Bido Lito!’s tenure documenting our region’s musical happenings can be broadly broken down in to two eras: pre- and post-FOREST SWORDS. I can still remember the time when we were first introduced to Dagger Paths – the first offering by the shadowy Matthew Barnes – as we were in the throes of a huge hangover from our Inside Pages launch event at Static in October 2010. The EP’s sparse, dubby swells offered a tantalising glimpse of the future, one that would herald a near-endless cycle of creativity. It was like a switch being flicked on for us: suddenly, everything became a little clearer, even dangerous. It was an explosion of something totally new that helped galvanise a community of musicians and creators, the first breakout of an amazingly talented collection of individuals that had been nurtured in this fertile place.
The strength of this music community is something that we as a publication mention a lot, and is something we stand by. But what do the musicians themselves think; is there really a togetherness among the artists, or is it an urban myth? “Yes, there’s definitely a community. There has to be, in a way, otherwise nothing would get done,” answered Barnes when we put the question to him. “There definitely seemed to be a turning point about maybe eight or ten years ago. More venues like Korova and club nights were springing up, the internet felt like it was pushing things along, there were cool zines and art spaces. Before that it felt like a fucking wasteland: lads in parkas and Weller haircuts playing guitars. It was a slow process because as a music fan you’re constantly comparing it to the likes of Manchester or Glasgow, and it seemed to move forward at a glacial pace compared to those kinds of places. But now I think it’s in a stronger position.”
The city’s current rude health can be partially attributed to the robust infrastructure of press, venues and genuine high-class events that have developed over the past five or so years. But there’s a downside to this artificial spotlight, one that Barnes agrees we should be wary of. “It can create a kind of unhealthy bubble where things – artists or issues – seem a lot more important than they actually are in the wider world,” he states. “By having its own ecosystem, stuff can seem like a big deal and things can get blown way out of proportion, especially with social media now that exacerbates everything anyway. That’s the nature of any relatively small city though, I suppose.”
“Liverpool’s definitely not as cut-throat as somewhere like London,” continues Barnes. “I don’t feel like everyone’s clambering on top of each other to further themselves, which means you’ve got the space to relax a bit rather than constantly being aware of what your peers are doing. It’s a lot less trend-based than other cities so there’s a lot less of a turnover of artists or fads. Things stick around for a while. It exists in its own space a little bit.”
There is, and to an extent always will be, a focus trained upon the region’s musicians given its widely exported musical heritage. Aligning Forest Swords as a Liverpool creation, with all the lazy “Liverpool sound” connotations, could have been something of a hindrance, but it’s not something Barnes agrees with. “It’s a help [being associated to the city], because outside of the UK everyone’s default reaction when you mention Liverpool is either football or music. And even though some might only know the Beatles, at least Liverpool still has a reputation as something creative and exciting, which is way more than a lot of other cities have.” However, Barnes argues that it’s not all rosy in the tight-knit community, and it can be hard to stay fresh. “Like most cities with a fairly small arts scene, everyone knows everyone else’s business – it’s impossible not to. There are no real surprises because you’ll have heard about what’s happening way in advance. Also, there’s a fairly common misconception, even amongst people here, that the city’s music scene is just guitar music or electronic music or whatever, when it actually spreads to RnB, grime, hip hop, jazz and everything in between.”
It’s important to celebrate this rabid creativity, as it acts as a springboard to further improvement. But it’s something that needs to be tempered with a sense of realism, and a knowledge that things have to keep moving forwards. “There’s still a lot of work to do. Especially getting Liverpool artists in front of audiences across the UK and Europe and making an impact outside of the city,” states Barnes, as he suggests that we shouldn’t congratulate ourselves too much. “I’ve always admired that there’s been a kind of stubbornness to Merseyside artists – like ‘who cares about what other people think?’ – but it’s a symbiotic thing. If you get people interested outside of the city, better things happen within the city and it has a knock-on effect. It can’t really exist in a vacuum.”
Through his status as a world-renowned recording artist, Barnes is helping to export a bit of this fertile community right round the world. Given this international stature, we ask if Barnes would always like his music to be associated with this region. “Yep. It’s been intrinsic to the type of stuff I’ve made, so I’d never want to deny that at all. I also feel like Liverpool really needs as much positive press as it can get. Musicians should shout about the fact they’re from here, because it does the city a favour, however minor.”