City Showcase’s Finding The Future: Talks On Live Music

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Following my previous post on City Showcase’s ‘Finding The Future’ seminar, I will now recap the two other talks that I attended. I could not come to the seminar on Friday, so I only came to the Saturday one. Plus I only attended two sessions: ‘Backstage Pass: A Career In Live Music’ and ‘Live Music: The Lifeline Of The Industry’. Those two address my interest. I don’t think I’ll write any hit songs soon, so I’m not attending a session about it.

‘Backstage Pass’, the first talk, was quite insightful. Claire Horseman (Managing Director of Coda Music Agency), Gemma Gilford (General Manager of The Borderline) and Rebecca Kane (General Manager of The O2) were the panelists. Paul Hutton (Co-Director of Metropolis Music) was in the panelist line-up that was published on City Showcase’s website, but he wasn’t present that day.

The session opened with the moderator, a representative from City Showcase, asking each panelists to introduce themselves and their work. They all provide a detailed introduction. Claire Horseman was nominated as one of the recipients of UK Music’s Women In Music Awards. Hearing her describe her job and accomplishments, it can be understood why. Coda Music Agency represents over 500 artists globally, including Rudimental, Emeli Sande, and The xx. Recently, it has partnered with Paradigm, a US-based entertainment talent agency to broaden its portfolio.

Horseman gave a bit of her career background. Her start in the music industry was when she worked on reception at Profile Records. She then worked at club promotions and marketing at independent labels before securing a job at BMG and later Sony, where she worked as the Head of Marketing for Columbia and General Manager of Deconstruction. To her, record companies do not have an easy-going atmosphere. She said that in record companies everyone works hard but also plays hard, which probably shapes the extravagant lifestyle image that most people had in mind. Horseman also set up her own marketing consultancy company before finally taking up her current position at Coda.

Speaking about the culture of Coda, Horseman mentioned that it is a people-person company. Much of what they do revolves around building and maintaining relationships. They work closely with promoters to build artists and put on events. Normally they would create a two-year plan to develop an artist. However, each artist is bespoke, so Coda has to treat them differently.

Gemma Gilford got the second chance to speak. Borderline, the club she is working in, is one of London’s nicest small-to-medium sized venues, which can accommodate around 300 people. It is located in Soho and has a distinct tex-mex feel. EMI used to have an office on top of the venue, so the space was often used for the label’s showcase gigs.

Gilford’s day-to-day work is pretty hands-on. She needs to ensure that everything in the venue is safe, customers are feeling comfortable and the staff can work effectively in a hectic environment. It is this ethos that gained them the trust of big companies (Marc Jacobs, Nike, Spotify) to put on shows using their ‘corporate budgets’.

When it was Rebecca Kane’s turn to speak, she basically echoed what Gilford and Horseman had said regarding work culture. The main difference would probably be the scale: The O2 Arena is the world’s busiest music venue anyway. With 9 million annual visitors and aiming to increase the number to 20 million, it takes serious work to keep The O2 at the top. Kane attribute much of The O2’s success to the team that she is working it. For instance, she mentioned The O2’s Festivals and Events Director, Milly Olykan, who is instrumental in looking for content from all over the world. She brought Sundance to the O2 and since then they began thinking of creating contents of their own. Country 2 Country is one of the fruits of their work.

Panelists of 'Backstage Pass: A Career In Live Music'

Panelists of ‘Backstage Pass: A Career In Live Music’

Kane told the audience that the British Music Experience, an exhibition at The O2 is now closed. She revealed that an Elvis exhibition will take its place soon. They are currently working to bring amazing artefacts, film screenings and tribute performers to the space. ‘There’s a lot to celebrate Elvis coming into the building’, she said.

The moderator asked the panelists regarding their opinion on agents. Horseman said that an agent is usually the artist’s first point of call aside from the manager. She also stressed that there are no traditional routes anymore, so a band can be successful without an agent.

Kane told an interesting story about Pharell Williams and his agent, John Giddings. She said that Giddings was at a meeting with Kelis, another artist he represents, when he saw a man laying on a sofa. Giddings asked, ‘who is that?’, and Kelis replied ‘it’s a bloke called Pharell Williams. You should be his agent’. For fourteen years Giddings guide Pharell. It was because of Giddings’ work that Pharell could play two nights in a row at The O2 a few months ago. The singer thanked the agent at the show.

As the digital revolution has influenced the industry in tremendous ways, the moderator asked the panelists for their opinion on this issue. Gilford said that social media has turned people judgmental and enabled them to give instant comments. She said that agents, promoters and venue managers need to have a tough skin in facing the rapid flow of criticism.

Horseman said that digital tools definitely help her work, but she emphasised on the importance of getting on the phone. Coming up with decisions and creating opportunities can be done faster when people talk on the phone instead of waiting for hundreds of emails and replying them one by one.

An audience member asked the speakers as to what specific marketing tool they found to be the most effective. Kane mentioned that The O2 has an audience database, which enabled them to do specific customer targeting. For instance, the database can tell them that people who watch Justin Timberlake won’t buy a Jack White show ticket. Kane also said that more people would go to shows when they know if it’s happening, so a precise targeting would help them inform (and influence) the right people.

Merchandise has been an integral part in a band’s marketing strategy. It has also often been used as an income stream that supports touring. Gilford mentioned that many rock and metal bands fund their tours completely through their merch revenue. Kane added that it is important for musicians to put a lot of care and attention when crafting their merchandise. It should be an extension of their musical work, and not just some boring design or logo offshoots by uninspired designers. Florence Welch is an example of an artist who adds her quirkiness to her line of merch. They felt genuine, so she would always sell out her merch.

When the seminar finished, I had a chance to ask the panelists some questions. I asked Horseman whether they are up for getting good bands from countries like Indonesia to play in the UK. She replied by saying that Coda currently focuses on UK acts, but there is a directory of agents which can be used to find who’s interested in bringing Asian acts over.

The second talk had an impressive line-up. I would say that I decided to come because I wanted to hear those people speak. Leo Nicholas (Spinefarm Records’ Label Manager), Scott Witters (CEO of Glownet), Stefan Heller (Carrier Relations Head at OpenMarket), and Ivor Wilkins (Director of MAMA group) were the panelists. Liz Stokes, the editor of Record Of The Day, moderated the talk.

From left to right: Scott Witters, Stefan Heller, Leo Nicholas, ivor Wilkins, Liz Stokes

From left to right: Scott Witters, Stefan Heller, Leo Nicholas, Ivor Wilkins, Liz Stokes

True to the talk’s title, Liz opened by asking each panelist ‘will live music save the industry?’ Stefan Heller said ‘I think it’s crap. It won’t save the industry’. Leo Nicholas elaborated by stating that the revenue from live music will never completely counterbalance the decline of the industry. According to Ivor Wilkins, the live show market is currently saturated.

Liz then asked whether new bands can make money in the live sector nowadays. Everyone said ‘no’. Witters argued that it is so because the price of live music has gone up disproportionately to ticket sales. He suggested that if new bands want to be noticed by booking agents, they should not send demos as it is a waste of time. Instead, they should offer the booking agents their audience, composed of the scale of their fanbase and the scope of their audience, which are best reflected through their online presence.

When asked whether there are funding schemes that help young bands, Heller replied ‘yes, and they’re called record labels’. Witters mentioned that brands like to invest in young bands, but only if they can create an impressive social media traction.

Still related to social media, Witters said that it is important for bands to get an expert to handle their social media work. If they do it themselves, then they would not have the time to make good music. Witters told that in the US, where he is based, bands do a lot of text message promotion through certain companies. The other panelists and some audience members became curious about it. He explained that since text messages are more direct, it can grant the bands more following. However, there is also the risk of overexposing themselves.

One thing that I should mention is that I looked forward to hearing Leo Nicholas speak about metal. His label represents artists I like such as Electric Wizard, Killing Joke and Rammstein. Liz asked him whether there’s more pressure for a niche genre like metal to survive in the live circuit. Nicholas responded by saying that going on tour and doing the ‘toilet circuit’ (small shows where the bands hardly make any money) is what metal is all about. Metal bands need to consistently put themselves out there, until perhaps an agent stops them for overexposing themselves.

The metal man in the panel, Leo Nicholas.

The metal man in the panel, Leo Nicholas.

Livestreaming gigs have become an issue discussed a lot in the past three years. The panelists were asked if they think that the technology brings positive impact to the industry. Witters said that livestreaming is good as long as gives the artist receives money from it. However, he stressed that it can never replace actual live experience. Livestreaming can be too overproduced and in actual gigs people can do stuff that they can’t do at home. ‘People buy tickets to our festival even before we announce the artists, so it shows that people are going for the atmosphere and the experience, not necessarily the music’, Witters said. Wilkins agreed on Witters’ point, saying that the excitement of being in a live gig, something that he has loved since punk’s explosion when he was sixteen, is the most crucial element.

Closing the talk, each panelists were asked if they are optimistic about the industry. Witters said ‘yes’. Heller said ‘maybe, because it’s really about the individual business models and how they get customers to spend, not the industry as a whole.’ Nicholas said ‘yes’. Wilkins’ response was longer. He said that he would love to see more companies investing on the grassroots level. He criticised Live Nation for building a business model that just takes new acts when they are famous and successful with little concern for nurturing them from the initial stages of their career.

Bo Ningen live at Rough Trade East, London (17/06/14)

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Bo Ningen is a weirdly unique band. They were formed after four guys from Japan met each other in London and chose the city as their base. Their music is extremely challenging to categorise. Some call it jazzed-up acid punk, ‘Krautcore’, and ‘East Electric Psychedelic’, whatever the hell that is. And one of my friends thought that the band consists of savage, brutal ladies.

Despite the stigmas surrounding Bo Ningen, I was only able to appreciate the oddities after witnessing them perform live. In reality, all those oddities are just side dishes to the main course: a species of rock that is completely untamed onstage.

From outside Rough Trade East, an independent record store in Brick Lane, East London that was used as the gig’s venue, a bunch of crazy noises can be heard. Relentless noise feedback and distortion roared through the open door. Entering the store that was mostly dark, my attention was drawn towards four longhaired figures, each of them in black robes, enlightened by purple stage lights. They were Taigen Kawabe (bassist and lead singer), Kohhei Matsuda, Yuki Tsujii (guitarsits), and Monchan Monna (drummer).

I came ten minutes late. Bo Ningen had played two or three songs. I wasn’t able to stand by the stage, as there were lots of people in that area already. Instead, I stood behind a shelf of records, which was just about two and a half meters away from the stage. I could still see the whole stage, though. This venue is really good for small, intimate gigs.

My first impression about the performance was the heavy reverb that enveloped the entire store. I think the reverb really livened up the songs that I normally just listen to on recording. The vocals, in particular, became more powerful. Taigen Kawabe’s vocal style includes wails, screams, and normal, mid-tone voice. The transition between reverbed and non-reverbed vocals was seamless that he was able to showcase his vocal versatility effectively. On the song ‘Slider’, for example, after the verse that was sung normally, the chorus got so reverb-heavy that it created this awesome sci-fi atmosphere. Before the last two songs, Taigen, trying to catch his breath after an intense display of his vocal skills, greeted the audience in a rather fluid English complemented with a thick Japanese accent. He thanked the audience for coming to the gig, promoted their new album, and asked if anyone’s interested to chat and hangout after the gig. Not many people responded, so he just blasted off talking in Japanese, which I assume is not understood by most of the audience. Then again, almost all of their lyrics are written in Japanese.

Language barrier was not really a big deal for Bo Ningen. Their music could attract all sorts of people anyway. Aside from the usual hipsters who are regulars of the record stores, there were dudes in office shirts and people who exit the venue mumbling ‘glad I watched them’. I think the use of foreign language actually reinforces the eccentricity of Bo Ningen’s music that people find fascinating.

Bo Ningen pulled an engaging 30-minute set. Fun songs like ‘Koroshita Kimochi’ stirred the audience to dance and headbang frantically. The single ‘DaDaDa’ from their latest album that was released a few weeks ago was well received by the audience. There was an interesting moment nearing the end of the gig. The band improvised upon a riff. While Taigen is playing the main riff, guitarists Kohhei and Yuki launched these crazy psychedelic noises that really pierces your ears. They even played around with the tempo, showing that while at first listen their music might seem to be just random, chaotic noises, they are actually built upon fine musicianship with tight rhythm and chemistry.

Over-the-top stage antics are also another thing that Bo Ningen is known for. Taigen pulled really weird faces that made him look like a monkey. At one point, he walked down to the audience while lifting his bass up in the air. Then he went up one of the amplifiers to the point where his head is touching the ceiling. He also swung his hand around a lot. Guitarist Yuki spun his guitar and rolled up the cables on stage (to save time packing up their gears, I believe). These weird gestures may be quite hard to understand. But it is through their lively stage antics that Bo Ningen was able to transfer such immense energy to the audience, in addition to the music.

After the gig is finished, the store lights were turned back on. Taigen immediately went down and stood by the stage, ready to greet fans asking for a photo, signature, or those who responded to his earlier call to ‘come and hangout’ with him. The queue was quite short. Only three people were in front of me. When it was my turn, it felt rather weird. A few minutes ago, this guy was like a beast in a trance. Now, he’s giving friendly smiles and looking kind of like a Japanese comedian. Aside from taking pictures with him and having my copy of ‘III’, their latest album, signed, I gave him the ‘Spacerider’ CD by the Indonesian stoner rock band, Suri. There are great instrumental and drone tracks on that album that I thought the Bo Ningen guys might like. We chatted a bit about the gig and the Suri CD. ‘Suuuri’, he tried to pronounce the band’s name. As there were other fans waiting in the queue, I had to end the conversation with Taigen, which had lasted for about three minutes. That’s fine, because the main thing is that I finally got to experience how fun a Bo Ningen live gig is, and I thanked Taigen for this opportunity.

Wild, loud and weird: that’s what makes Bo Ningen such an amazing act live.

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Bo Ningen adalah band yang unik dan aneh. Mereka terbentuk setelah empat orang dari Jepang bertemu di London dan menjadikan kota tersebut sebagai markasnya. Musik yang mereka usung sangat sulit untuk dikategorikan. Ada yang menyebutnya jazzed-up acid punk, ‘Krautcore’ dan bahkan ‘East Electric Psychedelic’, apapun itu. Dan salah satu kawan saya mengira band ini beranggotakan perempuan-perempuan cadas.

Dari berbagai stigma yang melekat di band ini, saya baru mampu menghargai betapa keanehan itu mampu mendobrak eksistensi mereka di kancah musik setelah menonton mereka live. Sesungguhnya keunikan-keunikan yang saya sebut tadi hanyalah hidangan sampingan dari sajian utama mereka: suatu spesies rock yang tidak jinak di atas panggung.

Dari luar Rough Trade East, toko musik independen di Brick Lane, East London, yang dipakai untuk venue gig, bunyi-bunyian bising itu bisa terdengar. Feedback dan distorsi ganas menggelegar dari dalam. Memasuki toko yang sudah hampir digelapkan seluruhnya, perhatian saya ditangkap oleh empat sosok gondrong berbaju (berjubah?) hitam yang disorot oleh lampu ungu di atas panggung. Mereka adalah Taigen Kawabe (vokal dan bass), Kohhei Matsuda, Yuki Tsujii (gitar), dan Monchan Monna (drum).

Saya datang sepuluh menit telat. Dua atau tiga lagu sudah dimainkan. Saya juga tidak bisa berdiri di dekat panggung karena sudah ramai sekali di situ. Alhasil, saya berdiri di balik rak CD sekitar dua setengah meter dari panggung. Pemandangan masih bagus, seluruh panggung bisa saya lihat. Venue ini sangat bagus untuk gig-gig kecil yang intim.

Kesan pertama yang saya dapat adalah reverb yang menyelimuti seluruh ruangan. Menurut saya, reverb saat live benar-benar menghidupkan lagu-lagu yang biasa saya dengar melalui rekaman saja. Vokalnya, terutama, menjadi lebih kuat. Gaya vokal yang diusung oleh Taigen Kawabe mencakup lengkingan-lengkingan tinggi, scream dan nada-nada tengah. Transisi antara vokal yang diberi reverb dan yang tidak sangat mulus, sehingga ia bisa menunjukkan fleksibilitas vokalnya sebaik mungkin. Pada ‘Slider’ contohnya, setelah verse yang dinyanyikan secara normal, pada chorus vokalnya jadi menggema-gema dan menciptakan atmosfir sci-fi yang keren. Sebelum dua lagu terakhir, Taigen sempat menyapa penonton sambil ngos-ngosan akibat ekspresi vokal yang intens. Dalam bahasa Inggris fasih berbalut logat Jepang yang kental, ia berterima kasih kepada penonton, mempromosikan album mereka, dan mengajak ngobrol-ngoborol setelah gig. Tidak banyak penonton yang meresponinya, maka ia hajar aja ngoceh dalam bahasa Jepang yang sepertinya tidak dimengerti sebagian besar penonton. Meski begitu, hampir semua lirik mereka ditulis dalam bahasa Jepang.

Faktor bahasa tidak menjadi kendala besar bagi mereka, sebenarnya. Lagu-lagu mereka yang sangat unik mampu menarik perhatian banyak kalangan. Terbukti dari hadirin gig yang bukan hanya hipster-hipster yang memang biasa nongkrong di Rough Trade, namun juga terdiri dari pekerja kantoran dan orang-orang yang meninggalkan sambil berkomentar ‘keren juga mereka, tidak rugi saya nyoba nonton’. Penggunaan bahasa asing malah memperkuat keeksentrikan dari musiknya yang juga terdengar ‘asing’.

Gig yang berdurasi sekitar tiga puluh menit itu diisi oleh lagu-lagu andalan Bo Ningen. Nomor-nomor seru seperti ‘Koroshitai Kimochi’ mengajak penonton untuk berdansa dan headbanging liar. Single ‘DaDaDa’ dari album terbaru mereka yang baru dirilis beberapa minggu yang silam diterima dengan semangat oleh penonton. Mendekati penghujung gig, terjadi momen menarik ketika satu band berimprovisasi seputar riff. Di saat Taigen tetap memainkan riff utama, kedua gitaris meluncurkan bebunyian psikedelia yang memekakakan telinga. Mereka juga bermain-main dengan tempo, menunjukkan bahwa meski musik yang mereka hasilkan terdengar kacau, bising dan hanya sekedar bunyi-bunyian ngasal, keempat personil tetap disatukan oleh chemistry dan ritme yang kokoh.

Aksi panggung mereka sangat atraktif. Taigen kerap membuat ekspresi muka lucu seperti memonyongkan bibir dan melayangkan tangannya kesana-kemari. Kadang-kadang ia terlihat seperti monyet. Ia juga sempat turun ke penonton sambil menggotong bass-nya lalu naik ke atas ampli hingga kepalanya menyentuh langit-langit ruangan. Gitaris Yuki memutar-mutarkan gitarnya dan bahkan menggulung kabel (supaya hemat waktu beres-beres, mungkin). Gestur-gestur aneh ini sulit dipahami. Namun dengan itulah mereka mampu memberikan energi luar biasa kepada penonton, selain melalui musiknya tentunya.

Setelah penampilan mereka selesai dan lampu-lampu toko dinyalakan, Taigen langsung turun dan berdiri di bawah panggung untuk meladeni penggemar yang minta foto, tanda tangan atau sekedar meresponi ajakannya untuk ngobrol-ngobrol. Barisannya cukup pendek. Saya menunggu tiga orang bercengkerama dengan Taigen sebelum akhirnya bisa mengobrol dengannya. Aneh juga, karena baru beberapa menit yang lalu ia adalah sosok yang ganas dan seperti sedang trance, namun kini ia senyum-senyum bersahabat dan gelagatnya mirip komedian-komedian Jepang. Selain berfoto dan meminta CD terbaru mereka, ‘III’, dilegalisir, saya memberi Taigen CD ‘Spacerider’ oleh band stoner rock Indonesia, Suri. Di album ini terdapat nomor-nomor instrumental dan bahkan drone, yang mungkin sesuai dengan selera Bo Ningen. Kami ngobrol-ngobrol sedikit mengenai gig mereka dan CD Suri yang saya berikan. ‘Suuuri’, ia mencoba melafalkan nama band tersebut. Karena masih banyak penggemar yang mengantri, saya harus menyudahi sesi obrolan yang berlangsung kurang lebih tiga menit ini. Tidak apa-apa, karena yang terpenting adalah sudah bisa merasakan keseruan live gig-nya Bo Ningen, dan saya berterima kasih kepada Taigen untuk pengalaman perdana ini.

Liar, keras, dan tidak jelas. Inilah yang membuat penampilan live Bo Ningen keren.

Old Faces/New City: A Trip To Newcastle

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Old faces/New city

Sebulan yang lalu saya pergi ke Newcastle. Ya, memang sudah cukup lama dan baru niat dan sempat untuk menceritakan pengalamannya sekarang. Kata orang, cerita harus dituangkan segera setelah kita mengalaminya, saat ingatan masih segar. Mungkin jalan-jalan ke Newcastle ini sangat berkesan sehingga ingatan saya masih lumayan lah untuk menceritakannya.

Jadi beginilah ceritanya.

Saya sempat berencana untuk mengunjungi beberapa kota di UK selama liburan Paskah. Kota-kota tersebut antara lain: Bath, Oxford, Brighton, dan di manapun Stonehenge berada. Intinya tempat-tempat yang ada unsur wisatanya. Namun akhirnya, dengan keputusan yang mendadak, saya pergi ke Newcastle yang minim obyek turis. Mengapa? Ingin mengunjungi teman-teman. Dua orang teman, tepatnya.

Bersama Weellsen yang lagi menginap di kost-an saya, kami membeli tiket bus London-Newcastle sehari sebelum berangkat. Harga tiket bus jauh lebih murah dibandingkan kereta, meski perjalanan jadi lebih lama. Perjalanan bisa ditempuh selama 2 – 3 jam dengan kereta, namun bus membutuhkan waktu 6 jam. Kami memutuskan bahwa lebih bijaksana untuk membuang waktu daripada membuang uang.

Sebenarnya tidak membuang waktu banget, sih. Perjalanannya cukup seru karena saya bisa memandangi banyak turbin angin raksasa yang keren banget, padang luas dipenuhi bunga rapeseed, dan sempat melihat secuil dari kota Sheffield, Leeds dan Durham. Enam jam tidak terasa terlalu lama.

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Turbin bersaudara

Sesampainya di Newcastle, saya telepon teman saya, Ais, untuk mengabari bahwa saya dan Weellsen telah tiba dengan bijaksana di kotanya. Ais bilang bahwa ia sedang berada di rumah temannya dan akan menjemput kami dalam 15 menit.

Di sekitar stasiun bus yang sangat kecil itu, tidak banyak yang bisa dilakukan selama menunggu. Hanya ada bowling alley dan gedung besar yang disebut ‘Centre For Life’ yang berisi banyak restoran. Apakah gedung itu dinamai atas dasar ‘food = life’, saya kurang tahu.

Ais tiba setelah 15 menit. Ia berjalan kaki dari rumah temannya. Menurutnya, di Newcastle apapun bisa ditempuh dengan berjalan kaki. Klaim tersebut saya nilai selama empat hari berada di kota ini.

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Life yandri.

Karena saya dan Weellsen belum makan, Ais menyarankan beberapa pilihan restoran yang ia suka. Dari antara pilihan itu, saya pilih yang paling murah. Kan katanya Newcastle murah banget, jadi saya penasaran. Berjalan sekitar lima menit dari Centre For Life, kami sampai di toko roti Chinese kecil bercat pink bernama Jasmine. Selain roti, katanya mereka juga jago bikin noodle soup. Saya pesan beef noodle soup dan memang benar, nampol banget. Dagingnya tebal namun halus. Kuahnya sangat gurih berkat kaldu daging yang kuat. Mienya juga kenyal dan, yang paling penting, banyak. Plus, chilli oil yang mereka sediakan juga mantap: pedas dan tidak terlalu berminyak, malah rasanya agak mirip sambel terasi. Meski tidak semurah yang saya bayangkan, semangkuk dibanderol seharga £5, namun oke lah dapat value for money.

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Pinky and beefy

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Enak, soub

Di London, apa lagi di Central London, makanan seharga £5 sangat langka. Dan gak akan bikin kenyang. Saya pernah makan ramen di Soho dan demi bisa membayar £5 doang saya pilih pendamping ramen yang paling murah: remah-remah tempura. Saya usahakan kenyang karena kenyang is a state of mind.

Namun harga makanan di Newcastle sama dengan harga-harga di daerah saya di London, Harrow, yang terletak di Zone 4. Selain beef noodle soup di Jasmine, saya sempat makan bebek, babi panggang, kangkung dan cumi pakai nasi di restoran yang saya lupa namanya di Chinatown dengan total harga £10 per orang, mirip dengan restoran Chinese, Jade Garden, dekat kampus saya. Harga makanan di supermarket pun tidak terlalu berbeda. Saya sempat beli nasi biryani dengan chicken tikka dari Tesco seharga £3-an, sama dengan harga di Tesco-nya London.

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Babi dan Bebek

Jika harga bukanlah suatu perbedaan yang besar antara kedua kota, ukuran kota-nya lah yang sangat terlihat berbeda. Satu hal yang kerap saya ulang-ulang saat menjelaskan pengalaman saya di Newcastle adalah betapa segala sesuatu bisa dijangkau dengan berjalan kaki. Klaim Ais benar. Di London, kalau saya ingin pergi belanja makanan segar di Borough Market saya harus naik tube ke London Bridge. Kemudian jika ingin mengunjungi toko-toko plat harus naik tube lagi, selama 20 menit, ke Camden Town. Dari situ, kalau ingin ke Chinatown harus naik tube lagi selama 10 menit ke Leicester Square. Rute yang aneh memang (bawa-bawa sayur mayur segar ke toko plat lalu akhirnya ke Chinatown), tapi intinya saya tidak akan mengunjungi semua tempat itu di hari yang sama. Lain halnya di Newcastle, saya bisa dan bahkan sempat melakukan itu.

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Hei, kamu

Setelah sarapan di Chinatown, teman saya yang satunya, Gupita, mengajak kami ke Grainger Market. Cukup jalan selama kurang lebih lima menit, kami sampai di sebuah pasar indoor yang menurut saya mirip dengan Pasar Modern BSD. Di Grainger Market tidak hanya ada sayur, buah dan daging segar, namun ada juga toko game antik, toko plat, toko memorabilia film dan komik, toko baju-baju ala ITC, dan masih banyak lagi. Gupita menunjukkan toko favoritnya, yaitu toko buah yang memberi diskon gede-gedean untuk mahasiswa. Saya sangat menikmati Grainger Market karena variasinya dan kerapihannya. Jalan-jalan ngasal melewati blok-blok di dalam pasar itu seru karena bisa menemukan toko-toko aneh tapi asik.

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ITC Newcastle

Tidak jauh dari Grainger Market ada sebuah daerah bernama High Bridge Quarters, tempat toko-toko vintage berderet. Ibarat Brick Lane Market-nya London versi Newcastle. Mekah-nya hipster. Weellsen senang sekali di sini karena bisa belanja baju-baju gaul nan modis sementara saya hanya mengecek price tag untuk mencari barang yang harganya manusiawi. Ada satu: kaos hitam polos.

Tempat-tempat lain yang kami kunjungi adalah kampusnya Ais, kampusnya Gupita, kafe QB buat minum teh dan makan kue, kafe Pitcher & Piano di pinggir kali buat ngebir, Millennium Bridge, kost-annya Ais, kost-annya Gupita, toko komik Forbidden Planet, dan Grey’s Monument. Semua tempat itu kami kunjungi dengan berjalan kaki. Benar-benar sekecil itu Newcastle. Saking kecilnya saya jadi merasa aneh. Rasanya seperti terjebak dalam sebuah kotak kecil. Seakan tidak punya ruang gerak yang luas dan kebebasan untuk berjalan kemana-mana tanpa bertemu tempat yang itu lagi dan orang yang itu lagi. Sebenarnya ironis juga saya mempermasalahkan hal ini. Di London bisa berjalan kaki ke semua tempat adalah suatu kemewahan. Kadang hidup menawarkan kesederhanaan di saat kita sudah terbiasa dengan yang ribet-ribet.

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Kalau lebih niat, foto ini bisa terlihat rapih dan artistik

 

Di Newcastle banyak sekali orang Indonesia. Sebenarnya kota-kota UK lain juga banyak. Namun karena ukuran Newcastle kecil, orang-orang Indonesianya jadi lebih keliatan, lebih mudah berpapasan di tengah jalan. Dan lebih dekat satu sama lain. Berbeda dengan London yang sporadis.

Saat kami berada di Newcastle pun sedang diselenggarakan turnamen futsal antar pelajar Indonesia se-UK. Ais sempat jadi wasit dan Weellsen sempat berniat ikut-ikutan main di tim London. Saya nonton doang.

Acara Indonesia manapun tidak lengkap tanpa hadirnya makanan Indonesia. Di jam makan siang, banyak booth yang menjual beragam macam masakan Nusantara dibuka. Saya beli (dibeliin sama Weellsen) nasi goreng dan ayam rica-rica yang unik rasanya. Bumbu rica-ricanya tidak pedas, malah ringan dan segar seperti salsa.

Makanan enak, harga oke, jarak antar tempat yang dekat, apa lagi yah yang menarik dari Newcastle?

Oh iya, Newcastle juga adalah kota party. Inilah keunikan lain yang berkesan dari kota ini. Menurut Aryo, bekas kakak kelas saya yang kini kuliah di Newcastle, kota ini punya klub terbesar di Northeast England, bahkan hampir menyaingi klub-klub besar ternama Inggris. Saya tidak mengunjungi klub itu. Malah saya lihatnya banyak sekali klub-klub kecil dengan jendela besar yang memamerkan seluruh isi klub dan hampir semuanya punya tata lampu dan musik yang katro. Katanya setiap Jumat malam kota ini bersik karena orang-orang yang berpesta dan gila-gilaan. Alunan sirene mobil polisi berpadu dengan dentuman bass dan teriakan jiwa-jiwa yang menanggalkan kesadaran.

Kalangan anak Indonesia di sini juga gemar party. Selama tiga malam saya di sini, selalu ada alasan untuk party. Malam pertama ada party. Malam kedua nyaris ada party. Malam terakhir, ya jelaslah ada party. Hebat juga orang-orang di sini kuat dan rajin untuk berpesta.

Demikian pengalaman saya di kota baru ini. Saya dan Weellsen meninggalkan Newcastle di hari Sabtu pukul jam 10.30 pagi di kala kota masih tertidur. Sepi sekali jalanan. Hanya ada tukang-tukang bangunan yang sibuk dengan tugas mereka. Kita menuju stasiun yang kecil itu dan naik ke bus yang membawa kami kembali ke ribaan metropolitan London.

Sepuluh menit setelah cabut dari stasiun, kami melewati sebuah bukit di mana ada patung malaikat besar berdiri gagah. Angel Of The North, namanya. Ais kerap mengajak kami untuk pergi ke situ dan berfoto-foto, namun tidak jadi karena malas/hujan. Yah, setidaknya kami sudah lihat lah simbol kota yang kelihatannya ingin menyambut dan merangkul setiap pengunjung.

Sekian dan terima kazeh, Newcastle.

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Same people/Different photo

I went to Newcastle a month ago. It has been quite a while and it is only now that I have the time and motivation to write about it. Some people say that it is best to pour out a story as soon as you experienced it, while it is still fresh in your head. I guess this trip to Newcastle left a strong impression that my decent-enough memory can still tell the story.

So here’s how it went.

I had a plan to visit some cities in the UK during Easter break. Those cities are: Bath, Oxford, Brighton and wherever Stonehenge is. The touristy places, basically. But then, I decided to go to Newcastle instead. And Newcastle has very few tourist attractions. So what drove me to go? Well, I wanted to visit some friends. Two friends, to be exact.

I bought two London-Newcastle-London bus tickets a day before the trip. One is for Weellsen, who was staying at my flat and wanted to visit Newcastle as well. Bus tickets are far cheaper than train tickets, although it meant having a longer journey. A London-Newcastle train journey would take about 2 – 3 hours, while a bus journey would take 6 hours. We decided that it is wiser to waste time rather than money.

In fact, we weren’t really wasting our time. The journey was fun because I got to see awesome, gigantic wind turbines, gaze at fields filled with rapeseed flowers and even caught a glimpse of Sheffield, Leeds and Durham. Six hours did not feel that long.

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And it was all yellow

As soon as we arrived at Newcastle, I called my friend, Ais, to come and pick us up. He told us that he’s currently at his friend’s house and will meet us in 15 minutes. There weren’t a lot of things to do around the bus station. There was a bowling alley and a huge building called ‘Centre of Life’ that is filled with quite a lot of restaurants.

Ais arrived after 15 minutes. He walked form his friend’s house. He said that anything in Newcastle could be reached just by walking. Throughout my four days in this city, I was curious to see if his claim was true.

Weellsen and I hadn’t had any meal. Ais recommended several restaurants. I chose the cheapest option because he said that Newcastle is a really cheap city. So I’d like to see how cheap is it.

After a five-minute walk from the Centre of Life, we arrived at this small, pink Chinese bakery called Jasmine that apparently also serves good noodle soups. I ordered a bowl of beef noodle soup and it was amazing. The beef was thick yet tender. The noodle al dente and they put a lot of it. Plus, the chilli oil was great: spicy, not too oily, and it even taste a bit like sambel terasi. Even though it wasn’t as cheap as I expected, with a bowl costing £5, I did get value for my money.

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Bridging the earth and sky

In London, especially Central London, food that costs you £5 is very rare. And it won’t fill you up. I once had a bowl of ramen at Soho and to be able to pay just £5 I ordered the cheapest topping: tempura flakes. I forced myself to feel full because being full is a state of mind.

Food prices in Newcastle are similar to prices in my area, Harrow, though, which is located in London’s Zone 4. Aside from the beef noodle soup at Jasmine, I had a chance to eat roasted duck, crispy pork, stir-fried kangkong, deep-fried squid and rice at a restaurant in Chinatown that I forgot the name. The meal costs £10 per person, which is rather similar to Jade Garden, a Chinese restaurant near my campus. Food prices in supermarket are also not different. I bought a box of rice with chicken tikka from Tesco, which costs around £3, the same as what London’s Tesco charge you.

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Crispy and quite spicy

If prices aren’t that big of a difference between London and Newcastle, it is the distance between places that is actually the significant and apparent contrast of the two. One thing that I keep emphasising when telling about my experiences in Newcastle is how everything is within walking distance. Ais’ claim was right. In London, if I want to buy fresh food from Borough Market I had to take the tube to London Bridge. Then, if I want to go to my favourite record stores I need to take the tube again, for 20 minutes, to Camden Town. From there, if I want to go to Chinatown I have to take another 10-minute tube journey to Leicester Square. It is a rather weird journey (bringing fresh vegetables to record stores before finally going to Chinatown), but the point is I will not go to all those places on the same day. In Newcastle, I could and actually did that.

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Walking is mandatory/Driving is a choice

After a breakfast at Chinatown, my other friend, Gupita, took us to Grainger Market. Just by walking for about five minutes, we arrived at this indoor market that I think looks like Pasar Modern BSD (Google it). Grainger Market does not only offer veggies, fruits and meats, but they also have an antique game shop, record stores, film and comic book memorabilia stores, clothing stores and a whole lot more. Gupita showed us her favourite shop, which is a fruit shop that gives huge discounts to students. I really enjoyed Grainger Market because of its variety and orderliness. Wandering aimlessly through the blocks within the market is a rewarding experience because I got to encounter interesting shops.

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Did not buy anything, though

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A blast. Not from my past, though.

Not far from Grainger Market there’s this place called High Bridge Quarters, where all the vintage stores are. It’s Newcastle’s answer to London’s Brick Lane Market. The Hipster’s mecca. Weellsen was really happy here cause he got to shop cool clothes while I was just busy checking the price tags to see if there’s anything affordable. I found one item: a plain black t-shirt.

Other places that we visited were Ais’ campus, Gupita’s campus, a café called QB where we had a nice tea time, a bar called Pitcher & Piano by the River Tyne where we had some fine pints, Millennium Bridge, Ais’ flat, Gupita’s flat, a comic book store called Forbidden Planet, and the Grey’s Monument. All of those places we visited by walking. Newcastle is that small. It is too small that it felt weird to me. It felt like I was trapped in a small box. As if I don’t have a lot of space and freedom to roam around without meeting the same people and places again. To be fair, it is ironic that I even complain about this. In London, to be able to walk everywhere is a luxury. Sometimes life offers you simplicity when you are too adjusted to the complicated.

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Trafal… I mean, Grey’s Monument

There’s a lot of Indonesians in Newcastle. Actually, there’s a lot in other UK cities as well. But because Newcastle is small, the Indonesians are more ‘visible’ and the chance of bumping into one on the street is very high, which also made them close among each other, though, unlike London that’s more sporadic.

While we were at Newcastle there was even a futsal tournament between Indonesian students in the UK. Ais refereed several matches and Weellsen attempted to sneak in to the London team to play. And I just watched.

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Ballin

Any Indonesian event would not be complete without Indonesian food. During lunchtime, a lot of booths that sell various Indonesian foods were opened. I bought (Weellsen bought it for me) fried rice with ayam rica-rica that is quite unique. The rica-rica was not spicy. Heck, it was light and fresh like salsa.

Good food, good prices, good distance between places, what else am I missing?

Oh yeah. Apparently, Newcastle is a party city. According to Aryo, an old acquaintance who is now studying in Newcastle, this city has the biggest club in Northeast England that even rivalled the famous, big-name British clubs. I did not go to that club. I only had a chance to pass through a lot of small clubs that have huge windows that showcased the entire club and most of them play crappy music and use crappy lighting. Supposedly every Friday night this city is very noisy because of all the partying. The sound of police sirens blends with pounding bass and the voices of the souls that distanced themselves form sobriety.

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Duality

The Indonesian kids here also love to party. During the three nights that we were here, there was always a reason to party. There was a party on the first night. There was almost a party on the second night. And on the last night, there was a party, obviously.

And so that is my experience in this new city. Weellsen and I left Newcastle on Saturday at 10.30 am, while the city was still sleeping. The streets were quiet. There were only a couple of construction workers busy with their job. We walked to the station and got on the bus that would take us back to metropolitan London.

Ten minutes after we left the station, we passed this hill where a huge angel figure was standing proudly. Angel Of The North was its name. Ais kept on telling us to go there to take pictures with it, but ended up not doing that as we were lazy/it was raining. Well, at least we saw the symbol of your city that looks as if it wants to greet and embrace every visitor.

So yeah, thank you Newcastle.