Secret Thirteen Interview - SHAPE platform

Shape Platform Crew

SHAPE team at work. Photo by Oliver Baurhenn.

Recently Secret Thirteen became a media partner with the emerging SHAPE platform, which was established to promote innovative music and audiovisual art from Europe, mostly the not so well known artists who have the talent and potential to become highlights in their art fields. Due to this friendly collaboration we took an interview from some of the people behind the curtains of SHAPE, just to get to know each other more and to present them to you.

Could you give yourselves imaginary unconventional titles, that best describe your roles in the organisation?

Rihards Endriksons: SHAPE – silent hesitator amongst proactive engagements.

Could you expand on the reasons why Shape was created? Do you believe a platform such as yours is especially necessary at this particular moment? Why/why not?

SHAPE platform

RE: Why is a platform like ours necessary at this particular moment? Recently, I spoke to the English producer Powell, and he said he feels that, especially nowadays, underground music has become incredibly interesting and vivid, yet at the same time it’s as close to becoming a market of mediocrities as ever. I fear that I’m paraphrasing him, but I think you see where I’m going with this. The festival curators from SHAPE are willing to take their chances and – on a small scale of a 144 artists – influence the situation. As well as, of course, to reflect on it.

Also, in beginning the work on this project, I had specific artists in mind - artists whose work we would be able to popularize and expose. I am happy that these artists made it through the scrupulous and complex voting process, and are now part of the SHAPE roster. I suspect I wasn’t the only one who joined the project with such considerations. My thinking is that, if you truly care about particular artists and their work, it is more likely that you’re genuinely concerned for the scene in a broader sense too.

Lucia Udvardyová: The number of those making art and music keeps rising, but in spite of that, those featured by festivals and the media – often as a reaction to each other - seem to be the “few chosen ones” each year. You see the same names everywhere. On the other hand, there are more and more initiatives trying to help upcoming artists as well, but not many of those initiatives come from “within”. SHAPE was established by the 16 leading festivals who have been active in the field of music and electronic arts for almost two decades, and it could be an inspiration for the rest of the industry to help emerging under-the-radar artists.

Viestarts Gaiītis: It is a bit less of a burning issue now, but until recently Eastern and Central European artists were underrepresented on the international scene – and not just due to the lack of distinct musical voices in the region. The SHAPE project was partly initiated to give better exposure to artists from the periphery – both of the music market and the geographical “periphery”. SHAPE is also a very effective tool for introducing ourselves, as well as other organizers and promoters, to artists we would most probably have never learned of on our own.

What was the biggest opposing force that you encountered on your creative journey?

Rihards Endriksons: Having more work than there are hours in a day. And the fact that everybody involved - including the festival organizers, the media and the artists - are quite often busy up to their ears. It’s easy to say that if you care about something, you will always find time for it one way or another. But, you know, I’ve really met some people who are struggling to stay focused amongst countless projects they’re involved in. I highly value the time that everybody has found to make this project work even in its smallest tasks. If I could, I’d give them a gift – a day that has 48 hours in it.

VG: If you ask about specifically creative aspects, then an opposing force in my case has been that I have no musical education, but then again if I had it perhaps I would have never listened to the kind of music I am promoting now.

How much time did it take to organize everything, to connect all the other organizations together, and to receive proper attention from the European Union?

RE: The 16 festivals that are now participating in SHAPE are all in fact European members of the international festival network ICAS (International Cities Of Advanced Sound), so we were previously acquainted with each other. More than that – eight of us had collaborated more closely as part of another European project, which we could consider to be the predecessor of SHAPE. The project was ECAS (European Cities of Advanced Sound). Therefore, although it took some time and a whole lot of energy to get these people together for a European project, we all had trust in each other (some of the festivals joined in without even being 100% sure they understood what we were up to) and were willing to take our collaboration to a different level – or maybe I should say “a different mode”.

After spending a few months in intense work on the project application, we just submitted the thing and forgot about it. In this field – as I presume it is in others – there is no time to sit and wait for results, there’s always further projects to plan and implement. However, many months later we were pleasantly surprised to hear back from Creative Europe (the new culture programme of the European Union): the news was that we’d become one of only five platforms to be selected for support.

I think it was an important decision that we submitted a platform project, not a network project. A platform project would have been focused more on the interaction and professionalization of us, culture workers, whereas the platform project had to be focused on the content, not the infra-structure. That is, artists and their work. And I’m really impressed that the EU are willing to invest in music and art that is – in one way or another (and for lack of a better word) – non-commercial and experimental.

Do you have any explicit criteria on how you choose artists for each year’s edition? Do the artists have to have music released and do they have to be performing art at galleries in order to be featured on your platform? Do you seek completely new discoveries? Please explain this in detail - I believe it could help bedroom artists find out what is going on out there, and maybe to consider sending their applications.

RE: Here’s the selection process in a few words: Artists who wish to be a part of the SHAPE roster of 2016 or 2017 can send us submissions - our requested format is a 10-15 minute video or audio excerpt of their live performance (musicians) or video, photo documentation of their audiovisual work (audio-visual artists). Here’s what happens after they approach us: we archive all submissions and bring them to the attention of all involved festival curators. If a festival finds one of these submissions interesting, it can nominate the respective artist or collective for becoming a SHAPE artist.

The second way how this can happen is that a festival organizer simply approaches a musician or an artist and says: “We like what you do. Can we nominate you for becoming a part of SHAPE?”

Here’s what happens after each festival has nominated 3-6 artists: all other festivals give either a “yes” or a “no” to each of those names. In the end, each festival has brought 3 artists to the roster, and there are 48 artists a year.

Regarding musicians, it is not mandatory that they have a discography (that is, any music published), but it is necessary that they perform live – after all, we’re inviting them for festival and one-off event presentations, and that’s why we’re asking for excerpts of live performances. DJs are also warmly expected, although my observation is that none of the artists who made it into the roster of 2015 were DJs.
Regarding audiovisual artists, it is not mandatory that their CV is rich with exhibitions. It is essential, however, that they work with sound.

…and I’m happy to say that there aren’t any genre or scene restrictions: what matters, though, is that the work is cutting edge, individual and forward thinking. This year, there are SHAPE artists who come from the fields of digital art, metal, rhythmic music, extreme computer music, free improvisation, contemporary composition and so on and so on. Well, and, yes, they have to come from Europe.

There are leading alternative music festivals and organisations, which have a tremendous effect on the electronic music scene as a whole, involved in this ongoing project. Do you believe that a three-year period could radically change the scene? Do you think that your work could create an imbalance between upcoming artists and established artists (in favor of the upcoming ones)? How could this imbalance help the music industry expand?

LU: The nature of the media and promoters is usually oriented at established rather than upcoming artists, so any initiative focused on helping those who are lesser known is welcome. Another factor is the fact that with the proliferation of music-making and the accessibility of music-making tools the number of those pursuing active involvement in the arts and music keeps rising, and filtering is increasingly harder for both the media and festival organisers. These “informed” filters, who are respected in their field, could thus be gateways for emerging musicians.

RE: This is a flattering question, as it suggests some grandiose potential to the project. But I personally prefer to think of SHAPE in regard to the 144 specific artists that we’re going to work with throughout the three years. I hope that the project will help them reach audiences that they - for different reasons in each separate case - wouldn’t have reached otherwise. Also, I hope they will be satisfied with the crowds they play to, the media their work is communicated through and the contexts their work is placed in.

For each of us (and by „us” I mean each concert organizer, involved in SHAPE), there are artists in the SHAPE roster of whom we think very highly and whose work we consider to be important. Mostly, that’s why we do it. And whether the scene will have changed after these three years is to be assessed post-factum. But for the time being what drives us is the wish to expose the work of these specific artists to wider audiences.

VG: The fact that the EU has awarded money to an experimental music project is an indication of a change in itself. It is a signal that there is official governmental recognition of the need for counter-cultural instincts in European music.

What do you guys do to keep yourselves motivated and interested in your work? Do you find it rewarding when all is said and done? Please talk about the spiritual aspect.

LU: The interaction and the feedback from the artists involved in the platform are rewarding. Having talked to almost half of the 48 who are in the pool this year, I have the feeling that the voices and conversations create a sort of mosaic and discourse about the creation, curation, and dissemination of 21st century digital arts. Usually the media proliferates the voices of those who are already established, thus it is vital to listen to those, who are out of the spotlight, talk about this uncertain, rapidly developing technocratic era, and the role of electronic arts in it.

RE: When my brain isn’t melting, I tend to put a lot of music on when I work. In a broader sense, it reminds you why you’re doing it.

And, yes, positive feedback from the artists is always encouraging and gives more confidence that we’re working in the right direction. Not sure about the spiritual aspect, though. There’s not that much spirituality in ten-hour meetings, media partnership negotiations, budget drafts and year-long correspondences – it’s work, no more, no less. But – sorry for repeating myself – knowing why you’re doing it is what adds the spiritual dimension, if you like.

VG: We are all avid music listeners, so that is the motivation. Apart from what my colleagues mention, it is also rewarding to contribute something different to the place where one lives, because at least in Riga there aren't regular experimental music events apart from Skaņu mežs. It weaves into the invisible cultural fabric of the town and its perception.

Do you pay attention to the strong reactions of others to your work? Does that affect what you create?

RE: What reactions? I love gossip... But, jokes aside, the thing is that SHAPE is an attempt at a collective vision – the artists have really been selected in a collective and thorough manner. As members of the central team of SHAPE, we feel that we should be curious and respectful of the diversity in the SHAPE artist roster, because it reflects the various interests and aims of each involved festival or organization. Having that in mind, it’s complex to process criticism, because – as there are no more than 9 SHAPE artists at each event – the project may leave a radically different impression in each city that it visits.

What is your relationship with other similar organisations?

RE: If by that you mean other networks formed by adventurous music and art festivals, or any platforms for upcoming artists who bring something new to their field, I must say that we’re always open for collaboration and exchange. For instance, we recently had a small publicity collaboration with the Ulysses network, and we hope to interact with them again. I’d say there are various possibilities, ranging from artist exchange to commissioned works and mutual participation in discourse activities. So we’re open to suggestions, so to speak.

VG: One thing is that working on a project like this you realise both how similar and different experimental music promoters are, and then you better understand where you belong yourself.

Do you have any plans for the future after this three-year period? Are you working with other projects in parallel to this one? It would be interesting to know more about your past work, just to have a picture of the people behind the platform.

RE: Word on the street is that there’s a possibility to prolong the existence of EU platform projects from three years to maybe four or five. So we’ll try and do that, which for us simply means working as hard as we can. We’re only in the first year of SHAPE, and we’re acquiring skills we did not have before, as well as considerations that we hadn’t thought of initially. But that’s all practical details, right?

There are four people in the central team of SHAPE. In parallel to SHAPE, we’re all working on our individual festivals, venues, blogs and the projects that are attached to them. I’ll list these: Michal Brenner is currenty a curator of the music program at Prague’s art center MeetFactory, but before that he organized a festival called Sperm; me and Viestarts organize the Skaņu Mežs festival in Riga, which will have its lucky thirteenth edition this year, and we both infrequently write about music, art, literature and cinema for the local press; Lucia Udvardyova is a music journalist, she has a column called Eastern Haze, focused on Central and Eastern European underground music.

So, when SHAPE is over, we’ll keep going in the same direction and try to maintain a good balance between organizing events and trying to find more possibilities to collaborate with our fellow festivals. Once you get to know the possibilities of interacting with other culture workers in the field, it changes the way you plan for the future, because so much more seems possible.

What advice would you give someone who would like to start a platform such as yours, or an organisation for undiscovered artists?

RE: With this kind of project, I think one should be 100% confident in the artists involved. But then again, being uncertain and taking a leap of faith can also be a rewarding experience – one can find interesting and confidence-boosting work in the least expected places.

VG: Adding to what Rihards says, artists may even come later – because we couldn’t be 100% certain of what particular artists we would promote when we decided on the project, but it is important to have a clear and honest idea what wants doing with that platform.

Upcoming Events

MeetFactory – Museum Night
Prague / Czech Republic

SONICA open-air event
Ljubljana / Slovenia

Les Siestes Électroniques – Toulouse
Toulouse / France

Skaņu Mežs at Kalnciems quarter
Riga / Latvia

Les Siestes Électroniques – Paris
Paris / France

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An interdisciplinary journal, offering eclectic mixes and smart interviews with original artists and label owners as well as contemporary art reviews.

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