Do young people with more exposure to culture have a head start as developing artists?

  • by Jonsept

    Friday, 15 January, 2016 - 17:09

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

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?

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jilly jarman's picture


hi - i was very interested to read your piece. i run BlueJam Arts, a music/arts organisation in Cumbria and the young musicians who take part in our activities come from really small schools and villages across a large area. there is no arts centre in penrith and we basically make it up as we go along - improvisation is the key word. that is apt as most of our music either springs from or incorporates composition or improvisation. generally in Cumbria because there are so few people around and very few specialists there is a real willingness to have a go at anything - and it usually works. the creativity of young people round here is not limited by being out of 'the loop' but there is a real issue of confidence as we seem to get missed off most cultural maps and young people can feel they are ignored and not good enough.
we have been successful in bringing back previous bluejammers who are now recording/touring/producing their own music to lead sessions and encourage the next wave - BlueJam has produced quite a few published music writers which is fantastic. We are also working with national jazz organisations to open doors for our young people as well.

what you are doing sounds great

cheers, jilly







Heidi Johnson's picture

Hi Jon

Great to hear about your work, here at NYMAZ in North Yorkshire we recognise many of the issues you've described.

NYMAZ published some in-house research last year called Gone in the Air which examined the life challenges that young people living in rural areas face and the benefits that participating in music activities can bring. The report contains six Calls to Action which you might be interested in, including calling for more effective use of online learning, and can be found at:

We're also hosting a #mufuchat on this topic on behalf of Musical Futures tomorrow (Wed 10 Feb) evening from 8.30pm - 9.30pm, asking 'Does Where You Live Affect Your Access To Music Education?'. Would be great if you were able to contribute to the discussion - and pose your question there too - just search for #mufuchat on Twitter.

Heidi Johnson, NYMAZ


anita holford's picture

We're finding the same in Gloucestershire, and are in midst of a youth voice programme with Wired4Music and Sound Connections ... blog coming very soon. Really sorry I missed the mufuchat, I'll check it out

anita holford's picture

Will anyone be Storifying that particular Mufu chat? Then we can share it more widely amongst other rural counties ...

anita holford's picture

Here are links to the articles on our work with young people in Gloucestershire: the two students who came to London to visited Wired4Music recently really benefited from talking with other young people and connecting in with a wider scene, and were keen to find ways to meet other young people in places that had bigger 'scenes' eg Bristol and we hope this will emerge through our work with Sound Connections:

Interview with a young band based in Gloucester:

Short blog introducing the work we've been doing with Sound Connections and Wired4Music:


The first reports (full version and YP-friendly version) from our youth consultation (survey and workshop in schools) last Spring:


Millie Watkins's picture

Hi Anita and all - the storify for the MuFuChat "Does where you live affect your access to music education" has just been published, and it's here:

anita holford's picture

Great, thank you Millie!