Living the dream (terms & conditions apply)

“Hi, my name’s Lee, I make music for a living”

This week, I was able to say the above sentence with more confidence than ever before. I’ve been making music (or equivalent noises) for about 30 years now and have been in bands since I was 17. Making music has taken up a lot of my life, but it’s not been the thing that has primarily paid the bills until now. I’ve always had to have other jobs on the go – this isn’t something I’ve ever had a problem with, in fact I’d say that by doing this, I have built up lots of other additional skills that have been essential for going freelance. Plus it’s handy for my unique mindset, which was once described by a lecturer at college once as ‘intellectually promiscuous’.

So, to many people looking in, it would appear that I am “living the dream”, and I guess I am in many ways – I’m doing a job I love in an area of the arts that’s notoriously fickle about who it allows to profit from working in it. But, as came up in conversation with someone this week, I think a lot of that is because I have enjoyed the widely varied work so much that I have not minded making the sacrifices needed to get to where I am now. This bit is difficult for many developing artists from a psychological position; there’s definitely an unwritten score card that determines how well you are doing in adult life when compared to your peers who may have taken a more conventional route. By now, a little nagging voice of normality tells me I ought to have a fancy car, a mortgage, children, an investment portfolio, and probably be on to my second or third marriage with a nervous disposition to match. I sacrificed all this to live very much in the now, and I genuinely don’t regret it one bit, but I’ve always been more excited by the road less travelled than I am fearful of it.

IcebergNowadays, it’s not uncommon for children to be told from an early age that they can be whatever they want to be, but I’ve heard some folks of my generation commenting disparagingly that this this has resulted in disillusioned and feckless hipsters and Millennials. Firstly, I’d say that whilst it’s not in any way harmful to give children aspirations, I think it’s disingenuous to only tell them one side of the equation – you can be whatever you want to be, providing you are prepared to choose one thing, stick to it, and make sacrifices to achieve it. You want to be an athlete? You’ll be getting up at 4am and won’t be spending time on your XBox. You want to be an astronaut? Suddenly all that maths homework just got a lot more important. You want to be a musician? Throwing some loops together in Garageband might be fun, but go and learn how to do your accounts, or you’ll be paying someone else to do it for you.

Secondly I don’t think it’s wrong to question the expectations that society has for you. I’m hearing stories of people sacrificing all of their youth to live with their parents in order to scrimp and save to buy a house some time in their 30’s. This seems absolutely absurd to me, and I think it can result in people growing up with a very different set of values – I certainly didn’t even begin to develop into the person I am today until I moved away from home to study. Certainly from a musical perspective, it may account in part for how music sounds at the moment; in the 1970’s and 80’s, twentysomethings were living in bedsits and squats and we had a vibrant music scene. I’d argue that making a revolutionary noise is less likely if you’re living with your mum and dad, so from the point of view of music, I’m glad that some young people are starting to question the post-war narrative of school-college-job-car-wife-house-family-retirement-death.

At this point, it’s worth a quick privilege check. Sometimes I’ll discuss my career trajectory with a class, and that whole saying of ‘the past is a foreign country’ couldn’t be more true – my childhood experience is no more realistic to them than an episode of Game of Thrones. Although I’m from a working class background, I didn’t grow up in poverty, I went to 2 good schools and did well in exams, caught the final years when students had grants instead of loans, and set up my record label with support from the government. There were fewer distractions too; just 3 or 4 TV stations that shut down at midnight, computer games took 5 minutes to load if you were lucky, and there was no internet or mobile phones. I’m not sure that someone as intellectually promiscuous as me would’ve been able to concentrate on my studies or hobbies quite so effectively if there were as many distractions as there are now, and the financial commitments of further and higher education would have almost certainly led me to make different choices about what I chose to study.

I worry about music because I love music and want to hear new things that genuinely excite me until the day I die, and it’s been a while since modern music has affected me that way. I want to get old in a world that still thinks punk is an attitude, not something you go to see in a museum. I want music festivals to have bands playing that make me feel old, not a bunch of revivalists, reunions and tribute acts. It’s music’s ability to shock and agitate and energise that fuels my fire. So whilst I make music for a living, I still want to support those who make music because they have to, because it burns in them and has to come out, loudly, into the world. Not just because they are trying to save up to put down the mortgage on a starter home.


Forthcoming events:

Saturday 18th June (Afternoon)
The Wilson Art Gallery Takeover
temp0rary performing ‘Suggestion Box’ – a long-form silent disco performance with audience interaction
Wilson Art Gallery, Cheltenham
Free Entry

Saturday 9th July (Time TBC)
The Great Gamelan Experiment
Performing with a gamelan orchestra and live electronics
Imperial Gardens, Cheltenham, as part of Cheltenham Music Festival
Free Entry

Saturday 16th July, 7.30 – 10.30pm
Sunset Lumiere
temp0rary performing a full A/V set with very special guests TBC
Skillicorne Gardens (next to Imperial Gardens), Cheltenham, as part of Cheltenham Music Festival
Free Entry

Sunday July 31st, 6pm
Dali Males
Performing improvised electronics as part of Vinestock Festival 2016
The Vine, Cheltenham
Free Entry

mixandmash2016Monday August 8th – Friday August 12th
Mix & Mash summer school
Friendship Café, Gloucester
£55 for 5 days
See The Music Works website for details