DistractionsAndy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester
Distractions is a long weekend of debates, talks, panels, content and new music showcases, presented by Manchester International Festival, Sound City and FutureEverything, developed by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham who talks to us about the future of entertainment in Greater Manchester…
Greater Manchester has always understood the importance of culture, as evidenced by the recent publication of Greater Manchester’s ambitious five-year strategy for Culture and Creativity. We are delighted to see Greater Manchester further confirm this commitment its Local Industrial Strategy, published last month. The strategy, which has been co-developed and co-signed with Government, identifies development of the Greater Manchester’s Digital and Creative Industries as one of four key opportunities for the prosperity of the city region and, importantly, recognises the importance of culture and creativity to innovation and the vibrancy of our high streets and town centres.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge music fan. Culture and specifically, music in Greater Manchester helped shaped me from a very early age.
At the time I didn’t realise how lucky I was.
To be 19 years old in the summer of 1989, and doing my first job on Portland Street with Piccadilly Records and Affleck’s just around the corner, was, looking back, the very definition of being in the right place at the right time.
In that moment, Manchester was the undisputed capital of music and much else besides. It felt like we were the epicentre of everything. Things were happening everywhere you looked and I was busy lapping all of it up. I can remember thinking that perhaps it was always going to be like this.
Of course, there was an element of the stars aligning at that particular time. But let’s get this right – it wasn’t all luck.
Manchester had made its own luck and created that moment in the sun. It was down to a generation of like-minded people, led by Tony Wilson, who believed in the place, its young talent, and had been working for at least a decade to give it a platform.
It is hard to believe that this August marks 30 years since I trekked up the M6 to Blackpool with what felt like half of Manchester to watch The Stone Roses at the Empress Ballroom. The best way I can think of marking that milestone is to go back to Manchester’s musical pioneers did so well in the past and work with others to apply those lessons afresh to our modern times.
We need to start by recognising that the music industry has changed since 1989. It is quite a lot harder now than it was then for new talent to get noticed and to break through. Gone are the days of watching Granada Reports on a Friday evening and hearing Tony Wilson, having finished reading the headlines, say: “And, to play us out, here’s Northside …”
We need to find new ways of doing the same and giving today’s Mancunian talent a stage and a spotlight in which to shine.
It was this impulse which led me to ask UK Music to undertake an independent review of our music scene across Greater Manchester. It was time to take an honest look at ourselves: to understand our strengths, what works well for our artists and audiences; but also to be aware of our weaknesses and what more we can do to stay ahead of the game and make Greater Manchester an even better place to make and enjoy music.
There can be many barriers in the way of people feeling part of the music industry or scene, linked to finance, gender, ethnicity and disability. Imagine being offered a dream opportunity to play a festival but having to turn it down because the venue is physically inaccessible to you.
It is my job, and that of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, to remove these barriers in front of our people and let the talent we have proclaim itself to the word. So we are constantly striving to find ways to bring this talent to the fore, whether that’s through the recommendations of the UK Music Review, working with national partners or developing new opportunities for artists and audiences.
One thing I have already decided to do, though, is to create a new platform so that Greater Manchester’s talent of today can get noticed. So, this summer, alongside the Manchester International Festival, we will hold the first Distractions. This is intended to provide a space for debate about trends in our creative, tech and music industries, building on the legacy of In the City. But it will also throw a spotlight on the coming talent from across our city-region. If it helps and people like it, we will look to build it in the years to come.
Distractions is a three-day summit that debates the future of entertainment – a long weekend of debates, talks, panels, content and new music showcases with some of the world’s leading tech companies, artists and producers. Presented by Manchester International Festival, Sound City and FutureEverything, developed by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, with the support of Rose Marley and Modern Designers, Distractions explores how technology is shaping our entertainment experiences.
Distractions is everything Greater Manchester is about – innovative, forward thinking and radical. We have a pioneering digital, technological and music history. Whether that’s building the first computer, the birthplace of the industrial revolution and the Spinning Jenny, or the home of Factory Records; our progressive past should be seen as a great foundation for the future. Distractions is all about showcasing the future of Greater Manchester and asking the moral and ethical questions about how technology is both a fantastic opportunity, but also a distraction from reality in an increasingly troubled world.
The conversation is based in Manchester, but it will be global in terms of themes discussed and quality of speaker. It’s a really brilliant line-up and should hopefully showcase the very best GM has to offer.
It’s also explicitly referenced in our Industrial Strategy; ‘Greater Manchester will lead an international event to showcase to the world the best of the city-region’s digital and creative talent with support from government officials.’ Creativity can, and rightly is, at the heart of our Local Industrial Strategy. Our citizens have so much talent, and creativity, and platforms like Distractions are vital in ensuring that talent is seen both nationally, and internationally.
In Greater Manchester, we don’t want to just imagine what the future of entertainment might look like, we want to lead it.
Taking place in Manchester on July 18, 19 and 20, Distractions is a long weekend of debates, talks, panels, content and new music showcases.