I’ve a fair few problems with events like HWCH. The following is going to read like a whole anti-industry, Us vs Them, backwards-thinking screed but I want to stress that I’ve got nothing against anyone involved in HWCH or anything like that, I just think artists (I’m going to use the A word a lot here) need to take a step back and look at what they’re a part of. Obviously, there are hugely positive elements to them that bands and media can take advantage of and I don’t want to argue with that at all. They serve a purpose for sure. That said, I’m probably going to get a few, “Well, if there’s so much wrong with it, why don’t you do it better?” style comments after this. To them I will say, give me the funding to become a full-time organisation and I will put on a hell of a show. For now, I can only afford to lose so much money and I’ve done that quite enough this year.
During last year’s HWCH, my second, I began to wonder something. Where is the art? This simple thought has been in my head in the lead up to this year’s festival - happening in early October - the tenth iteration of the event.
Every year we are asking the same questions at these panels and speed sessions and tip sessions. We look at the industry, where it has come from, where it is and, most importantly for most people, where it is going. Bands are looking to figure out the system, trying to figure out how they can be a part of that future. Media and tech companies are trying to figure out the same thing. By meeting at conventions like this, it’s presumably hoped that everyone learns a little from everyone else and we all learn a lot together. That’s cool. It’s a good idea.
I look at the questions being asked and the tone of them. I look at the people put forward to answer those questions. I think to myself, what do any of these people know about making art? What do these questions have to do with making vital art? We continue to ask the questions about how we can fit our music into films, how we can get booking agents to like us, how we can get to the top of the Hype Machine. And then for the rest of the year, we lament the lack of ground-breaking pop music. We ask, where are the bands that define our generation?
The two are linked. If we spent more time talking about why we make music and about being honest to and with yourself, then I feel like we’d all give these industry folks a lot more to think about. If we questioned the infrastructure available to artists at low levels in Ireland, we’d get interesting answers. If we had panels talking about developing critical faculties (as an artist and as a critic), I’d imagine we’d take home more than asking bloggers why they do what they do.
At the heart of this discontentment with these events is the sense that, if you talk to the right people and make the right moves and wear the right clothes and big-up the right peers, you can somehow game the system. You too can be part of the glorious bubble of music as a career. This is bullshit. We need to stop thinking about music as a career decision, as something you need to make money from. Conventions like HWCH just reaffirm the position of the same old gatekeepers and the same old methods of “breaking” acts. They are in control and you match what they are looking for or you go back into the massive cess pit of “unsigned” or “undiscovered” musicians waiting for a break.
Ask yourself why you’re playing HWCH or why you’re attending. As yourself why you’re putting your music on Soundcloud or why you’re writing your blog. Instead of asking where the industry will be in ten years time, I suggest you stick two fingers to the “industry” and ask yourself where you’ll be. Because, as much as events like this make out otherwise, it is all about you. You’re the artist, the one with the real power, that rare talent that they need and crave. More than ever, they need you more than you need them. Are they people you’re working with artists in their own ways? Why are they doing what they’re doing? Are you an artist or not? What will painters and sculptors and printers be doing in ten years time? What will novelists and essayists be writing about? What are they writing about now?
What inspires you and drives you? What do you see when you look around you? What will Dublin look like in ten years time? Actually, a better question, what do you want it to look like in ten years time?