BMC 2016: Brighton Calling

The Brighton Music Conference (BMC) is now in its third year, and will take place later this week (April 14 and 15) at the Brighton Dome. It's grown rapidly since its launch, and this year the brand is branching out somewhat, expanding into new genres and new spaces. We spoke to Jason Pepperell, who joined the BMC half way through the build up to year two, and describes himself as 'a typical BMC customer', about the BMC evolution.

You could say Pepperell has done it all when it comes to music: he's released records under different guises on underground labels, he's been a DJ, a promoter, even hosted a radio show on Juice FM for some six years But it's the music development side that really does it for him; he wants to allow things to grow and nurture, and at the BMC, he's able to do that.

"In the first year, it was all about putting BMC on the map, then solidifying that in year two, and expanding in year three. We are still at the Dome, but we are moving around the city, too," Pepperell explains. "Last year felt very house and techno, and we were already being touted as the UK's number one electronic music conference; and as much as I love that tag, and want to hold onto it, at the same time, electronic music is a varied genre – it's not just house and techno. So this time round we've ventured out; we've brought in elements of dubstep, elements of drum and bass, and new disco.”

So the BMC really means business. And they have a wide span of heavyweight musical partners and exhibitors onboard too, including Audio-Technica, Allen & Heath, PRS for Music, Gearslutz, and ACS, just to name a few. How important is the location to make something like this work, though?

“Well, the location itself is a massive thing - being by the sea takes you away from the brick city mentality, and I think it also gives you a little more, as it's a very cosmopolitan place, and a thought-leader as a city in some spaces," says Pepperell. "Yes, there is an argument that the nightlife industry is being hampered a little bit, but for me, when there is a feeling that things are being hampered for development, when that development comes through, it does so for the better, and people find different ways of re-energising a scene or building an emergency, you know? It takes different strands and forms, and that is happening already.”

Brighton has always had a very vibrant music scene, and in terms of electronic music in particular, some of the UK's finest exports hail from in and around the city's walls.

“Norman Cook (AKA Fatboy Slim), Carl Cox, John Digweed – they're all Brighton lads; and Skid Records is synonymous with Brighton; Brighton was also responsible for the birth of Big Beat, of course,” Pepperell enthuses. “We still have a thriving drum and bass scene here too; it's a significant stronghold in that area. And moving forward, that's where you have people like Shogun Audio, [British DJ and producer] Russ Yallop, who's a Brighton lad, Enzo Ziffredi, another Brighton lad. So wthere is a constant churn line of people, and we're well and truly on the map as a touring city, too; people always want to play Brighton.”

Community Spirit

Where Brighton has been stung, however, is live venues – then again, which city hasn't? London has taken a hammering in recent years, so it comes as no great surprise. Thankfully, being the kind of community Brighton is, people find other ways to make the music happen.

“Licensing has been taken away from many live venues, which is a shame. There are many places where bands take steps on the ladder: they'll play 150-capacity venues, then 250, 350, and then 600. But we have had a lot of the lower region ones go down,” Pepperell reflects. “But people here just go out and make stuff happen; they'll do a pop-up gig in a restaurant on a dead Tuesday night, or in the back room of a private members speakeasy bar. And it's no different in the house and electronic scene: suddenly a restaurant with a basement that has a late night license will appear!

"You have communities and little cliques, and what the BMC tries to do is bring those cliques together, certainly on a local front. It's about the BMC allowing development of these things. If you are putting on an event, how do you make it grow? If you are an artist or a producer, how do you make money? I think the greatest argument for any artist of producer at the moment is, 'should I put my track out for free?' You might get a lot of plays and likes, but actually is there a platform you can put it on and get paid? And if it gets synced to an advert, it's a different thing altogether! And that's the kind of thought mentality and process that we have here.”

The BMC has two types of ticket: Academy and Professional. Academy Tickets are aimed to people aged 15 and above, and in education, and Professional is all about future trends and development:

“We are now seeing DJs and even label owners as young as 16-years-old, as they know they can gain a following as a label manager, and that's a platform for them to release their music through Traxsource, Beatport, Juno Records, and so on - and build that awareness. These kids are going to university, and they've already run a label for two years! It may sound silly, but this is regular – there are kids doing this. So the Academy age range is probably 15-23: people at the start, making the first steps on the ladder, and learning how they can push on, moving towards making it into a career.

“On the Professional side, we're talking about all sorts of things happening now that people aren't jumping onto. For example, Mark Lawrence, CEO of Association For Electronic Music (AFEM) will talk about his 'Get Played Get Paid', which is the future of the electronic music scene. Also, Karl Logan has a keynote speech this year on his 'Save Our Clubs' campaign, talking about where the future of that is. So it's all about the future. We will also look at equality in music in both Academy and Professional platforms – the development, what we are seeing, and what the feelings are.”

BMC sounds like it's going to be a fantastic couple of days for anyone involved in any music, be it to get advice on a certain sector, or to find out how to get your record out - or just to take it all in as a punter. We recommend it highly, particularly if you can get along to the headline performance from acclaimed American producer and house DJ, Seth Troxler, who will play The Arch, an iconic Brighton venue which holds just 600 people, on the Thursday night. It'll be one to remember, no doubt!

CLICK HERE to check out the BMC's website for ticket information and the full programme.