Fail we may, sail we must.
As mantras go, you can’t get much more poetically concise than this from Andrew Weatherall, the great musical innovator who suddenly passed away in February. A towering presence over the past three decades of British music, Weatherall leaves more than life-affirming mixes and genre-defining production fingerprints across an era of music where the boundaries between bands/gigs and DJs/clubs began to blur; he also leaves plenty of wit and wisdom for us to pore over.
“If you’re not on the margins you’re taking up too much room,” is another quote attributed to Weatherall in many of the warm, heartfelt tributes paid since his death was announced – and in the shadow of his passing the words feel strangely apt. Apt for the musicians of the alternative underground, who Weatherall championed. Apt for us, the rebel outsiders whose very character thrives on being in the margins, trying things that others won’t dare to do.
Liverpool’s fierce independent streak is one of its defining characteristics, and is one of the things that makes it such an exciting place to live and work. Politically, artistically and culturally it is a step to one side, its identity aligned with a desire to be different, to not want to fall in line. But the danger with dancing to your own tune is that you need regular outside input to know if that tune is any good. There’s something gloriously freeing about not caring what anyone else thinks of us, and it allows a great sense of togetherness to grow between those inside the bubble. It’s a form of tribalism, which is fine when you’re part of the tribe.
But, while admirable, that attitude is also a little problematic; as a city that strives to be a leading cultural voice, we do seriously need to consider what face we are presenting to the world. I feel as though we’re at a crossroads, and before plunging down what may seem an obvious route, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask ourselves what kind of city we want to be: for artists, for outsiders, for ourselves. Caution and care need to be deployed to ensure that we don’t get so focused on our own image that we fail to spot an incremental slide towards complacency.
What we decide to do, musically and creatively, often doesn’t stack up against raw numbers. Art is so, so much more than that; music, as the most tradeable artistic commodity (not for much longer, Brexit fans!). What we do with Bido Lito! has always meant so much more to us than what spreadsheets tell us, because feelings – and a love for good music – matter more than bottom lines. Andrew Weatherall himself described what he did musically as “a series of beautiful, totally futile gestures”. There’s often only a thin veil separating beauty and futility in art, even at the best of times, but I’d take aiming for beauty over settling for mediocrity any day of the week.
We were deeply saddened to hear further tragic news in February, that music writer Mark Barton had passed away. Mark blogged about and supported independent musicians for years, and entertained so many people through his writing. He will be sorely missed, and we hope that his family and friends can take solace from the fact that he was so well liked and respected.