Martin Christie is a poet, musician, author and much more, and is the driving force behind the Electronic Music Open Mic (EMOM) movement, which provides electronic musicians with a live forum in which to perform their music. The concept has taken off quickly since its inception early this year, with regular events occurring in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West of the UK. We spoke to Martin to find out more about him, his events and his own work.
Hi Martin, first up could you tell a bit about yourself?
I certainly can! I’m a musician and writer based in West Yorkshire, with a specific interest in electronic music and the ways in which technology drives new forms of music making. I have a personal preference for portable electronic instruments and live electronic music. I also mix electronic music with sung/spoken word as Poet & the Loops, and founded the Northern Beat Poets Association with Wakefield beat poet Jimmy Andrex. I wrote Open Mic Travels a few years back which is still available on Amazon. I believe in the humanity of music and its capability to bring people together in a positive way.
Open mic nights have been a longstanding part of the music scene, but yours have a special characteristic in that they’re wholly electronic. What made you decide to launch this particular format and fill this gap in the UK music scene?
It was at an open mic in Manchester about five years ago and very unusually there were three of us who happened to be playing electronic music. It was unusual because up until that point I’d usually been the only person turn up who wasn’t playing an acoustic guitar. I felt like the outsider, even though electronic music making is all around us in a vast and diverse range of styles. On that night I really enjoyed talking to the other electronic musicians and we all agreed there was limited opportunity for our music. That’s when it occurred to me that an electronic music open mic would be a cool idea to get likeminded musicians together. But it was to take me a good few years to finally get my act together and have a go at running one of these different nights. That took place in February earlier this year and was such a good night I decided to do a few more.
Are there any challenges and rewards that are unique to electronic open mic nights?
The biggest challenge is for the performer to fit everything, including set up, play and pack down into a short (maximum 20 mins) spot. Some technologies can be temperamental and things go wrong, that can screw up the running order for the whole night and mean someone might not get to play. The nights have been popular beyond my wildest dreams so there’s a lot of pressure to get through as many performers as possible. At the London venue, the management just pulled the plug at 11pm, literally the whole PA just went dead, so we had to abandon the event and a few people didn’t get to play. I hated that.
The rewards have been discovering new forms of music making. For example, I was aware of the modular synth approach before I started the nights but hadn’t realised how much I love that sound. Then there was a guy in Leeds doing live coding that created the music on the fly, I’m not sure what the software was for that, but he simply sat in the audience with a lap top and blasted out some very original sounds. I’ve always been interested in how new technology shapes the possibilities of music and that was a special moment for me.
You’re running events all over the country at the moment. How do you decide where’s a good place to launch one?
Good question! Originally I focussed on major cities that I associate with electronic music like Manchester, Sheffield, Salford and Bristol. Then as news of the nights has spread I’ve been asked to take the night elsewhere so that’s I ended up running nights in Liverpool, York and Coventry. London I wanted to do anyway because I love the capital, but there’s nothing happening in London that isn’t happening in Manchester or any other major city. Maybe music is like that now it doesn’t have a geographical home like it used to have. Having said that I would like to think the spiritual home of these nights is probably Manchester because it’s where I found the most acceptance and understanding for the approach.
What’s been the highlight for you of the open mic nights held so far? Any stand out performances?
Undoubtedly, the highlights have been the people involved, the friendships that have been created and also the collaborations. People helping each other with getting gigs in places they would have otherwise never played is also a great result. The lads from Stoke who play as We Are Us and also Digital Buddhist have been to nearly all the nights. Their music is superb. The Bristol act This Human Condition put in a great live performance, and J Frisco from Leeds, they are more jazz based, but their music is wonderful.
Manchester act St Lucifer came over to the Sheffield night for a one-off performance around a table of electronic devices and for me that was the dream future for a four-piece band ha ha – no drums or guitars. The place was jumping. Cynthia’s Periscope are also very unique and highly recommended. And Moodbay make some beautiful music. There’s so many more I want to mention but I guess it’s just a case of people coming to the nights and deciding for themselves.
You’ve got your own music project – Poet and the Loops – how does that fit into the events, and which came first?
Poet & the Loops came first and involves mixing sung/spoken word with live electronic music. I started that project in 2010 and should probably change the name as I’m using less in the way of looping devices these days and more samples and synths. It comes from a long tradition of mixing poetry and music that dates back to early experimental jazz and the American beat generation.
I usually find a little time at every EMOM to add some Poet & the Loops into the mix as I can literally plug in and play a short (but what I hope is effective) set, usually using a Korg Kaossilator, Roland sampler or Pocket Operator. Poet & the Loops is fairly dark material, but done in an uplifting way, so it works well after a drone or an industrial set to change the mood a little where necessary. I like to think of the night as a dramatic flow of lightness and darkness and will try and arrange the acts in that kind of way.
What future plans do you have for the events, and what have you got coming up next?
There are more electronic music open mics running through to the end of the year in Nottingham, Liverpool, Coventry, Sheffield and Manchester. There’s a double compilation album coming out on YMNLT Records featuring many of the acts that have played these nights. The Manchester EMOM in November will also be the launch night for the album. There’s also the first of the all female electronic music nights coming up on 27 October at Partisan Collective in Manchester.
For next year I’ve been making a few contacts further afield in Amsterdam, Berlin and New York. I’d love to take these nights abroad and see what happens. Finally, I’m writing the book of the whole experience called Bring me the head of electronic music (electronic music travels) which focuses on the people, the venues and the technologies involved. Should be out mid next year.
Upcoming EMOM gigs for 2017 include:
- Nottingham, Rough Trade Nottingham – 26 September 2017.
- Liverpool, The Jacaranda Club – 11 October 2017.
- Coventry, Drapers Bar & Kitchen – 25 October 2017.
- Sheffield, DINA Venue – 10 November 2017.
- Manchester, Fuel Café – 24 November 2017 (EMOM Album Launch)
For more information or to get involved, drop Martin an e-mail.