Celebrating new voices

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As an emerging artist, gathering an audience in an era of streaming platforms and content oversupply can be challenging. This is why Zebrastraat, a cultural venue in Ghent, organises a showcase where bands can gain stage experience. Somto Offor, the agenda editor at Different Class, sat on the jury. She was surprised by many of the new and familiar bands.

Hi Somto. It’s the first time that you are part of the jury for Showcase Music. How would you describe the event?

For the second time, Zebrastraat launched an open call for bands to submit their music. I and the other judges selected fourteen artists from the pool of submissions. They will perform at Zebra Café every Thursday over the next few months. There's also a competition involved: spectators can vote online for their favourite band, and the winner will perform on the main stage of the winter festival Zebrawoods.

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Why were you asked to join the jury?

Well, initially, they asked Kasper-Jan (co-founder of Different Class), but he redirected them to me. My perspective turned out to be an interesting addition to the panel.

Among other jury members are Joost Zweegers from Novastar and Peter Daeninck, programmer of the Lokerse Feesten. Are these people that you look up to?

I had heard of some of the names before, for example, DJ TLP Troubleman and Novastar. However, it's not we the judges, but the musicians who take the spotlight at the showcase.

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Yes, but the jury determines who gets to perform. How did that selection come about?

As a panel member, you listen to the submitted tracks and hope that some will stand out. When listening to music, I naturally focus on the beat. But even though I try to listen to certain factors, it’s a very intuitive process to decide what appeals to me. For example, bontridders and senna JMB, two of the laureates, align well with my own musical taste. It’s extra satisfying when I can support artists whose music I personally enjoy.

Even though I try to listen to certain factors, it’s a very intuitive process to decide which artists appeal to me.

The laureates represent diverse genres, ranging from k(empen)-pop and indie rock to electropunk. Was this diversity a deliberate choice? 

I didn’t select them for that reason. The submissions were already highly varied, so it's inevitable that the showcases reflect that diversity. Additionally, it seems that many niche genres have been gaining more mainstream recognition in recent years. There is currently a bit of an indie revival going on and punk is tapping into a larger audience as well.

You’re involved in many projects. Is that easy to combine with your studies?

It can get busy. I curate a playlist for Different Class, I am part of nacht (a collective that organises club nights in Stelplaats) and I am a volunteer of Democrazy’s programming team, where I give feedback on booking requests. This means I have numerous meetings, but it's a fantastic opportunity to meet new people and gain experience in the music industry. It also allows me to connect my International Media & Communication studies with my passion for music. Luckily, my teachers are supportive of my ideas. For instance, I am allowed to do an internship at futura, a booking agency in Berlin.

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Has your involvement in the music industry changed the way you listen to music?

Definitely. Often, I add a song to a playlist for a project before I have listened to it completely. I should take more time to appreciate music without feeling the need to immediately apply it. My queue of songs to listen to is also quite long. I still need to listen to a bunch of booking requests for Democrazy. I will also be part of the jury of Sound Track, for which I urgently need to go through the submissions.

As a jury member you choose from a long list, but how do you discover new artists yourself? 

Since I was a teenager, I’ve spent a lot of time on Soundcloud, Reddit and music-related Facebook groups. It used to be my way of making social connections because in real life I can be a bit awkward sometimes. (Laughs) That feeling of community attracts me to music. When I discover new bands, I like to share them with others.’

Building a career costs a lot of time and money. That's also a good thing about Zebrastraat’s showcase: it gives all selected bands a chance to perform and pays them for it

Is that also a reason why Showcase Music is necessary, to introduce the audience to new voices?

Yes, and because it gives these artists a chance to break through. Building a career costs a lot of time and money. It’s challenging to stand out and gain exposure, especially in this era of streaming platforms. You're one among many artists and don't receive money for sharing your music. That's also a good thing about Zebrastraat’s showcase: it not only gives the winner but all selected bands a chance to perform and pays them for it.

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Do you have tips for artists to distinguish themselves?

In the beginning, it's challenging to define your own sound, but if you focus on your uniqueness in the submission, you're one step ahead. The unexpectedness can also lie in the fact that you’re submitting a variety of songs. For example, I already knew bontridders, but her tracks were very different from what I had heard before. Additionally, you need to be able to convey the song in a live performance. So that’s something else I keep in mind. Good luck!

<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @somt000 / @zebrastraat <br/>Do you feel drawn to perform in the footsteps of NUÏ at the Zebra Café and at Zebrawoods? You can still sign up for Showcase#music. Artists can sing up until the end of October. You can register via this link. Good luck! </div></div>

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