Evan Hunter McKnight

OUTLANDS is a brand-new, nationwide music network dedicated to experimental music. Adventurous by nature, experimental music has long played second fiddle to the more structured, standardized genres of music. The network gives genre-busting music a chance to spread its wings. The first tour kicks off in May.

OUTLANDS was born out of a desire to unite experimental artists, and to push their music into brave new areas. The result is always the same: to promote and support high-quality and diverse music over an initial span of two years. OUTLANDS will include six flagship tours, three per year, showcasing new works as commissioned by one of the ten partner organisations across eight of the network’s regions. An ‘interconnected participation programme’ will offer workshops, open rehearsals and Q&A sessions, giving audiences the opportunity to go closer to and delve further into the artistic process.

The first tour brings together Matana Roberts and Kelly Jayne Jones, who will be collaborating for the first time. Be sure to keep an eye out for the third and final instalment of the year, which is currently slated for November and will be curated by Fuse. This one will bring together German electronic label Raster Noton and DRIFT to create what promises to be a fascinating sound-activated installation.

Experimental music is an endangered species, despite it being available anywhere and everywhere. In daily life, open your ears, give a closer listen to the world around you, and you’ll hear her beautiful music. Artistically, experimental music is open to everyone and anyone. No musical training is required, and there are no instrumental borders or closed doors. Music is an amazing healer, of that there is no doubt. Experimental music can open up a pair of eyes and ears, transforming societies, expanding cultural understandings, and progressing minds through the levelling-up of thoughts and mental ascensions.

 “Organisational shifts in thought need to occur to enable non-commercial music to flourish. In an economically driven music climate, the notion that live music must be profit-making is outdated.  We believe that this cycle must be broken.”

Three improvisational powerhouses have just been announced for the second UK tour, which will take place over the summer months. In June and July, YoshimiO (of Boredoms, OOIOO and SAICOBAB) and avant-garde percussionist Susie Ibarra will be joined by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (Lichens), performing together as Yunohana Variations for the first time. The festival has been selected and produced by Supersonic Festival Birmingham.

OUTLANDS Partners (2018-2019)

Bexhill on Sea, De la Warr Pavilion
Birmingham, Capsule
Bradford, Fuse
Bristol, Qu Junktions / Al Cameron
Cambridge, Cambridge Junction
Manchester, Fat Out
Milton Keynes, MK Gallery
Plymouth, The House, Peninsula Arts, University of Plymouth / KARST

Matana Roberts and Kelly Jayne Jones Tour Dates May 2018:

Fri 4th May Bristol, Cube Cinema
Weds 9th May London, Ghost Notes
Thu 10th May Bexhill, De La Warr Pavilion
Fri 11th May Cambridge, St Barnabas Church
Sat 12th May Milton Keynes, MK Gallery
Thu 17th May Plymouth, The House, Peninsula Arts, University of Plymouth Fri 18th May Birmingham, Centrala Gallery
Sat 19th May Salford, Manchester, The Portico
Sun 20th May Bradford, Fuse Gallery

Yunohana Variations Tour Dates June 2018:

22/23/24 June, Birmingham, Supersonic Festival
Tues 26 June London, Oslo Hackney, promoted by Upset the Rhythm
Wed 27 June Bexhill, De la Warr Pavilion
Thu 28 June Cambridge, Cambridge Junction
Fri 29 June Milton Keynes, MK Gallery
Sat 30 June Bristol, Arnolfini, promoted by Qu Junktions
Sun 1 July Manchester, Soup Kitchen, promoted by Fat Out
Mon 2 July Bradford, Fuse Art Space
Weds 4 July Plymouth, KARST, promoted by KARST & Peninsula Arts, University of Plymouth

I recently spoke to Caleb Madden (lead project manager, De La Warr Pavilion) about his role within OUTLANDS and the general state of the experimental scene in the UK…

Hi Caleb, nice to meet you. Please introduce yourself.

Nice to meet you too. Thanks for the interest in OUTLANDS! Well, I’m part of the gang of 10 promotors/curators and producers from around the UK who got together to form the OUTLANDS touring network

Can you tell me how you became involved with OUTLANDS? How did it all happen?

I have been part of an experimental music and sonic arts collective in Brighton for about 15 years called the Spirit of Gravity. I have also been producing experimental arts events at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill for the last 5 years or so.  Funding and ticket sales have been steadily dropping over that time and it has been getting harder and harder to put on non-mainstream artists. After some conversations about the challenges with Simon Wright (who has for years been consistently presenting amazing experimental work at MK Gallery in Milton Keynes) we decided we should try and pool resources and get something more permanent and solid in place nationally.

What are your thoughts on the state of experimental music? Both in the UK and worldwide.

I think people are making amazing music and doing incredible performances and they will continue to do that. I see amazing work happening, month in – month out at the Spirit of Gravity shows at the Green Door Store in Brighton and I have worked on some incredible larger events at the De La Warr Pavilion (for example the Dear Serge series and the singular Napalm Death / Keith Harrison event in 2013). But I also see the amount of time people put in to these projects, both artists and producers (and often they are both at the same time), for no reward other than the love of performing and witnessing original, genre-defying work. Experimental music is an essential part of our culture. It’s a place where anyone, trained or untrained, rich or poor, can get on stage and do something they want to do, regardless of any commitments to normative format or tradition. Mainstream music can feel like an endless recycling of well-known tropes, but for me experimental music continues to fascinate and surprise, with new ideas, new sounds and new ways of performing.

How has the recent economic situation impacted experimental music in the UK?

That’s a big question. From what I have seen working for a large arts organisation, it has meant it is much harder for promoters to take risks on ambitious work – instead needing to put on established and mainstream artists in order to sell tickets. There also seems to be a culture where funding bodies see (ticketed) music programmes as the place to make money to support the (free) visual arts programmes. In Brighton, the ongoing programme of gentrification means there are less cheap venues for DIY organisations to use to put on their events. Across the board ticket sales for ambitious work are down. I think if you want to have an experimental culture of interesting and original music we are going to have to fight for it – the way we always have. And not just fight for it to survive but fight for it to become a valued, funded, part of our national arts ecosystem.

In your opinion, what importance do you place on the visual aspect to an experimental piece? Sometimes it can be integral to a piece, but should the music be able to stand on its own? And do you think visuals can sometimes distract from the actual piece of music?

I can’t see any use in setting up a binary between music and visuals. Until we move into a completely virtual reality there will always be some physical presence to a musical performance, even if that is simply the sound-system or some other vibrating object or larynx. This decision on what we see or hear is always going to be predicated on the artist and the work they make. For me, sometimes the unquestioned tradition of putting the musician on a stage as a focal point can be more distracting than any planned visual element. As producers and promoters, we have to ask ourselves if seeing someone peering at a laptop, or quietly twiddling some knobs, is actually what we want to ask our audiences to look at for extended periods, it might be better to simply turn the lights off or hand out blindfolds. Perhaps rather than questioning visuals we should start looking at some of the other unquestioned traditions of musical performance?

Does OUTLANDS give you the opportunity to engage more with audiences, and how important is that engagement?

Engaging with audiences is perhaps the only importance. With OUTLANDS we have a shared commitment to matching the originality and experimentation of our productions with that of our artists. For example, we explicitly ask ourselves if this work is best presented on a stage between two speakers? Often it isn’t. Part of the rationale for this network is that we share resources to ensure we can be as ambitious as possible when we design the format of the show. This will be seen in the collaborations with Visual Artists like ‘performance-ceramicist’ Keith Harrison and internationally respected digital film artists Semiconductor. Raster Noton will be presenting work in an immersive projection environment and we will be presenting some very special visual elements with the legends that are Boris. That said, and as suggested by your previous question, sometimes a more traditional and understated production can let the music shine. This will be the case with other productions, for instance, the collaboration between Matana Roberts and Kelly-Jayne Jones.

Although experimental music is more prevalent than at any other time in history, and easily found online through sites like bandcamp, etc, it still seems to thrive underground. Why do you think that’s the case?

I wonder if the internet has helped make it more prevalent (in the real world), or simply more available (online). Both are good things. All major music genres were experimental first, from rock n roll to hip-hop to dance music. It’s all down to what we mean when we say underground. Not commodified by capitalism maybe? For me when things become commodified and move into the mainstream they start to lose their originality and become pastiche. This is not to say that so called underground musics are not part of the capitalist machine. You could argue they are simply laboratories of innovation, grist for the mill of capital. Either way the problem seems to be that as soon as you want to start to sell a sustainable amount of tickets for something, that thing needs to become knowable and sellable and then the music becomes predictable and safe. So for OUTLANDS the challenge is to build these sustainable numbers of ticket buying audiences, whilst offering music that retains its original qualities. The way we do it is by being not-for-profit and putting all our revenues into the artists, the production and the audience engagement. 

Seeing as we’re now in 2018 and there have been so many technological advances, do you think experimental music should have a bigger role, exist more in the consciousness of the world?

It’s tricky for me to suggest what I think should exist in the consciousness of the world, if indeed one can (or should) talk about a shared consciousness at all. Also, I am not sure that technological advances somehow automatically imply a benefit to the dissemination of experimental music, or an automatic benefit in any way. Technology is complex and potentially both emancipative and dangerous. It all depends in whose hands the control lies. All that said, I do think that non-experimental, fixed, common-sense ideas about the world, when unchallenged, will lead to conservatism and a lack of change. A lack of change will only support the position of the ruling classes. Experimental music by its nature challenges defaults. For me this can only be a good thing. Experimental music, as an idea, has no propositional agenda other than to experiment with music. I believe that this experimentation can go beyond the realm of music and open up areas of questioning in the wider culture, and I am 100 percent for that.

Earlier pioneers didn’t have access to what we have today, and yet they created experimental music. Do you think you need technology, electronics, etc, to create it, or can you create it out of nothing?

If you have a body, or just an imagination, you can make music. It’s interesting to see how humans utilise new technology regardless of its intended use, to see what it can do musically, I am thinking of things like algo-rave and sonification of the atom smashing at Cern. It’s also really interesting to see how musicians use obsolete technology to make music too. I have a major soft spot for Nintendo Gameboy musicians like Dj Scotch Egg…

Do you think experimental music need to be accessible? Or does that risk diluting the music and the artistic intent?

If they intend to share their work, the question of how an audience will engage is at the heart of any artist’s decision-making process. Even if you have a complete disregard for your audience (which can lead to some of the most engaging work) that is still a political decision. I think the point of experimental music is that it can experiment with this very question (and anything else it fancies).

Why don’t we see more experimental music in mainstream popular culture, on the bigger labels, in the top 40, etc? Do you think people have grown accustomed to the comfort, familiarity and reliability of the structured pop song?

Again, perhaps this is a contradiction in terms. If something is experimental it is inherently testing new forms, and often the outcomes of those activities are going to be different than the standard and ‘expected’ form.. Therefore, it is no surprise that this activity happens outside, or on the edges of mainstream culture. Also, more and more these days, with the increasing entanglement of our lives with the internet, I feel like the idea of a ‘mainstream popular culture’ is becoming out of date. It’s not like any culture now needs to define itself ‘against’ or in contrast to these things. Consensus is dead. I am not saying this is a good or bad thing, but it is something we should probably consider, because you can be sure that those who once benefitted from an entrenched mainstream culture will be thinking about it, and their motives are probably not focused on the preservation and development of experimental musical culture.

Experimental music encourages an open mind. Do you think popular music performs the reversal of that, a musical brain-washing of sorts, replacing something high in creativity with music lacking a little creativity and originality?

Yes. But then I suppose the next questions are why? For who? And with what impact on culture?

One thing I love about experimental music is that you don’t need any specific music theory or instrumental skill in order to play something– it’s open to everyone and anything can become music. Do you think it should be more popular?

I think it’s important to understand that with experimental music it’s not simply that you don’t need any theory or skills, I think you do. It’s just that these are not the normative theories and skills we are taught to accept as ‘musical’. Even if you just walk up to a mic with no training, skills or theory in the traditional sense, what you can do with experimental music will still involve recourse to the lifetime of ideas and experiences you carry, and even if you have no instrument playing experience you will still need certain skills to get some noise out a thing. These skills just don’t need to have anything to do with any traditional ideas of what you ‘should’ be doing. That’s absolutely why it is open to everyone and everything as you say, and this is also why I love it.

Do you find that the attending audiences are quite diverse, and if so, does that help to pull more people in? On the flip side, every performance is unique and also diverse, so, as they’re unsure of what they’ll hear, can that potentially decrease the audience?

I don’t know if experimental music audiences are particularly diverse but I think they (and all audiences) should be. I think it’s about realising that certain things in our (and any) culture are unquestioned. Contra that, it’s healthy to actively question every aspect of what you are doing from the artists you work with to the venue location, the imagery and wording you use in your marketing, and where that marketing is placed. With experimental music there are advantages in that there is no dress-codes or traditional etiquette that potential audiences need to need to know. The ticket price is kept as low as possible and we always have a good reduction for concessionary rates. I think anyone undertaking any public project needs to actively work to make sure their event is known about, engaged with and attended by as wide a range of folk as possible. The idea of any type of arts being for the elite repulses me. Any producer or promoter working in contemporary culture should be actively working to attack traditions of elitism. The important word there is ‘actively’ – this means questioning every default and going the extra mile to ensure the events you are involved with are open to an engagement from anyone. 

What does the future hold for experimental music, and for OUTLANDS?

I want experimental culture to flourish, to challenge any entrenched cultural norm that works to support capital over the social or the elite over the rest of us. I want OUTLANDS to be a source of support and strength for the DIY experimental culture in the UK and vice versa. With Brexit looming I want OUTLANDS to find ways to permanently connect organisations in England with those in Europe and the rest of the world. I urge any artist, promoter or interested parties to get in touch with us at OUTLANDS and see how we can support each other to keep experimental culture doing its thing.

Thanks for your time and your answers, Caleb.

Thanks for asking.


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