These electronic musicians push the boundaries of contemporary classical music


Growing up loving classical music – what she described as a “hijacking of the piano” as a child – Smith-Rolla took a roundabout path as a professional. Along with her now well-established DJ and production career, after moving to Manchester, she turned to events at the Royal Northern College of Music and Bridgewater Hall, and began to evolve in experimental circles which included Graham Massey of 808 State and the synth group Sisters Of Transistors. . But it took an agreement with a major publishing house for Smith-Rolla to enter the classical world.

“It wasn’t until I signed up with Decca Publishing that the opportunities started to present themselves,” she says. “I didn’t know this would be where my career would go, but they opened doors for me. This particular part of Decca is really focused on contemporary artists entering the classical world, who [in this context] is unheard of. “It’s a question of logistics – who knows who,” she continues. “When a director seeks to mark his film, he will go to an institution rather than to SoundCloud or Bandcamp, because that is how things are done. This means that these doors are not necessarily open to people who are not signed to the right publishers or record companies.

Decisively, Clark also notes that classical music does not have a monopoly on prejudice or door control. “There is a lot of snobbery in reverse. I constantly play on both sides. In a lot of techno, there’s one ingrained and traditionalist thing – the tradition is obviously newer, but it’s still there.

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic only made matters worse for many artists who were already struggling to make ends meet. Although Clark was able to weather the storm financially, his partner, choreographer Melanie Lane, had to apply for charitable funding for the arts in order to stay afloat.

“Dancing is one of the first things to do in an economic crisis and that’s a shame. We have now completed more than 10 works together. I really want to publish some of the work [with them]”- but that will have to wait for a more stable time.

For Smith-Rolla, the pandemic has been a steep learning curve. “To be self-employed is to be self-employed,” she says in a neutral tone. “You never know when your job is going to arrive, how much you are going to earn and what you are going to get paid. In this pandemic, every day there was a new challenge. “

Like the rest of the music industry, the contemporary classical world is not a paradise. It remains inextricably linked to the same network of patronage and private wealth through which it has been funded for generations, its conventions framed by elite conservatories, large institutions and educational structures which, with further subsidies or government support and weaker, have fewer working classes and otherwise marginalized. people can access.

There is money in circulation, but as is so often the case in closely watched circles, it does not easily reach the employing artists whose work makes the industry run. In 2020, with 34% of UK musicians on the verge of leaving the industry due to financial difficulties, heads of key arts institutions like the Southbank Center continued to earn six-figure salaries.

For Smith-Rolla, it’s a familiar story. “It’s not something that made a living for me,” she admits, of her work in classical music. “I wouldn’t expect that to be the case.” Klein says she is fortunate enough to make money, but points out that “my life hasn’t really changed. My rent is paid, but I’m still in the same house, still the same person.

These artists may find creative flourishing across genres, but that shouldn’t mask the very real economic imbalances that underpin the classical and electronic music industries. These imbalances now require our attention, perhaps more urgent than ever.


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