Run The Jewels: Purrfect Proponents of The Curve?

Before I became old and boring, I used to be quite into music. In my late teens and right on up to my mid 20s I was heavily into the nerdier side of hip-hop, particularly music made during the genre’s so called ‘golden age’ when artists were freer to sample records. Think Beastie Boys and De La Soul rather than P. Diddy.

In recent years I’ve found I’ve had less time for music in general and when I do actually listen, I tend to fall back on tried and tested tracks rather than putting in time and effort to discover new music. I was pleasantly surprised when, earlier this year, my brother-in-law recommended I check out Run The Jewels and I found myself enjoying new music for the first time in ages.

For the non-Guardianistas, Run The Jewels are a hip-hop duo made up of underground producer/rapper El-P from New York City and the rapper Killer Mike of Atlanta (whose you may have heard on Outkast’s seminal Stankonia LP back in 2000). Together they manage to make one hell of a noise and manage to sound futuristic/old school/underground/commercial/political/angry/profane/immature all at once. Quite an achievement.

Besides making excellent music, RTJ are interesting in how they approach making music, getting paid and connecting with their fans. One great thing they do is give away their albums as free downloads, in exchange for giving them your email address. After reading The Curve earlier this year, I really like the way RTJ are using the power of free music to build up a fan base, which they can then monetise in other ways, such as live performances, limited edition vinyl, merchandise and the like.

Judging from the level of interest in in RTJ gigs, their Curve based business model seems to be working for them. Their success is all the more remarkable given both members of the group are what you might call ‘veterans’ and have experienced the highs and lows of traditional music industry. It’s great to see them enjoying a second wave of success, seemingly more on their own terms. Hopefully RTJ’s success will encourage more artists to find their own way of connecting with fans and forgo the traditional music industry shenanigans.

Another thing that makes RTJ interesting  to me is their willingness to embrace the surreal. Currently, producer El-P is working on a remix album with a difference. While hip-hop is no stranger to transformative remixes (think Coldcut’s masterful re-working of Eric B & Rakim’s Paid In Full), I can’t think of any artists who have been visionary enough to make a remix album consisting of cat sounds.

Back in October of last year, when offering pre-order editions of RTJ2, their website included a special $40,000 option:

“Run The Jewels will re-record RTJ2 using nothing but cat sounds for music. “

Whether or not this was intended as just a goof, fans clearly liked the idea and before long their was the obligatory Kickstarter campaign to get the remix album, christened Meow The Jewels, made. The campaign proved successful and Meow The Jewels is being created as we speak.

Yesterday, my brother-in-law alerted me to the fact that the first track from Meow The Jewels had been posted online. In his text, he asked me to play the track, which goes by the name of Meowrly, to my cat Zelda to see what she made of it. I dutifully did so and decided to video the results for posterity.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3TLbmDn-gk]

If you watch the video you will discover El-P has been pretty faithful to his promise. Not all of the music is made from cat sounds but it’s a good effort. Sadly, I don’t think Zelda is much of a fan but I’m not going to let her dampen my enthusiasm. I am still very much looking forward to hearing more from Meow The Jewels and want to support RTJ and their forward looking approach to making music and connecting with their fans.

Photographing Birmingham Beer Bash 2015

On Friday, I attended the Birmingham Beer Bash in Digbeth in my capacity as official photographer for the event.

Birmingham Beer Bash aims to showcase the very best of the UK’s burgeoning craft beer scene and of its international counterpart, to eager beer fans in the Midlands and beyond. The first Beer Bash was held at the Bond Company in Digbeth in 2013 by a group of beer enthusiasts who had come together using social media to organise the event. Clay Shirky would be proud.

Birmingham Beer Bash 2015-24Birmingham Beer Bash has grown in size and influence with every passing year. For me and many others, summer in Birmingham would not be complete without a trip to the Bond Company to (responsibly?) sample an incredible selection of craft beers.  Birmingham Beer Bash 2015-28

Photographing the Beer Bash is always a lot of fun, and not just because of the free tokens I receive. Although the event has grown in size, the Beer Bash still manages to have a real community feel. I feel a larger part of the feel of the festival is due to the fact that the organisers are volunteers and share attendees enthusiasm for beer. The Beer Bash also attracts some great characters, both organisers and customers, which really make makes the event feel special.

Birmingham Beer Bash 2015-39

You can see my full album of photos from the Beer Bash over on Flickr:

You can get a favour of what this year’s Beer Bash was like by looking on Twitter, @Birminghamcubed .

You can find out more about the Beer Bash’s history and keep up-to-date with plans for next year by visiting the Birmingham Beer Bash website.

My Memories of CommCamp15

After three years of living in Birmingham, on Thursday I was lucky enough to get the chance to attend CommsCamp 15 unconference.

The event, which was organised by the respected Comm2Point0 team and held at the Bond Company in Digbeth, Birmingham , brought together people to talk, listen and think about how communications is changing across the public sector.

To learn more about what went on at this year’s event, check out the #commscamp15 hashtag on Twitter. You can also follow the CommsCamp team @CommsCamp for the latest news, including plans for next year’s unconference.

Share and share alike

In keeping with other unconferences, CommsCamp only works if attendees play an active role sharing their knowledge and  experiences before, during and after the event the event. I’d like to use the rest of this blog post to share the key points I picked up on from a couple of sessions I took an active role in.

Communicating effectively with our an ageing population

  • Too often, public sector communications treats older people as ‘one size fits all’ and fails to recognise the significant differences which exist within the group.
  • The charity Age UK produces a regular fact sheet, breaking down the characteristics of Britain’s population of older people.
  • Pressure to reduce costs is accelerating a move away from print to online services and this is creating concerns over how older people can stay informed and access public services. Exacerbated by decline of local newspapers.
  • Signs of good practice around digital transition, e.g. Croydon Council working with Age UK to support ‘Techy Teach Party’, where older people can pick up tech skills in a relaxed and informal setting. Efforts also being made to provide older people with low cost computer equipment.
  • With less money for print, there is more need than ever for partnership working, e.g. councils teaming up with housing associations to get key messages to older people.
  • Discussion around the importance of plain English and avoiding patronising language. Public sector needs to gain support of local newspapers, who often persist in using outdated/offensive terms for older people.
  • Spending cuts can mean there is little or no money for auditing the quality of communications, e.g. Crystal Mark accreditation.
  • Since Thursday, I have remembered Alive With Ideas recently wrote a blog post about free online tools for improving the quality of your written communications, which can help improve readability.
  • StreetLife, the local social network, is believed to be popular with people 55+.

Innovative uses of WhatsApp

  • This session was led by Geoff Coleman from Birmingham City Council, who had experimented with WhatsApp as part of the #BrumVotes15 project at election time earlier this year.
  • Residents opted-in to receive messages. Birmingham City Council was then able to broadcast messages to everyone on their list. Members were also able to send messages back to Birmingham City Council (but not other list members, as far as I know).
  • Geoff had used the WhatsApp web client to manage communication with up to 600 people who had opted-in to receive updates. The software is still in its infancy and there were a few hitches along the way, mainly due to needing an ‘always on’ internet connection, but the service is expected to keep on getting better.
  • The #BrumVotes15 project was very well received. Geoff noticed the quality of engagement was better than on Twitter, with more focus on asking and answering thoughtful questions. Geoff believes that unlike Twitter, people were not as interested at having their ‘clever’ comments seen by others, and this produced less self-conscious communication.
  • Despite the technology still being unpolished , Geoff sees potential in using WhatsApp in other areas. One option could include setting up a WhatsApp group for new foster carers, where they could get support/ask for help from a more experienced foster carer. Another option might be around public health, with teenagers/young adults opting in to receive health information at key stages of life, such as Freshers’ Week.
  • A number of participants, myself included, noted the importance of thinking about safeguarding, privacy and regulatory issues when using WhatsApp to deliver services. Thought will be required before setting up WhatsApp groups for sensitive issues and/or vulnerable people to balance supervision and privacy. Organisations also need to be aware of real or perceived issues over collection of personal data and how they would respond to a Freedom of Information request to see the contents of a WhatsApp group discussion.