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Faced with a decade of austerity and budget cuts, organisations in Liverpool have worked tirelessly to promote the artistic development of young people and create spaces that encourage individuals from all backgrounds to explore their passion for music. However, the global pandemic which took hold in March 2020 served to create a more unforgiving landscape for young artists and musicians. More positively, in the months that followed, it has also seen adaptation from a wealth of organisations meeting the demands of the new normal. One of the more recent initiatives taking root here in Liverpool sees a collaboration between the Noise Project and LIMF Academy.
The project began as the brainchild of local creative consultant Yaw Owusu and practitioner Joe Carroll (aka Amique) who each represent the scheme’s parent organisations. Owusu is the creative force behind the Liverpool International Music Festival and its artist development scheme the LIMF Academy, which focuses on artists at an industry level. He shared how the idea for this group was conceived – during an hour-long, impromptu conversation between the two men on a street corner after they collaborated on the Levi’s Music Project in Anfield earlier that year.
“We talked about doing something like [the Levi’s Music Project] but a little bit more grassroots with artists. [Amique] came back and said, ‘Well, let’s do something as a partnership between the Academy and Noise’,” Owusu explained. “I must give credit to Amique, it’s very much his vision, but with me bringing what I do to the table, it’s been a wonderful partnership.”
Amique is a successful musician himself. After having performed at Wireless Festival and opening for artists like Snarky Puppy and JP Cooper, he’s accustomed to the harsh but alluring reality of the music industry. Alongside this, Amique works as a music development worker at the Noise Project on Hanover Street, which is where I was introduced to him more than three years ago.
As a teenager, I’d been looking for a way to develop my interest in music without the financial pressures of private tutors and expensive equipment. I stumbled across Noise and, after meeting the team there, I felt completely welcomed and comfortable exploring something I’d always kept strictly within the confines of my bedroom.
The project manager of Noise, Garth Jones, summarised what they do: “Noise is for young people aged 11-25 from all areas of Merseyside. We offer free tuition in guitar, piano, drums and voice, along with artist mentoring sessions covering song writing, music production and industry insight.” The time I spent at Noise, working closely with Amique, helped me immensely with my confidence at a time when most teenagers feel unsure about what they should do with their life and what they are capable of. Amique has a true knack for showing young musicians what they can achieve and an almost magnetic quality of drawing their talents to the surface. When I heard about his new scheme for emerging artists, I knew it had to be something worth looking into.
Unfortunately, before the project got a chance to welcome its inaugural cohort, the Covid-19 pandemic put a swift halt to all collaborative schemes within the community, shepherding the group into an uncharted digital workspace. This proved tricky to begin with for those involved, like 20-year-old rapper and spoken word artist DAYZY. “[It was difficult] due to everyone having to work from home because of the pandemic, we can’t just go to the studio,” he said. “One specific challenge was recording and trying to fix any errors with the sound.” Like many of us, the artists have had to adapt to a new way of working with technology but, luckily, they had the expertise of Amique and Owusu to help them through it. “The project leaders have been amazing with handling this,” said Dayzy, “and also teaching us to solve the issues ourselves.”
The Liverpool-based artist spoke about his upbringing around family and friends involved in the city’s creative scene, whom he credits for inspiring him to harness his music and teaching him to grow into the artist he is today. He also pinpointed the aptly named Catalyst Performing Arts programme as the birthplace of his musical career – a project based in Liverpool 8 which provides young people with the opportunity to express themselves through drama, writing, dance and other activities. Regarding the collaborative nature of the LIMF Academy x Noise Project, Dayzy said: “For me, personally, I helped contribute to the project with my rapping ability, however it has pushed me to explore my skills in music production much more than I thought it would.” When asked about the most rewarding aspect of being involved, he responded, “Using our creativity to create sounds together with the other artists on the project, that have a big meaning behind them.”
It appears Amique and Owusu place a huge importance on encouraging an environment of shared creativity and a mutual respect for all the artists’ work within the group. The former elaborated on how this translates into their weekly meetings. “Sessions regularly feature group song evaluations where the young artists evaluate one another’s music and development, educational discussions about artistic growth, dedicated and in-depth exercises designed to generate artistic inspiration as well as several guest speakers from PRS, Ditto Distribution, not to mention industry experts such as Mike Cave (Lewis Capaldi/The Charlatans).” The benefit of being exposed to insider knowledge of the music industry is obviously huge for emerging talents, and this begins the levelling of the playing field for disadvantaged artists who are susceptible to being eaten up by the industry, something both Owusu and Amique felt strongly about.
“What I’ve always tried to do is make sure there’s balance. To make sure that there are opportunities for artists who don’t normally get them, and also make sure that these opportunities are actually going to help the artists, because sometimes things are put on that may be tokenistic, sometimes the people who run it don’t necessarily understand those artists that they’re working with,” Owusu explained. The project goes to great lengths to give invaluable insight into what being a professional recording artist is like, in preparation for the exciting things they predict their artists will go on to do.
One such artist is NI MAXINE, a 24-year-old originally from Bristol, who describes herself as being “on a journey of healing and self-discovery through music”. The jazz singer spoke of her roots in church choirs and cathedrals but noted the night she gave a spontaneous performance at a jazz club as a turning point in her career. “I asked the house band if I could sing a song, to which they responded, of course. It seemed to go down pretty well as they asked me to come back and sing a number of times which was fun, even though the owners couldn’t remember my name,” she recalled. Despite being a seasoned performer, fronting the jazz outfit River Of Beer during her time in Bristol, Ni thanks the LIMF Academy x Noise Project for helping her find the confidence to trust her own music. She describes the experience as being “really lovely during lockdown, just having a virtual space to socialise in and meet new people. If you’ve been working on a track, you can send it in before the session and have it played to the group before everyone offers feedback, which has been really encouraging and has given me the confidence to start putting my original music out there”.
Now, Ni is involved in The Wombat Supper Club, an intimate live music and dining experience operating out of her flat in Anfield. She holds the distinguished position of resident chanteuse at The Wombat, where one of the perks of the job is being able to host the audience from the comfort of your very own living room. The concept displays a sense of innovative resourcefulness that has people fighting for one of 20 exclusive seats at the table. Lamenting her inability to host these gatherings over lockdown, Ni says, “I can’t wait to be able to invite people to The Wombat once again – for food, conversation and jazz! It’s going to be so nice to lay the table and prepare a meal for guests; although, dinner for two has been fun over the past year or so.”
Despite the setbacks of the pandemic and the mounting pressure on voluntary services such as the LIMF Academy x Noise Project, the young artists involved seem hopeful about the future in their industry. Dayzy commented on his eagerness to share his work. “I am very excited about showing the world what us creatives and musicians have been up to,” he said. “I will be releasing three new tracks and a few music videos this summer.”
On top of being involved with The Wombat, Ni shared that she has been working on a body of music over the past year. “I’m hoping to record in the summertime,” she said, “ready for something exciting on the 20th October, which just so happens to be my 25th birthday. Save the date!”
Their optimism is a testament to the resilience of creativity against any obstacle, specifically for a generation that too often seems to be set up to fail by the powers that be. Owusu made a similarly positive observation. “Music will always find its way,” he said. “It’s like water, it’s so essential and so abundant that, regardless of what’s going on, artists are going to create music, people are going to consume and share music, music is still going to be our soundtrack to everything we do and everything we create – it’s not going anywhere.”
While no one disregards the struggles facing the creative industries right now, especially after the loss of so many live venues across the country in the past year, these artists seem equally resistant to entertain the idea that anything could stop them. And judging by the success of this project and the artists involved, I can’t help but agree. The LIMF Academy x Noise Project is a perfect example of how we can adapt and change and make something amazing in the face of adversity, but above all it illustrates the necessity of spaces where young people can be authentic, creative and together.