While for many life as we know it ground to a halt during the lockdown, the artists of LIMF Academy came together and carried on creating the best way they know how, through collaboration. The artist development programme’s Lockdown Collabo series prompted current artists and alumni to digitise their process and share screens for some innovative songwriting and artistic development. Sophie Shields caught up with Academy members to learn more.
Day 105. 51 days since I last sat down at my computer to put words to page. A lot has happened in that elasticated timeframe. Lockdown has begun to ease, sunshine has beckoned us outside, we celebrated LFC’s Premier League win in stifled conditions and I enjoyed a homemade Glastonbury in lieu of the real thing. It’s been a busy few weeks. However, I’m not the only one that’s been productive. If building your own Pyramid Stage in the front room counts for productivity, that is.
The artists of LIMF Academy, the annual festival’s artist development prorgamme now in its eighth year, have been hard at work keeping motivated and remaining creative with a series of projects over the last few months. From their Lockdown Collabo Series to Songs Of Equality – Remix/Refix project, isolation hasn’t curtailed the current crop of artists and alumni coming together virtually to muster music from the ether(net).
So, what is the Lockdown Collabo series challenge? It’s a 48 hours window. A collaboration challenge working with another Academy artist, past or present. It’s recording a track. Simple.
But can it really be that simple? Speaking to project director Yaw Owusu, along with artists IAMKYAMI , TEE and NEW JUNIOR, I wanted to get perspectives on how the challenges piqued creativity and the effects of lockdown on their craft.
“Since lockdown a lot of the activity we would be doing with the artists has been able to continue on Zoom,” Yaw tells me over the phone. “But a big part of the way we look at developing artists is holistically. Keeping them creative and working towards things is very important to us,” he adds. “At a time when a lot of artists may not be able to access studios and creatively bounce off other people in a normal way, or release music, we thought it would be good to give them challenges that we can back as the Academy.”
For a bit more context, the first part of the Lockdown Collaboration challenge involved putting two artists together to write, compose, mix and record a brand new song from scratch in 48 hours – socially distanced using now omnipresent communication technology. Whether it was Zoom meetings, Google hangouts, WhatsApp or an old fashioned phone call, it all had to be discussed, written and produced collaboratively through the powers of the internet. It might not sound like a radical new idea but to some artists it’s a whole new way of working.
“When the end of March came it was a feeling of, ‘What does it mean?’”, Yaw explains. “But quite quickly [we realised] we are all on our toes within this digital space anyway.
“I’ve worked with artists that travel internationally who are finishing off records and will record vocals in a hotel room and send it to someone else who mixes it in America and then sends it back to someone else who masters it in London. So, I thought there’s no reason why with all these tools we couldn’t do it,” Yaw explains. “I mean, it’s not ideal, you can’t beat being in the room with the artist, but I think it’s the next best thing. You can still have that connection.”
While not the preferred way to make music, as Yaw notes, the project remains committed to keeping the students engaged with their craft over this difficult period. Artists Tee and IAmKyami, who collaborated on their song together, clearly met the challenge head on.
“It’s been really good,” Tee enthusiastically recalls. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a situation where I’ve made music and had to do it in a couple of days before. It’s that pressure which has been really nice, terrifying at the start, but really nice to do. It was nice to be in a situation where it was like, ‘Yes, we’re actually going to do that in this cool new way’.
“It’s definitely different.” Tee continues, as he muses on the novel way of working with each other, considering the different dynamic online collaboration brings. “With music, a lot of it is about a vibe. A lot of it is about putting out this idea for 30 seconds and turning around and going, ‘Do you like it?’. So now I’m thinking ahead, ‘I hope they like it, I hope it makes sense and they see what I’m seeing’.”
Ky Russell, the glitch-pop artist from Troy, New York who performs as IAmKyami, shares this sentiment with the co-author of track Fling Ting, a hazy synth and snare snapping groover from the pairing. “It was something that I’ve never done before. I’ve obviously worked with other artists, but to collaborate with somebody and make a brand new song in two days is very stressful,” she explains. “Once we got to the day of actually doing the challenge I was excited but I was also nervous. I didn’t want to overstep or do too much, or have Tee do too much and make me feel like I haven’t done enough.”
“It was fun for me lyric-wise because we created a scenario,” Ky explains. “We talked on the phone and were like, ‘OK what can people relate to and listen to at this time?’. We wanted to make it more of a summer song. When we were talking about the lyrics, because Tee was going to have vocals in it too, I figured we could do it from a his and hers perspective, but the chorus means the same for both people.
“I’m quite flexible as well. As long as I hear the music and I know what the thing is I’m supposed to be writing about, sometimes it gives me a better sense of what I should be doing.”
Joseph Mott (artist name New Junior) also shared a similar experience when he worked with his collaboration partner. “It was kind of great timing and it meant I got to work with Luna,” he says. “We had already planned to do something but then lockdown happened. LIMF came along and said they want to do a collaboration series so it seemed like the best chance for us in this situation” says Joseph.
“It was interesting because it meant that you had this excitement to see what the person had done before sending it over to you,” he adds. “We tried to do each other’s thing and met in the middle with something that blended the two together. It came out really well and has that experimental edge to it.”
(Above: New Junior)
The second part of the lockdown project was based on a specific theme. Yaw explains the inspiration behind the challenge: “Originally, my idea was to do a remix project where they remix each other’s records. But as all the, I suppose you could say, historic things have occurred over the last few weeks, we thought it would be interesting to do remixes but under the theme of equality.”
The task involved the same 48 hour time constraints except now the participants could work on their own and had to rework or remix an existing song that they relate to the theme of equality.
“A couple of weeks had gone by and then the [protests] around George Floyd and police brutality came up. Obviously that’s what the series is about.” Ky explains. “In that time, I really felt like I was grieving,” she continues. “When I got the email about this project, I really wanted to do it by myself. I didn’t feel like at that time I would like to work with someone else who doesn’t feel the same way, or hasn’t had the same experience as me [as a black woman].
“When I was choosing my song, I just put all my songs on shuffle on Spotify and I let songs go. At first, I was listening to iconic songs about equality, but then this song, BoRdErSz by Zayn Malik came along,” Ky explains. “I was listening to the song and was like ‘yeah, I can make this into something else’. When the time came to doing the actual challenge, I was sat down at my computer and I knew I was going to turn it into a power ballad, because songs about equality are always best as a power ballad, at least in my eyes. That’s the kind of feeling that I’m experiencing right now.”
Tee went down a different route for his remix project with band Little Grace. “We chose, Where Is The Love by Black Eyed Peas.” Tee recalls. “I was Googling a list of equality songs and when I saw that song I was like, ‘I used to listen to that song when I was younger’. I read the lyrics back and thought this is terrifyingly relevant. That song came out in 2003 but it’s still very real now.
“The lyrics of the song are super important and you don’t want to miss them so we decided to do it in a slower more powerful way,” Tee adds. “When the song first came out there was a lot of lyrics that I missed because it was presented in a really nice pop package. We can’t miss out on how powerful this song is.”
Both remixes are not only moving responses to the LIMF Academy’s brief, but also emotive responses to the unsettled social landscape across the world. Yet to lay down his track, Josepth tells me about how he is remixing a song that means a lot to him both in terms of its themes but also on a personal level, due to how it sparked his passion for music.
“It’s a 2006 song and I remember hearing it for the first time and thinking, ‘Damn, this is really something I want to listen to’. I didn’t have an interest at the time in making or playing music, this song changed a lot of that. Being able to recreate it is quite special for me. It lets me reference and revisit that period of my life that sparked the interest in the first place.”
“The song is It Don’t Have To Change by John Legend,” says Joseph. “I’m hoping to express my perspective and be able to express my feelings created from these experiences and what our response should be. I’m looking forward to it, hopefully it comes out alright.”
While everyone has had their own different experiences of lockdown, personally and creatively, LIMF Academy has managed to bring artists together to achieve something they probably wouldn’t have done in the circumstances. “I think the most important thing is that a lot of these guys stay sharp in terms of making music. We need to make sure that [creative] muscle keeps working,” Yaw concludes. “It’s been good for us to just facilitate it. Wherever it goes, it goes.”
It’s certainly a sentiment shared with the artists, as Joseph explains. “These 48 hour collaborations are showing people that a lot of us can actually achieve pretty decent sounds without doing too much over the top studio work,” he says. “I think we have to take that with us as much as we can going forward.”
Tracks from the Songs Of Equality – Remix/Refix project are dropping weekly via LIMF Academy’s Soundcloud page.
(Main photo: IAMKYAMI)
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