From parish churches to Brighton Dome, Melting Vinyl has brought intelligent and inclusive music to the South East’s most interesting venues for nearly two decades. Operating out of an office on the Old Steine, this independent promotions company perfectly reflects the diversity of a city it calls home. “I used to go to a lot of gigs up north, and they felt quite unbalanced in the number of men to women in the shows,” Melting Vinyl’s founder, Anna Moulson, tells me. “I always thought I could give gigs a little more attention in terms of detail and quality, and make them more inclusive. That can just change the atmosphere in a room.” Moving to Brighton, almost on a whim, she instantly felt comfortable amongst its live scene. From working in The Zap club, she realised dance culture was waning. There were three live promoters working in Brighton and plenty of willing gig goers to be entertained.
The late 90s live revival mirrors what happened in the 70s. Mainstream music had become too corporate. Britpop was too ‘blokey’, and lacked any real attitude or values. It was time for a change. In response, an emboldened DIY scene sprung up. People became more proactive at a grass-roots level. “Everything was possible. Everything was in your reach. That created and empowered a scene, which supported me with what Melting Vinyl does.” She maintains she was merely in the right place at the right time. Now, 20 years on, there’s over 40 live music venues in Brighton and almost as many promoters.
Starting out, shows were staged to be fun and playful rather than making a profit. She recalls noticing crowds in Brighton were more diverse, a trend which has increased over time. “It’s a matter of course now. I see a lot of young girls who accept the fact they feel comfortable at gigs. There were a lot of women who struggled to feel that comfortable at a gig, so it’s quite cool what’s happened.” One memorable show was with Godspeed You! Black Emperor at the Corn Exchange – sometimes a venue which struggled to seem completely full. People were using space at the rear to sit down and enjoy the music. “There was a grandma and her little grandson. They were just lying down star-shaped,” she says with a smile. “I thought: ‘this is why I’m promoting. This is my ultimate gig.’” Although having staged some huge events (including bands like The White Stripes and The Strokes) she concedes there is more reward from smaller and more niche shows. Here greater attention can be paid to detail and considering the audience’s experience.
Lasting two decades in a tough business is ample excuse for celebration. In association with Spectrum, Brighton Dome’s alternative music strand, The Melting Vinyl 20 Year Special takes over The Basement on Thurs 29 March. “It’s great to be doing it there. It really represents what I’m about. I thought about local artists, who represent the genres that I tend to focus on.” It’ll be a show packed with sublime organic indie, classical roots and electronica from Oddfellows Casino, Collectress, Foreign Skin and Twenty-One Crows. Some have worked and developed with Moulson over the years, while some are promising new acts. All of them demonstrate what she looks for in a performer.
At a base level, good music promotion is about creating shows you believe in. Over time, Melting Vinyl has drifted towards more traditional forms. Folk music, in particular, has been a saving grace. “It tends to be quite democratic, quite un-bureaucratic, and the people tend to be nicer. I didn’t feel like I belonged in that big gig scene. It was just too busy, and I didn’t have a life. I spent most of my 20s not going on holiday or having a day off.” While some of her artists might be deemed traditional, many of the spaces they get to play in are not. Her niche in the scene was carved by turning art galleries, theatres or churches into gig venues, reasoning that some musicians deserve a special environment – whether it offers a spiritual atmosphere or terrific acoustics. “There’s that sense of wonder when people walk through the door of an unusual space, that sense of excitement. I’m always trying to find a sense of belonging. I thought by using unusual venues, there was a blank sheet where I can find some kind of ownership of it.” Despite being a staple of the local live circuit, she does give off the air of a spirited outsider. Being female and wanting to forge a singular path in a self-absorbed male- dominated industry can’t help.
For the next 20 years, there’re aspirations to strengthen ties and create a platform with other freelance promoters. Independent Venue Day and Record Store Day celebrate theirownsectors,sowhynothighlightthose who enable live music? As we sit in her office, next to numerous towering piles of boxes holding 20 years of posters, fliers and project documentation – “I’m a tidy hoarder,” she quips – I ask if she’d consider herself a role model. At first there’s hesitation. “I’m northern, and we don’t like to big up ourselves. But, now I’ve got my southern ways, I do actually. I think I need to get out there, along with other women, and show there is a job for women within the music industry.”
The Melting Vinyl 20 Year Special comes to The Basement on Thurs 29 March.