Live Music… is it dead on campus?

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Lancaster University is a thriving, artistically rich campus; there really can be no doubt about it. We are very lucky in terms of student culture, which can be seen in LUTG’s termly productions, creative writing events, classical music in the Great Hall and exhibitions at the Peter Scott gallery. So why is it, then, that out of all the arts, the live music scene has become stunted in its development?

Upon arriving in Lancaster I had high hopes for being able to watch bands and even perform without having to leave the comfort of the campus environment. It would be a pessimistic lie to say that those hopes have dissipated (they haven’t, and there is much to remain optimistic about), but there have been damaging setbacks in this field: as a County college member, their now-defunct Live at the Oak event was once particularly enticing, a Wednesday live music night that often had touring bands gracing the stage- well, I say stage; more like the glorious, beer stained floor of the Northern Oak.

Rising BNOC and County Media & Communications Officer Sam Possible stresses location as an overlooked but key issue: “[live events success] can be heavily dependent on things such as college spirit, as well as equipment limitations. The reason why Pendle Live Thursdays are so successful is because of the large amounts of resources Pendle Bar has already, such as a mixing desk, and the XLR inputs in the wall to the PA system.” Tech jargon aside, Sam presses that “you have to consider factors such as distance between colleges. Promotion can play a key role here, but it can be incredibly hard to get right.”

Indeed, it seems that LUSU’s promotional/spending focus is heavily geared towards club nights rather than music nights. In the last edition of SCAN there was a whole page devoted to advertising the university-wide ‘Bar Wars’ event in town, which is bound to see punters taxi-ing into town, splashing countless pounds on priced-up drinks, over and above the £6 lightsabre ‘ticket’ needed to provide free entry into – you guessed it – Sugarhouse, the Holy Grail of top ten-espousing cultural assimilation.

However, at the same time most of the student body remains unaware that a Battle of the Bands is doing the rounds in various different college bars over the next few weeks, with the Week 19 final being held in – yep, you guessed it – Sugarhouse. Surely this could have been promoted more? Despite a vested interest and bias in this event (my band are playing, and having a bigger audience to perform for would be good), the rhetorical question still stands: due to a lack of bands taking part (undoubtedly caused by a lack of promotion and publicity for the competition), two of the four heats have had to be pulled, leaving only the Fylde and Pendle heats, on the 25th of February and 3rd of March respectively, before the final. Lonsdale and Bowland’s sad departure from the event, combined with Live at the Oak’s consistently low turnout (and now non-existence), can leave one with the sad taste of cynicism surrounding the university’s approach to, and valuing of, live music.

Should there be attempts from LUSU to try and book small venue-sized bands to play at the university? Yes! Absolutely; I’d like to think that my nine grand fees are being used for something like this, instead of funding another generic ‘Big Night Out’. But we should aim to go further than this: I think the change has to come from within before expanding outwards, and already we are seeing signs of this happening.

In reviewing Pendle Live’s arguably most well attended show a couple of weeks ago – in which Lancaster’s Indie and Alternative Music Society managed to bag local up-and-coming electro-folk rockers Lake Komo – it was clear to see that the event had great potential to become the hub for watching new musical talent at the university. It was packed to the brim with students from every social circle, not just the Pretty Green-clad drinking culture clientele of LIAMS (this judgement comes from their stall at Fresher’s fair, where one of their exec advertised their society as “listening to music and getting pissed”; personally I’d rather have the former without the latter, but I suppose appreciation of art is as subjective as the art itself…?).

Pendle’s new JCR Exec team seems particularly clued up about fostering musicians to play at the event, further clarifying its inter-collegiate scope. As well as theming each week’s event to remove the assumption that it is just an “open mic night” – examples being their Glee Takeover, which was held in Week 15 to raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, as well as their upcoming bands night in Week 19 – the college has recently introduced Pendle Sessions, an informal jam from 1pm to 5pm every Saturday, allowing university musicians to meet like-minded people whilst having access to the much-coveted music facilities the bar has to offer. Simultaneously, the University of Lancaster Music Society (ULMS) are introducing Project Teach Music, covering the gap left in the absence of music degrees by providing instrument tuition for students, by students (see www.facebook.com/ULMSProjectTeachMusic for more information).

For both performer and audience, the benefits of developing a live music scene on campus are endless. For one there’s the money saving aspect, as all of these events are free, and for drinkers the beer’s far cheaper on campus than in town (a Pendle pint is £2.60, as opposed to the extortionate £4 in Dalton Rooms). Then there’s the social side, with meeting fellow students and making friends – in a few years’ time you might even be performing with them at Glastonbury!

With a more hands-on approach from LUSU in terms of campaigning, whether that be posters, flyers or social media promotion, alongside the continued focus from student-led societies to create environments in which creativity can flourish… who knows what could happen next for the music scene on campus? All I know is that the future’s looking bright.