VANCOUVERITES: Five Minutes With Adam Schelle And Kev Holloway Of Playground
Pecha Kucha Night goes down tomorrow night. This edition is themed “Community, Connect and Engage” and it, as usual, involves a great group of speakers, like Adam Schelle and Kev Holloway. The pair are commercial/editorial portrait photographers and not musicians, but they love music so much that they created www.playground.is, the event series wherein a band and an audience create music together. Along with a team of other creative, hard-working music lovers, they hold these events in and around Vancouver. Say hello…
Can you explain briefly, the concept of Playground? One band. One audience. One goal. Create a song together and then record it. In less than an hour. It always happens in a unique space that isn’t a typical music venue. There’s always beer, and it’s always free. It’s free to come collaborate.
Where did the idea come from? Some guys out of Paris called La Blogotheque produce live music videos called Les Concert A Emporter (the Take Away Shows). We learned about them around 3 years ago and were immediately inspired by the down-to-earth, honest, approachable way that the artists were portrayed. They featured many big indie acts actually performing without a safety net in a way that showed them as imperfect, vulnerable humans. Each video was full of so much charm. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the highly polished and packaged way the music industry has been presenting musicians for ages. During the Olympics we tried our own variation on this concept by setting up a few “spontaneous” musical performances in and around Blenz coffee shops in the city. Shortly afterwards we realized that all we were doing was the same as La Blogotheque, but ours was a shitty version. We had the grass roots feel down but there was nothing new to the concept. Around that time we were also getting inspired by other videos on-line: The Morning Benders’ video Excuses showed us the potential of getting a whole bunch of people in on one recording to create a great wall of sound. A video of Bobby McFerrin at a Science Festival showed us that people are innately musical and when people are willing they are able to be lead musically fairly easily. There were other videos as well and they all pointed at how music was something that people shared in many aspects of life. With these inspirations in mind we began looking at the music industry with a critical eye. The funny thing that we noticed was that the great big music industry and all its packaged performers only seemed to offer live musical performance in one format: artist performs and audience observes. We began asking ourselves: What if we could do something with a grassroots, spontaneous feel kinda like the Take Away Shows, but instead of making it about the artist, it’s an event where the artist is there to collaborate with the audience. The audience then gets to be as important to the song as the band.
“One band. One audience. One goal. Create a song together, and then record it. In less than an hour.” Seriously, beginning to end in one hour? How is this possible? The trick is the band has got to lead it and there has to be a plan for how the collaboration works. This way the song and the musical direction still come from the band and it’s not just a jam. The people who are complete non-musicians can still engage and also it means that there’s some sort of quality control. Being imperfect is so important and that will inevitably be a part of the final recording, but we’re also interested in creating the best possible result we can. It really is about planning the shit out of the event so it runs smoothly and then providing a framework for the collaboration to happen. Then we just let people’s natural musical abilities happen and it seems to work. We’d imagine the beginning of the process is a bit clunky. You provide beer for participants, which undoubtedly would help loosen things up a but, how do you know when the crowd has fully committed and you’ve passed the point of no return? From the moment people RSVP to the event, we ask something of them; we ask some sort of collaboration so people are already in that mindset when they walk through the door. Once the event starts there’s a learning process that everyone goes through as a group which always feels a bit clunky but it works and people still commit. It’s usually at the first rehearsal of the entire song where it becomes clear in everyone’s mind that we’re all making a song together. It’s a great feeling when that happens. As I mentioned earlier, people are innately musical and when they are open to it are relatively easy to be lead through a musical collaboration.
Do either of you have a background in music? Nope. Not really. About as much as the average person. Most people seem to have had some sort of music lesson at one point or another and both of us have dabbled in playing various instruments. But nothing close to proficiency. Ultimately, what we’ve learned through this process is that everybody is musical to some degree. Our culture tells us “don’t sing or dance….unless you’re good. If you are we’ll worship you but if you’re not we’ll condemn you”. But fuck that. That is such a bad attitude which doesn’t encourage people to explore or grow. There’s many other cultures out there that don’t focus on perfection so much as they do joining in. That’s the key. Music is something that everyone can share and it’s not about being perfect. Our goal with Playground is to allow everyone in the audience the opportunity to be musical – whether they have a musical background or not.
Strangest place you’ve held a Playground event? I don’t know if we’ve done strange yet so I’ll substitute strange with interesting. I’d say the Vancouver Urban Winery. It is such a beautiful space and a unique idea as it is but the fact that it was so new of a concept made it really cool. They were actually casking their first batch of wine as we were setting up. Our crew of people were hauling in couches and instruments and whatnot while these guys were filling their casks with all sorts of crazy wine making apparatus and driving them around in fork lifts. It was really cool.
One venue you’d love to get your hands on for a future event? We’ve always looked at the venue as a piece of the collaboration which means the sky is limit. There’s gotta be 1000′s of interesting/historical places in Vancouver that could hold anywhere from 50-150 people that could act as host. One place that comes to mind is the penthouse suite of the Marine Building. As far as I know the penthouse was renovated by JTT Taylor – this guy is the reason the Lion’s Gate Bridge was built. I’ve heard the suite is still relatively similar to how he had it renovated. Not sure that’s 100% true, but I’d love to cram a bunch of people in there and make some music in such a piece of Vancouver history.
A local musical talent/band you’d love to see leading the charge at a future Playground event? The obvious answer and one we’d be super excited about is Dan Mangan. He’s an awesome musician and he’s an artist who already incorporates audience collaboration into his performances. He gets it for sure. A less obvious answer is a band we just heard about: The Harpoonist And The Axe Murderer. I’d love see how we could work a collaboration into the their dirty bluesy rock sound.
Strangest object you’ve seen turned into an instrument? Kev found some videos online of people that had tricked out their video game console with some other parts so that it projected a keyboard on the ground, or a wall or anywhere. It was like the giant piano from BIG but it could projected on any surface and the keyboard actually worked. That got us thinking for sure.
You clearly state that this project isn’t about money (you provide venue, talent and drinks free), so what’s in it for you? Honestly, it’s creatively fulfilling. Moreover, it’s tons of fun. Our goal is to find a way to align this project with a sponsor that sees the value in connecting people through art so that we can still keep producing these events on a cost recovery basis, for as long as the lifespan needs to be. I think we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible. More fun to be had for sure. What more could you want?
Any plans for a “Best Of” album? In terms of a retail disc or album to sale, no. But if there gets to be a point where the project has gone on for a while and we can finish with a grand finale that encorporates bits and pieces from all the shows, that could be fun. We’ll see if we get that far.
Pecha Kucha: Thursday, June 21 | Vogue Theatre | Details