Published on Cardiff AfterDark (25 Feb 2015)
2014 saw the launch of a new innovative project Horizons, a music initiative launched by the partnership of BBC Cymru Wales and Arts Council of Wales to support and promote new, independent contemporary music in Wales, with the main aim of endorsing emerging Welsh music talent to wider audiences.
Following a lengthy process, 450 artists who applied for the scheme were eventually whittled down to 12 exciting acts – Baby Queens, Candelas, Casi Wyn, Chris Jones, Climbing Trees, Gabrielle Murphy, Houdini Dax, Kizzy Crawford, Plu, Seazoo, Swnami and The People The Poet. All acts have seen themselves elevated to new heights of attention and accolades since the project began almost a year ago.
BBC Radio Wales’ Bethan Elfyn, project manager for Horizons, spoke to AfterDark’s Dean Hodge to explain more about the initiative, her thoughts on the current Welsh music scene and the past year for Horizons, and what she hopes its legacy and future will be.
DEAN: When did you first come up with the idea for the Horizons project?
BETHAN: I felt that even though the music and radio industry in Wales covers such a wide range of music and we have all these specialist radio shows covering Wales, there was no unified voice to tell people ‘if you’re going to listen to one artist or band this year, this should be it’. In England, for instance, you have the BBC Sound Of poll. I wanted to create a new music list specifically for Wales that focused people’s attention on a few artists rather than such a wide range. At the same time, I felt it would still promote the breadth of Welsh music talent.
BBC Wales and The Arts Council were additionally looking for opportunities to do a partnership, so this project formed a big part of that as well. It was just very good timing and everything has developed hugely from that initial point.
DEAN: How were the artists selected, and what were the stages of the selection process?
BETHAN: We had a group of ambassadors come together to discuss what excites them in terms of new music. What was good about that was that they would handpick artists who weren’t necessarily in tune with the type of music the BBC were promoting, and thus bring them to our attention. Everyone still had to apply in the general process but we could make sure that these artists handpicked by the ambassadors were informed about how to apply. This meant the application process was more open. We can assume that most people who apply will follow us on social media or listen to the radio regularly, but some artists can live in a technology-free zone and don’t listen to the radio that often. It was a mixture of us contacting them and them contacting us.
We had 450 bands enter January last year. Between January and March last year, was where we began the process of whittling that number down to 12, and April was where we announced the chosen few. The artists who were selected this year will continue to be supported until April this year.
DEAN: Are you hoping Horizons will continue well into the future?
BETHAN: At the moment, Horizons is a pilot scheme which will run for two years. At the end of the pilot, questions will be asked as to how successful it has been, how well we have achieved our aims and what we can do to improve it. Horizons is essentially in three parts. We select the artists, then events forms a huge part of it and we additionally want to promote Welsh independent festivals as much as we use them to promote our chosen artists. The final part is the Launchpad Fund. The application for this was in September last year, and 29 grants were awarded. Basically, Horizons aims to encourage us to think differently about how we support and nurture talent in Wales.
DEAN: Do you think you’ve achieved the goals you set out for this project, and how would you measure the success of Horizons?
BETHAN: I think that success always comes in waves. At the moment, we’re seeing quite a healthy, exciting DIY-inspired music scene in Wales. There’s a very exciting, bubbling industry here now and a lot of independent festivals emerging. That necessarily isn’t a direct result of the Horizons scheme, but it has highlighted the huge amount of talent we have. It’s great as well to have magazines such as AfterDark, because I think we really need that type of support and it’s just as important as playing new music that there are people to review and promote it.
What I’m hearing from the artists we selected for Horizons is generally that their shows are busier than ever before. Seazoo, for instance, are only playing their second gig in their hometown of Wrexham and it’s already sold out! Essentially, having the right amount of people surrounding you and working with you to push your music can make a huge difference.
The fact that two of the stages at last year’s Swn Festival which were heavily comprised of Horizons acts were full capacity for the majority of the day, speaks volumes about how popular these acts had become with fans.
DEAN: Another initiative was launched last year in Wales, The Festival Congress, which brought together and celebrated people working within the festival industry. Do you think events such as that are important in helping the industry?
BETHAN: It’s generally exciting news that Festival Congress has got a three year contract with Cardiff to be hosted here. It’s essentially a celebration of independent festivals. And it was a great experience for me to be sat on a panel among all these inspiring, dedicated people. For them to come to Cardiff is a great opportunity for Welsh music.
Even though it wasn’t a general invite for musicians to pester these people, I think sublimely having acts from Horizons perform during the event helped make people more aware of the great music Wales has to offer, as did having Swn Festival run alongside the event.
DEAN: One of the events Horizons initiated was a boot camp session for all the acts. Can you explain more about that?
BETHAN: I think the boot camp was a mutual highlight among all the artists. It was surprising to hear how people love to hear other people talk about their musical experiences. For instance, one of our speakers at the event was James Endecott from Rough Trade, the man responsible for discovering The Strokes and The Libertines, and he was talking about his experiences being on the road with The Strokes which was brilliant.
What all these people shared was the mutual philosophy that there are no set rules in the music industry, you just have to do things your own way. We had Cian Ciaran from Super Furry Animals speaking, and one of the most memorable moments was when he recalled the band had a certain budget to spend on promotional posters, and instead they bought a tank! They had more press from buying the tank then anything their posters could have generated. It’s all about being creative with what you have, and they certainly stretched the imagination when it came to promoting themselves.
DEAN: Do you hope that as well as being a springboard for the artists you have worked with, Horizons can additionally go on to inspire other people to set up similar initiatives?
BETHAN: That is what I’m trying to encourage as well. What we can achieve after one year with an artist is quite limited, and we can only get them to a certain point. What I hope Horizons has achieved is giving all these artists the extra ambition to carry on and go even further then they would’ve, and in terms of success think more on an international level rather than nationally. I think Welsh music has been guilty of not really pushing its own artists to go further afield and really get themselves out there instead of staying in this bubble, or to not go further than London. The digital age and these international showcases around the world have opened up all these new possibilities for artists and if an artist really takes full advantage of that and gets themselves out there, they can get signed anywhere. I want everyone to finish this year feeling ambitious and creative.
Wales has all these great, independent record labels and talented artists which all have so much potential and just need to think ‘big’ basically. That is really what I want for Welsh music in the future.
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