Last summer, an independent music label tried something refreshing. They put together a music event styled after the kinds of hackathons where computer programmers collaborate at a furious pace. They work quickly and collectively on whatever projects interest the group most--and this tactic usually results in notable developments and improvements.
This music hackathon brought together 26 artists for seven days and resulted in one very tired film crew. The Flowerpot Sessions was a collaborative project on every level.
Communion Music, founded in 2006 by Mumford & Sons' multi-instrumentalist Ben Lovett, former Cherbourg bassist Kevin Jones, and producer Ian Grimble, decided to take over the famous yet sadly now-defunct venue, The Flowerpot in Kentish Town, London. They invited their favorite artists from all over the world to come together to drink and collaborate, to write, perform, and record music during one extremely creative week.
Noted throughout the UK for promoting and discovering alternative and talented musicians, Communion is determined to swim against the commercial music stream and encourages fans to find music for themselves. They have been dubbed crusaders for the lost art of independence within the music industry. Ben explains, “We don’t really have any aim in terms of our profiteering out of it. We just want to see good music get out on stage or in record stores.”
One of the main ideas behind Communion's The Flowerpot Sessions “was to keep as true to its original state as the recording process would allow, letting listeners hear the natural, organic, living, breathing music that was produced throughout the recording week.” Having the Sessions recorded in front of a live audience adds to the purpose and the feel of the event. The participation of the audience is energetic, and the crowd can be heard enjoying the collaborative performance. Something the recording studio misses and The Flowerpot Sessions gets back is the fundamental act of sharing space. People are in the room where recording is taking place, and they want to participate.
Artists participating in The Flowerpot Sessions collaborated by day and performed together by night. Ben explains, “It was up to you how drunk you got while you were recording. You had six hours during the day to collaborate with an artist who you may or may not have heard of or met before...some of the artists that were playing together knew each other, but quite a few of them didn’t and we found that if you stick a tortoise in the middle of the room, everyone makes friends pretty quickly!” Tortoise, by the way, isn't some obscure musical euphemism. Ben is referring to the pub's tortoise, Lionel, who was instrumental in bringing people together. Participants ended up working together in unusual ways--looking for him when he was lost, freeing him when he got stuck on the gel that the lighting guys were using, or feeding him lettuce at four in the morning.
“What genuinely surprised a lot of musicians is how well they could collaborate,” explains Kevin. “A lot of the barriers in peoples' heads are very easy to break down; I think it was a very inspiring thing to see everybody by the end of the night, with their arms around each other, having just completed a gig with people they’d never even met that morning. I think that is a perfect representation of what we are trying to achieve.”
“The purpose of The Flowerpot Sessions was to encourage artists to work together; it’s not about artists individually representing themselves but more what happens when they collide.”
says Ben. "It's that feeling of community between musicians, as opposed to exclusivity."
Ben was surprised when an unplanned collaboration between Angus and Julia Stone and Damien Rice produced a contagious cover of the classic from Grease: ‘You’re the One That I Want.’ Angus and Julia Stone collaborated at The Flowerpot on Tuesday and then went to play a show at Latitude. Afterwards, because they enjoyed the session so much, they came back, bringing Damien Rice with them to perform. “It wasn’t a collaboration we put together. It’s great when something naturally takes off from an initial idea–obviously people were hungry for it. There was a sense of impetus about everyone, that they wanted to have a genuinely good time without any pretense. It’s a particular style of socialising and hanging out... it’s just inclusive...It’s kind of like open source music.”
The result of The Flowerpot Sessions effort takes the form of a two-disc compilation scheduled for release in June 2011. It features (among others) Alan Pownall, Beans on Toast, and Pete Roe, striking voices from Marcus Foster, Kyla La Grange, and Lissie, velvet harmonies from Treetop Flyers and The Staves, and a large influence from Aussie artists such as Angus and Julia Stone, Sarah Blasko, and Passenger. The album also includes the cover of ‘You're the One That I Want’ from Damien Rice and Angus and Julia Stone, plus tracks from Matthew and the Atlas and Mt. Desolation.
You can preview some of the results of this great collaboration here: