA ADVERTISING IS ‘GROSSLY UNDERPRICED’, GARY VAYNERCHUK TELLS MELBOURNE CROWD Available at: https://assemblo.com/social-media/social-media-advertising-grossly-underpriced-gary-vaynerchuk-tells-melbourne-crowd/ (Accessed 10 December 2018).

 

Kay, K. (2017) Millennial ‘influencers’ who are the new stars of web advertising. Available at:

https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2017/may/27/millenial-influencers-new-stars-web-advertising-marketing-luxury-brands (Accessed 10 December 2018).

 

Owens, D. (March 2017) The future of another Cardiff music venue could be under threat over a noise complaint. Available at: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/future-another-cardiff-music-venue-12805466  (Accessed 10 December 2018).

 

Owens, D. (May 2017) Victory for live music campaigners as government changes policy to support venues. Available at: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/victory-live-music-campaigners-government-13062039 (Accessed 10 December 2018).

 

WALESONLINE (2013) Cool Cymru and beyond – the past, present and future of the Welsh music scene. Available at: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/showbiz/cool-cymru-beyond–past-1815633 (Accessed 10 December 2018).

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