How Jäger & Reform Radio have kept Manchester moving – interview
During the crisis and chaos of 2020, the tools of social media and people’s reliance on these might suggest the climate was optimal for expressive freedom. The Jäger x Reform collaboration spent lockdown providing opportunities for struggling creatives through financial aid to artists, safe studio space to continue to stream and profiling artists’ work, whilst continuing to provide diverse ways of connecting artists.
From speaking with Tom Carson, the music manager at Jägermeister and Natasha Maximova, the marketing and content manager at Reform Radio in Manchester, it was clear that within the industry there were in fact many unforeseen and widespread challenges threatening creative expression from artists. I was keen to understand the pivotal role this partnership had had in keeping the doors open for artists.
It was interesting to note the ways in which expressive freedom doesn’t always equate to creative freedom. The burdens of financial struggle and lack of creative space stints both the ability to physically create and, given the climate, potentially dims the creative impetus and energy from the artists themselves.
Natasha introduces me to the beginning of the journey.
“When lockdown hit it took a week to understand how to approach the whole situation, and then everything turned out to be a bit crazy and we became so insanely busy”. One of the main obstacles of lockdown has been in keeping up with and maintaining the quality, diversity and range that artist collaboration entails. Tom jokingly comments on the word agility – “its been the word of the year!” Undoubtedly this rings true, and never before has it been so important to understand this word and how to utilise it.
Whilst connecting artists within Manchester has always been central to Reform’s ethos, the Jäger x Reform partnership set up a revised Remote Rhythm Lab which was a quick adaptation of the already existing Rhythm Lab created in 2017. The huge success of this project saw artists across borders collaborate to the effect of immense versatility in both range and variety.
The ambitious task was for pairs of artists spanning the UK, Italy, United States and Nairobi, to create a track in only 24 hours from being introduced. The virtual collaboration led to artists such as Berry Blacc, a Manchester-based vocalist and the Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist Angel Bat Dawid to create their powerful track ‘George Floyd’. This song seemed a particular accomplishment in speaking both to and from the complexity of current racial injustice. It holds tenderness in paying tribute to the ‘black queens’, the community, and individuals lost to police brutality; Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice and Ahmaud Arbery. The process was made into short documentaries, revealing the nuance in production and the raw creativity necessary for such delicate improvisation.
This grassroots radio station was also asked to represent a stage for Manchester in the virtual stream for We Out Here festival. The partnership showcased 22 artists across 2 days. Tom acknowledged that the state of the art setting at Manchester’s Bonded Warehouse also needed to be a safe and regulated space – it was important for artists to feel reassured in their working environment. The outcome, Natasha comments, “was actually really emotional”. Understandably this event allowed people at home to virtually see their favourite artists and restored the indelible strength alive in music’s ability to transcend; as Tom puts it, “we wanted to make sure the world doesn’t press pause”.
One of the artists performing at WOH festival is Manchester-based singer, songwriter and producer, Kahreign who describes her flow as “electric, eccentric and eclectic”. When asked how lockdown may have affected her music and whether the potential lack of light would affect the hue of her music, she explained “lockdown brought me back to myself and humbled me”. Observing the obvious challenges of this year, she has been able to adapt and use solitude to inform and build on her own lyrical steer. She says “music is part of my flow, its like drinking water, it just comes naturally”.
Echoing the integrity of fluid movement it was no surprise to listen to the darker more intense vibes coming across in her fantastic new release ‘Scorpio’, which seems to flawlessly speak to the darker times experienced by all. Deliberate, focused and directional, Kahreign is at the forefront of a fresh and original sound. She explains “these times made me want to be more intentional with my music… that is to make music which is healing” – an awakened sentiment welcome in a world witnessing the effects of abandoned chaos.
The incredible work produced and made possible by the Jäger x Reform collaboration has benefited over 100 freelance artists this year by providing paid opportunities. This includes Jäger x Reform projects, grants, virtual events and streams which are all available on their website. Their ethos of supporting diversity and upcoming artists, building community and connections, is what holds true in this partnership, despite all the odds.
With the future being less than certain, the direction for many creatives is still unclear. However, the continued fresh talent coming from Reform knows no end. Artists such as Kahreign offer continued creative expression by producing music which finds a way to journey inside, just as poetically and authentically as it journeys outside.
You can hear Kahreign’s music via her Bandcamp here.