On The Ground: Can True Music help to support cultural communities on an individual level?
There is an air of intrigue and suspense which hangs thick in the air as a crowd begins to gather amidst a darkened room. The rumble of a train can be heard rattling above as the foundations of the building shake heavily under the weight. Inside Corsica Studios the talk of guests could be heard atop the glitchy, pattern of electronic instrumentation and slow moving rhythm. Some stood alone, others gathered collectively in shadowy corners.
This was a private event, hosted on a cold, wet Thursday in the capital. It acted as a showcase for the dawn of a new partnership being heralded by Ballantine's and Boiler Room. Across five years the brands have worked alongside each other in the production of their True Music projects, a partnership which has seen them travel the globe working with a collective array of musicians, producers, promoters, venues and artists. They've held parties, hosted talks, released records and helped to channel a relationship between communities and artists on a global scale. It's all been very impressive and few partnerships can claim to have received the warmth and respect of the dance and electronic music scene as the pairing has.
However, this night was not to be the latest edition in what has been a longstanding routine. This was to be an opportunity to refocus, regroup and look forward to the next phase of the partnership – a bold new direction with the goal of generating long term solutions whilst assisting culture across the globe.
Last week marked the announcement of a new phase of the True Music campaign in which both Ballantine's and Boiler Room will work with isolated musical communities across international destinations to help shape the direction of their scene in the face of difficult circumstances and at times, adversity. The first stop is Moscow, Russia. A city which has a longstanding relationship with electronic music and techno. However, due to the stereotypes of dance and electronic music within the country, the community has struggled with establishing clubs that last, parties with free movement and a stable cultural presence.
Pavel Milyakov is a Russian musician, disc jockey and producer – he is perhaps better known for releasing music under the guise of his alias Buttechno on the likes of Cititrax, The Trilogy Tapes and Incienso. He reflects on the nature of the Russian electronic music scene and discusses some of the issues he has faced in trying to develop a cultural community.
"We run our own venue and it's become a platform to take risks and experiment, whilst trying to educate people. Not a lot of people are into it but quite often new people come down and take the time to reflect. There's also a very big experimental music community in Russia. When the Soviet Union fell apart people became interested in new music from the West."
He expands to talk about the relationship between young people and underground music in Russia.
"It's all about community and friends of friends. There isn't a lot of venues but there are some. Take me, for example, I knew of some guys who told me about an interesting venue and they said that I should visit. I did and I introduced myself to some musicians and went on to educate myself."
Whilst Pavel has gone on to form a well rounded career in electronic music there are many who simply aren't afforded with such luck or opportunity. This might be a result of where they are based or simply as a result of tight restrictions set in place by the police, local government or officials. However, one thing which has become apparent and clear through the process of integration into the electronic music community by Ballantine's and Boiler Room is that there is perhaps less cultural restriction set upon cultural communities in Russia than pre-conceived by Western countries. Techno, noise, post punk and electronic music is all thriving – yet it simply lacks the fundamental support of Russian institutions… for now.
The next stage of the True Music partnership will see Boiler Room and Ballantine's seek to make a difference and actively assist the musical communities across cities around the globe. This year will see them focus on supporting artists, promoters, venues and beyond in the likes of South Africa, Russia, Poland and Spain. The overarching goal is to help establish a hub in each of these locations within which the community will be supported in order to evolve electronic music and increase interest. Each city faces different challenges and as such there is no blueprint set in stone for how the partnership will evolve – from the creation of new venues, to establishing recording studios and assisting with the growth of new artists. There is no end game here, just a wealth of opportunity, something which Tom Elton of Ballantine's is very excited about.
"This is a long term approach, it's about putting in an infrastructure with the resource that we have whilst raising awareness for other brands, artists, collectives etc. This is going to be a group effort and the goal is to light some fires for people to think about the positive change that we can all contribute. The most important thing is that this is a partnership which is rooted in real, real people are going to be telling us what the issues are."
Steven from Boiler Room goes on to expand on the process by which the partnership is grounded.
"There's nuance here, there's large periods of research, it starts off with a period of talking to people, asking them questions before then looking at how we as a network and a partnership can responsibly support them."
He demonstrates how this approach has worked in regard to Russia as an example, the first of the locations with which they are working this year.
"The complexities of it are vast, it would be base and reductive to suggest that this is simply a case of authorities trying to clamp down on music scenes because they think they're deviant. It's so complex and there's many different reasons why venues are shutting down and running into difficulties. I think that trying to capture all of that and narrativize it in a way which does justice to the nuance of it is important and hasn't been easy."
Later that night we were presented with a short film offering insight into the research developed and recorded so far, the opening stages in a partnership which hopes to offer and support a community long term. The Russian electronic music community has rallied around the approach and seems to be invested on a very personal level having been kept involved and engaged throughout. It offers great promise for the forward thinking development of the partnership and provides hope that Ballantine's and Boiler Room really could be in a position to build and support communities far beyond the public facing image of brand.
It will be interesting to observe the next stage in a journey which has been mapped out for a long time. The path is steep but it's remarkably refreshing to watch as two brands attempt to change the fundamental narrative of branding and partnerships in regard to community support, integration and cultural relevance.
Watch the first in the new series below:
Visit the True Music site HERE.