MAO Assembly – Isolation Music Diaries, Part Two
In the second of his two-part series for MAO Assembly, Oxford-based musician and promoter of Modern Art Oxford’s live Yard sessions, Martin Andrews aka Octavia Freud talks to local musicians Tiger Mendoza, Means of Production, Call.Me.Tiece and Limpet Space Race about their experiences during lockdown and finds out how they are being creative.
Following the decision to close Modern Art Oxford to the public it quickly became apparent things would be different in the gallery this summer. As one of the organisers for the live music events at MAO I knew it was likely the summer Yard music sessions we had been planning would have to be postponed. This made me realise that the closure of the gallery and the immediate lockdown of other venues across the UK was going to have a big impact on the creativity of artists who rely on performing in front of live audiences.
I was interested to know how local musicians had been affected by the lockdown, how were they responding to the crisis, were they being creative in a different way and what could arts organisations do to support artists during the lockdown?
I got in contact with artists who had previously played at MAO’s Yard sessions or had been lined up to perform at our summer sessions. This included Tiger Mendoza, Means of Production, Call.Me.Tiece and Limpet Space Race.
What I found was that local musicians are keeping themselves busy in many ways: creating and writing new music, completing unfinished projects, planning their next release, keeping fans engaged on their socials, organising live streams, setting up weekly DJ podcasts, making videos and vlog diaries, collaborating with other musicians, performing for online festivals and raising money for NHS charities.
Ian aka electronic artist and music producer Tiger Mendoza is at the forefront of Oxford’s electronic music scene. He records, remixes, DJ’s, collaborates and performs regularly across the city.
I started off by asking him how the lockdown has impacted on his music making?
“The main thing has been the fact that my latest single launch gig couldn’t take place which was a shame but worse things could definitely happen. The way that the situation has impacted venues, pubs and promoters has made it very difficult to plan for the future though and things are going to be somewhat strange for a while.”
Has he felt the need to be extra productive during these uncertain times?
“Yes and no. There’s this instagrammable social media lead myth that everyone’s got all of this time and therefore you should be mega creative and always making things. The fact of the matter is that this a BIG, globally affecting situation and that’s a lot to process. It’s given me an opportunity to catch up on a couple of projects I started but couldn’t finish which has been really good.”
Live DJ streaming
Soon after the lockdown Ian sent out an online invite for a new weekly DJ show he was streaming from home, called ‘#IsolationWave’. It was impressive that within the space of a few weeks he had set up a new way to perform and connect with his audience.
He explains: “The most visible thing I’ve been doing is my weekly DJ sets on YouTube. It started almost as a bit of a joke. As my single launch gig got postponed I did a DJ set instead. People seemed to like the music and the interaction so they became a weekly thing.”
It was inspiring to see Ian do his first streamed DJ show after lockdown. He was having to sort out microphone and sound levels as he went live for the first time and interact with real time online comments from fans while all the time focussing on his mixing skills. It felt personal and fun and a cool way to keep the connection going with his audience. The disappointment of postponing his single launch appears to have faded as the weekly shows have grown to become a gently defiant gesture to ensure the music he loves and the tracks he makes are still being shared.
He thinks arts organisations could try streaming and filming to reach audiences while physically closed to the public:
“You could think about weekly streams hosted on social media. If the lockdown eases up, how about presenting mini live music sessions recorded in art gallery spaces?”
Ian also thinks there could be potential for creative collaborations with the increased use of online sharing between artists in a round robin sort of way:
“For example, I create some music pieces, send it on to a different musician or artists who then pass it on with a view to exhibit the piece when the galleries reopen.”
It shouldn’t be surprising to hear Ian suggest arts organisations try an online collaborative approach to support artists to be creative during isolation and lockdown. His New Ideas remix album released last year involved Oxford based musicians who remixed his tracks online without the need to physically meet up with him. Profits from the album helped to raise money for Oxford Food Bank.
Tiger Mendoza’s new single is out now, available on his Bandcamp site, here.
MEANS OF PRODUCTION
Means of Production are a cutting edge electronic duo who have been releasing music and performing in Oxford’s music venues over the last couple of years and have gained many admirers in the local music scene. Their shows feature immaculately produced dystopian electronic beats with post-punk vocals paired with brutalist video clips. Essentially they make the perfect modern soundtrack to our current anxious world.
I asked Tim and Jeremy how they had been affected by the current crisis?
“We had a gig in March which was obviously cancelled. The next one would have been a single launch which will probably happen in some online way now. We were putting in applications for summer festivals but that is very much in doubt now.”
Tim, who also teaches music technology and works in creative industries education has seen his techie skills suddenly come to the fore, he explains:
“In my teaching work I now know more about videoconferencing and online music teaching than I ever wanted to or thought I would need to. The nature of the job is face to face but we’ve had to move everything online over the course of a weekend. It’s easier as a techie I think. It’s kind of exciting – I know that sounds weird given the situation but it’s true – but also exhausting.”
Whilst for Jeremy the virus lockdown has had a different impact on creativity:
“I would normally be visiting places and taking photographs to get the visual feel for the next track sorted. As it was I went into self isolation for 14 days and ended up pulling out an ancient digital camera and looking through filed photographs instead.”
Thankfully in good health they can now be musically creative whilst at home together:
“I think it’s easier for us because we have all the equipment we need at home. We rehearse in our spare room anyway, we are in one household so lockdown doesn’t affect that. I think it’s probably a lot harder for guitar bands who now have to find ways to practise together.”
Their techie expertise may also come in handy if they want to start steaming online performance during lockdown:
‘The next stage is putting on a live show as best we can, live streamed from a tiny room, which will be our single launch. It will be on 21st May at around 8.30 and we’ll try to play a gig to an invisible audience.’
Recording new music
The lockdown has given them time to focus on recording new music:
“The new single is a post-punk techno thing about weather related doom. So, at a time when Radio 6 and everyone else are playing uplifting music to make lockdown bearable, our next track will be a doom-laden song about the wrong apocalypse. Let’s see how that goes.”
Do they have any suggestions for how arts organisations could support artists to be creative and ways they could get involved?
“I think right now Oxford has a lot of artists doing live shows via Youtube or Instagram or whatever and it would be great to have a platform, or some platforms, to put them out under. I think it could be a good thing for arts organisations and artists if the organisations were to get involved.”
“We’d certainly like to get in involved in streamed and filmed music events. We’ve been doing a thing where we create videos on the fly by recording the visual part of the show at the same as the audio – it’s an AV show – which we can do live or put up later.”
Check out Means of Production’s back catalogue on their Bandcamp site, here
Tiece is a singer-songwriter who produces spooky jazz-inspired beats that compliment her seductive soulful voice. Tiece is a natural performer and often collaborates with other musicians such as the highly regarded hip hop influenced Inner Peace Records collective.
“As a creative I find that my work takes me to a lot of places around the UK, but in Oxford’s Music Scene I do a lot of performing and have done a few different jobs working with young people helping them to gain confidence and experience with music. I do some coaching and mentoring and love working with performers and artists! I work with a lot of musicians so have had the fortune to feature on a variety of different tracks and work with many artists of cool and interesting styles.”
Has the lockdown had an impact on her ability to make music and perform?
“It’s not been too bad. I can produce and write and record new music and practise using my equipment better. But this has also meant I can’t go to venues and perform in front of people, I can still stream online and create videos singing live.”
Tiece has already performed for the online Balcony festival which included the likes of Thomas Truax and Aloha Dead and helped raise money for NHS charities.
She will also be performing at the upcoming Lockdown Festival. Acts from around the world will be virtually arriving in Oxford the first weekend in May. The diverse line-up has been thoughtfully put together so that the event’s website can offer different ‘stages’ to explore, just like at a physical festival. Also included on the bill will be local favourites Count Skylarkin.
Organiser Lorraine Baker, a regular on Oxfordshire’s festival scene has kept the whole festival free to attend, but donations are strongly encouraged to Lorraine’s two chosen charities: Oxfordshire Mind and NHS Charities Together.
Tiece explains how it feels to sing online without a physical audience in the room:
“It’s been an interesting learning experience as there’s no ‘vibe of the room’ to read… so in one sense it makes me feel free because it’s more about how performing a song makes me feel… haha so I might be vibing out and loving it, as people watch on, bored out of their minds!”
Making music videos
Tiece’s love of performing, sartorial flare and use of film means she is able to embrace this virtual process so it becomes something real and shared:
“I’ve had to think up different ways to engage with audiences online as I’m not able to attend live shows and share my music. It’s been fun thinking of different spots in the house to film in ways that are funny or unusual. In the second week I filmed a live set in the garden and am now planning to create and film unexpected songs in weird spots in my house… I’m trying to keep cabin fever at bay, haha!”
Has this extra time spent at home helped her to be creative?
“Yes, I’ve always liked being left to my own devices to sing or make songs or draw or whatever. It’s funny but the whole world grinding to a halt has been interesting. I work in the service industry normally and not being able to work during this time has meant that all my energy now goes into making things!”
Tiece thinks arts organisations like MAO could help people be creative at home during the lockdown:
“MAO is such an awesome venue that supports the Oxford art and music scene. If there was a way of showcasing artists through their online presence that would be cool.”
“Maybe an all day virtual art space for visual artists to showcase their work and some allocated live stream slots for live musicians to perform?”
“During this time as artists we can all support each other by showcasing and sharing each other’s work and strengthen our social bonds.”
LIMPET SPACE RACE
Jakes and Niko have various projects on the go at any one time. As Limpet Space Race the duo’s performances are based around Jakes’ ethereal vocal style, her keyboard parts and loops and Niko’s use of musical gadgets and live drumming. They somehow manage to embrace experimental song structures, uplifting live performance and a boffin like approach that even involves playing their own self built instruments.
On top of recording and gigging they are also heavily involved in the local music scene. They organise the local Tandem music festival and run Upcycled Sounds, a recording studio/gig venue/exhibition space, built in a disused shop in collaboration with Fusion Arts. They also do live sound for events and produce award winning sound for music, film and documentaries around the world:
“We love the local scene and are at the heart of way too many projects: a 3 day music festival, record label, music venues at Tap Social and our studio, gig series and music exchange programme.”
Limpet Space Race had been booked to play the Yard sessions this summer at MAO. It seems the lockdown has had a big impact on their work:
“We have lost gigs as promoters, live sound shows including several major festivals such as Glastonbury, gigs as performers, recording sessions, documentary shoots, including work in America, a performance residency and sound installations. We have also had to postpone record label releases and recording sessions. Our creativity on professional projects, such as producing albums, as been impacted.”
Finding themselves in lockdown together in the studio has allowed them to focus on writing and recording:
“We are able to be in the studio so can continue being creative on personal projects and are currently recording an album for our duo Limpet Space Race. We are also working on professional creative music projects recorded before lockdown.”
“It’s allowed us to focus on our album and do some intense recording and experimenting.”
Having access to all their studio equipment in one place has also meant they can incorporate this into a live performance streamed online:
“We did a live stream gig for the Young Women’s Music Project from the studio, which allowed us to experiment with using our studio gear for a live gig.”
Hosted by YWMP and Divine Schism, the Bedroom Concerts have so far been performed by Aphra Taylor, Jenny Moore and MAO’s very own Julia Meijer, with Tiece due to perform at the end of April. These intimate gigs help raise funds through voluntary donations that release a link to the show. Watch highlights from Limpet Space Race’s YWMP Bedroom Concert here.
Jakes and Niko have also been able to work on new projects:
“New initiatives include a remote-recorded orchestral commission with Orchestra of St John’s and the Environmental Change Institute. A series of weekly ‘Studio Soundtrack’ playlists, new releases from our label, with a covers mixtape and home recordings mixtape planned and an isolation vlog series from the studio.”
Video blog diaries
Isolation diaries are another way artists are keeping in touch with their fans. If their recent vlog of being in the studio together is anything to go by it will be fascinating to see what creative ideas emerge in the weeks and months to come.
What could arts organisations be doing to help support local artists be creative?
“Hosting a streamed gig, sharing performances and productions, commissioning work. We are mainly struggling for funding and publicity so anything on those lines would be helpful.”
Check out a recent live session by Limpet Space Race for BBC Introducing Oxford, here.
Check out Part One of Martin’s report on music in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which he spoke to DJ and electronic artist Timothy J Fairplay about his experience of social isolation.