When I look back to early April 2010 and remember that younger, leaner, bushier-tailed version of myself making my way up Bold Street, armed with a stash of pink, photocopied WRITERS + PHOTOGRAPHERS WANTED call-outs, I can’t help but wonder: why did I do it, what was I hoping the magazine could achieve? I came back to Liverpool at the end of 2009 to find a buoyant, bubbling independent music culture, a raucous slew of bands, performers, venues and promoters. I suppose the motivation then was the same as it is now: to provide a platform to the fabulous music culture that thrives in our city, an energetic monthly document which celebrates the scene and helps present it as a tangible, digestible reality. Looking back at the previous 49 editions of the magazine, taking in the period from May 2010 to October 2014, I think few would argue that Bido Lito! cannot be considered a success by such a measure. The editions – warts and all – chronicle a particularly dynamic period in Liverpool music and of that, I’m quietly proud.
But, I’ve never been one to reflect for too long. Nostalgia breeds complacency, it breeds lethargy, and – despite the fact we’ve hit 50 – the beer belly, pipe and slippers aren’t coming out just yet; neither, we hope, is the ill-fated mid-life crisis. Bido Lito! has always been about being proud of our past, but respectfully – or disrespectfully, depending on how you look at it – pushing to the future. There’s something inherently kinetic about magazines; the way they come out with next month’s date on the cover, as some kind of forward-looking proclamation. As a producer, you always exist in the future. The digital realm may have a stranglehold on the present, but slower-paced musings on the future still thrive best in the physical sphere.
As a creative music community, we face many of the same challenges going forward as we did when we started the magazine back in 2010. In my first editorial I lamented the loss of Korova, after a fire brought one of the city’s key music hubs to the ground. In September, MelloMello closed its doors for the final time. Though the nature of these two closures is very different – the fact that MelloMello was unable to stack up financially in a part of the city which, just a few years earlier, offered cheap rents and rates breaks, says much about Liverpool’s changing physicality and shifting priorities – the immediate fallouts of redundancy, loss of revenue (not to mention shredded dreams and bruised prides) and the loss of such scene-silos have a huge impact on the music landscape.
But our city, like any great city, is a morphing, swelling and contracting mass, constantly in a state of dynamic flux. Our community (I refuse to use the word ‘sector’ in our context) inherently places value in creativity and ideas over property ownership and financial reserves, a position which leaves us more susceptible than most to changes in the economy and the political vision. It is also important we understand that city leaders see creative communities such as ours as a key tool in regeneration and, primarily, gentrification: building up value in different pockets of the city and boosting the development potential and city revenues in the process. The Ropewalks is currently enduring the sharp end of this cycle and The Baltic Triangle is perhaps a decade behind.
We can see this as a negative, or we can see it as a positive. New spaces and areas provide new creative opportunities and the fact we, as a community, are footloose means we can react quickly when such opportunities present themselves. If we focus on lamenting what has passed, we leave ourselves exposed and flatfooted when it comes to shaping the future.
Liverpool faces some grave economic challenges. We know that the deal we’re cut from central government is a reflection of a generational resentment towards our city from Whitehall, precipitated by a Tory government with the perfect political context in which to tighten the metaphorical screw. I appreciate the position the city council finds itself in when it comes to making tough financial decisions. For me, it’s important we prioritise libraries being kept open and core mental health services being delivered properly, for example, before dividing up the scraps between Liverpool’s arts organisations; though, in saying that, it often isn’t the handouts that are of the most benefit to fledgling organisations. Bido Lito! has never received any direct funding, we’ve always had to stand on our own two feet (and rightly so, because we have a financial model through which we can sustain ourselves), but we have received some fabulous support from Liverpool Vision (namely Kev McManus and Cathy Skelly) when it comes to opening up access to business advice which has helped shape our organisation and allowed us to be sustainable. The fact that this support may be withdrawn going forward due to budget cuts will be of a great loss to the next wave of creative start-ups. If we are to preserve Liverpool’s dynamic, independent, grassroots creative culture, this kind of city incubation support needs to be maintained. This culture is, after all, what keeps us here; and, more to the point, what makes people want to spend their time and cash here.
One key dynamic we need to navigate as we move into Liverpool’s next creative chapter is the thorny consideration of balancing a culture of collaboration with a culture of competition. Where will we sit, moving forward, on this collaborative-competitive matrix? Over the past five years we have enjoyed something of a high-watermark when it comes to navigating this balance. Our independent community of artists, promoters and venues has, broadly speaking, embraced the idea of the common good, creating a supportive and collaborative context for healthy competition – one supported by a dynamic, localised, micro music industry. It has not always been like this. Liverpool has a pretty unsavoury past when it comes to isolationist and protectionist outlooks from venues, promoters and artists alike. It pleases me that the handful of dinosaurs who cling on to this mindset are seemingly being left behind, both when it comes to measures of relevance and the cold hard ‘ching’ of the cash register.
And though we can be rightly proud of this healthy collaborative-competitive culture, we must not become complacent. Times of change and upheaval challenge us the most acutely. We need to make sure that, no matter how testing the daily pressures on our individual interests, we understand the role we play as one cohesive, creative, independent whole. Together, as a community, we are stronger. To borrow from (and slightly tweak) the pertinently relevant London punk group Savages (shit, don’t you know me by now?!): don’t let the fuckers break us down.
Craig G Pennington
Editor-In-Chief / Publisher
Tabitha Jussa is a photographer based in Aigburth, who was a double winner at the 2014 Liverpool Art Prize. Tabitha scooped both the main prize and the People’s Choice award at this year’s competition for her socio-political work documenting urban spaces in the city, and how these spaces define who we are. Her entry built upon this body of work by examining high-profile and controversial examples of regeneration projects to highlight the triumphs, failures and short-sightedness within society of the treatment of people and place.
We are delighted to be able to showcase some of Tabitha’s work in our 50th issue, especially as we see a lot of parallels between her subject matter and some of the issues facing our creative community today. When asked to comment about the nature of the work she does, and what inspires her, Tabitha replied: “Something that can engage people. I enjoy making pictures that people find interesting. You can look at them in a casual manner or look at them in their architectural details. Or you can look at them in depth and think ‘why are these buildings in the state that they are in?’”
You can see more of Tabitha’s work, as well as get in touch with her, at san-guine.com.