If a young musician finds themselves isolated during their formative years, will this stunt their artistic development? Or does this actually make them more self-sufficient, unique and refreshing than if they'd grown up within a vibrant ‘music scene’?
For the past five years I've been teaching beat making, rhyme writing and freestyling with young people at The Lab, a studio space and music project in Rye, run by AudioActive; in a part of East Sussex that feels to me like the middle of nowhere, cut off from the outside world. No offense to Rye, it’s a lovely place, but it’s not bustling with youth sub-cultures that can have such an impact on youth identity and emerging musical scenes and artists.
It's been class to see them gain momentum through their teenage years and use the quick thinking skills that come with learning to freestyle and perform, to give them confidence and sharpness in outside challenges such as job interviews, standing up for themselves and even finding a partner.
There's a solid camaraderie around the thing we love and it gives us an identity. They joke that the song writing is a therapy, ‘cause of the amount of heavy drama they've processed and made into good music. When people arrive they quickly learn to rap in their own voice and not in a ‘hand-me-down’ American or London style.
But living in Rye, away from a music-scene and a community of musical peers, presented challenges. If there were opportunities to perform, then nobody would come. And how do you put perspective on your own artistic development when you don’t have an audience? And when your exposure to other rappers is through watching YouTube?
Two years ago we began taking them to Brighton and London amongst other places to connect with the wider scene. We created ‘In The Lab’ events across the South East a forum for them and other young people to showcase their set and get constructive criticism from other young people, and professional musicians (some of which they might have seen on YouTube!)
It was like a plant that had been re-potted. Of their own volition they made links with UK legends such as Jam Baxter and Genesis Elijah who are now guests on the album we have just completed
The Lab-Oratory http://audioactive.bandcamp.com/album/the-lab-oratory
They've learnt to own their voices and to see themselves in the same ballpark as their heroes, even performing on the same stages as them, spitting rhythms and colloquialisms that stand out.
One of my favourite moments was watching Skitz, one of England's most seminal UK Hip Hop producers, give 16 year old Kei the challenge of improvising about passion, but using the context of colours and then seeing the look on Skitz face when Kei killed it royally in his own very unique style.
So here's a question for you…
Do young artists who have grown up in rural or culturally isolated environments, making their own fun, have something more musically unique and unadulterated to offer the wider scene once they're exposed to it? I’d be interested to hear what others working with young people in rurally isolated areas think?