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Black Sky Thinking

Joyous Things & Dark Clouds: Outlands & Art Funding In 2020
Rob Hakimian , January 15th, 2020 10:13

A completely free event in Milton Keynes featuring the wonderful Body Vice celebrates the best of weird/ DIY/ underground culture in Britain, says Rob Hakimian, but does it signal darker times ahead?


“Being an experimental musician is signing up to a life of beans from Lidl,” jokes Natalie Sharp, who performs as BodyVice and Lone Taxidermist. “There’s a big question mark over funding for the arts. From what I’ve heard, we’ve got another 15 months before we’re going to get hardly any funding because of Brexit and stuff. It’s a very ominous, dark time.” The overcast sky, pregnant with the next volley of rain, mirrors this feeling.

The Outlands Network is a group of institutions providing a light in this gloom, though. The collective includes Birmingham’s Supersonic Festival, Cambridge Junction and Manchester’s Fat Out among others, who have come together to “pool expertise and resources, to encourage diversity and accessibility, build local audiences, and to support engaging and ambitious interdisciplinary music productions across the country.”

Over the last two years they have organised interactive tours with the likes of Semiconductor, Eartheater and IMPATV, which run alongside interactive workshops and artist Q&As, taking them to less well-served towns and putting audience involvement at the forefront.

On the weekend of January 25-26 they will be putting on The Joyous Thing at Milton Keynes’ MK Gallery, an event to culminate their work to date and begin discussions about future steps. It features live music, panel discussions, an experimental music pub quiz and much more. If that doesn’t sound joyous enough, how about the fact that it’s entirely free – and Outlands are even offering travel bursaries for DIY, independent organisations and promoters to attend.

“It’s to pay for all the people that are working in experimental music to get together and discuss the best way forward,” Outlands Project Director Caleb Madden tells me. The aim is “to be able to keep this thing going, to develop experimental music, to support artists, and to keep putting on work in the face of an increasingly commercialised environment.”

BodyVice is nominally the headline act of the weekend, and they couldn’t have chosen a performer who better embodies Outlands’ goals than Natalie Sharp. She’s someone who has had her own battles to earn funding for her work, and continues to campaign for more inclusivity.

“I’ve been on at the Arts Council trying to get them to do a video application for their forms for people who are quite dyslexic or don’t necessarily know how to communicate by writing in a small box 500 characters about why it is they need the money,” she tells me. “I think that there’s better ways that you can talk about your ideas.”

After a handful of failed attempts, Sharp did manage to get an Arts Council grant, which has brought BodyVice to life - though it’s hard to imagine how she might have convinced them to fund the work, which she describes to me as a “process of chronic pain and care and physical examination”. The show is never the same twice, and for The Joyous Thing she has plans to rope in the Quietus’ own John Doran for some kind of live colonoscopy.

“I’ve always liked this idea of trying to recreate the experience being inside a big magnet MRI scanner, and I’d love to be able to work more on having five-point sound where you can experience the sound in a 360 way,” she says, savouring the prospect of bringing BodyVice to the newly refurbished MK Gallery. “The sound of an MRI scanner is so intense that it feels like it’s coming from inside you as well, so that’s always something I’m trying to work on.”

Outlands affords performers as much time and resources as possible, and Sharp has every intention of arriving at MK Gallery as early as she can in order to familiarise herself with the space and set up for maximum impact. “I think what [Outlands is] doing is how a lot of live music should be explored. It should be more about having the time and the facility to set something up properly. They’re actively trying to give musicians and artists a bit more space and time to do things the way that they intend to be communicated.”

Godspeed You Peter Andre

The other musical acts on the bill include Godspeed You Peter Andre, who promise to “take you on an intense journey into the deep psychosis of their inner dominatrix,” and GRST who create “improvised electronics using found objects and throat mic processed through modular synthesis”. TQ will be in attendance, with John Doran giving a talk about weirdness in culture and Jennifer Lucy Allan hosting the musical pub quiz, which literally could involve anything.

Although that will all undoubtedly be bucket loads of fun, it’s important not to lose sight of the main purpose of The Joyous Thing. “What this art form needs is long-term support and stability to be able to grow,” Caleb Madden tells me. “We really want to talk to DIY people because a lot of the work around experimental music in the UK is done out of love, rather than out of making money.”

The hope is that by bringing members of disparate scenes and places together, they can cultivate “a meeting place where we can discuss the challenges and the opportunities of what we’re doing.” They also aim to introduce people who might never have attended an experimental show to the world of interdisciplinary arts with communal experiences, whether it’s pulling a glowing spine out of the BodyVice performers or simply asking a panellist a question about the best way to get involved with the scene.

“The Joyous Thing is about how this art form is a joyous non-commercial activity that we all do out of the love of the work,” Madden says. “We just want to find ways that funding can support that without compromising it.”

The Joyous Thing takes place on January 25-26 at MK Gallery in Milton Keynes and is entirely FREE. Find out more about the event and bursaries for travel on the Outlands website