Fri, 15th January 2020
Words: Erin May Kelly
Photographs: Erin May Kelly
Erin May Kelly reflects on the vulnerability of Scotland’s creative community and the paradoxical role of social media plays as our tether to the wider world.
Reflecting on Kae Tempest's recent novel 'On Connection' and the experiences of fellow creatives, Erin delves into the effects of this online migration; exploring the impact on the community and individuals, their mental health, their art and their connection to others.
Auld Spells - The Moon (2020)
Basement Tapes Records
One of the severest wounds inflicted by the past year, has been the loss of the small intimacies which shape our connection as creative individuals. I’m sure many reading this are longing in the same way that I am, for a shared look and the brief exchange of lyrics with a stranger at a gig, or the brushing of sweat-tinged arms against your own on a dancefloor. Connection used to imply a very specific notion to me; largely revolving around the shared physical exchange of ideas. Whether it be in a café with other writers, digesting the week’s articles over a croissant, or in the early hours of the morning, sparking new ideas for collaborations and features, all swept up and washed down with a horrifically mixed rum and apple.
Creative connection as I once perceived it, has well and truly been chewed up and spat out by the beast of the previous year, Myself, like many others, had the rug not pulled out from under us by surprise, but were left grappling for it as it was slowly, teasingly inched further and further away. The thread which we sloppily spun around the city, tying together the likes of artists, musicians, writers and the like; slowly began to unravel itself – drawing away with no physical space to occupy.
Kae Tempest’s On Connection greets this sentiment head on. They write; “Numbness, or disconnection, is a lack of true feeling. Maintaining a surface engagement with whatever is going on, while at the same time being entirely elsewhere.” Tempest’s work articulates the murky waters that followed the effect of lockdown, the feeling of suddenly having to draw away from the social ceremonies which we all once held sacred. Numbness was undoubtedly the prevailing feeling as our physical network slowly retreated into the shadows. It was easier to distract oneself than face the new reality which we now inhibit. The reality of writing alone, recording radio shows from my bedroom, and having the subject of my usual live music reviews erased was a difficult one to come to terms with.
I’m sure I’m not the only person battling an internal war over the role of social media in my life these past few months. On the one hand, with the lack of physical connection to others having a profound effect, social media at least superficially connected me to the people I’d otherwise be catching up with across a bar, or sharing a cigarette with in the Edinburgh drizzle. In spite of this, I’d at least once a day hover my finger above the ‘delete app’ option for Instagram. Dependency on social media framed the way in which I was interacting with it; making me believe that without it, I’d be losing any shred of connection I believed that I still had. For artists, social media as the stage which it has become, is either a blessing or a curse. Spoken word poet Bee Asha communicated to me the difficulties of using social media to share her poetry, and the reality of trying to engage with an audience of muted Zoom callers. Taking away the intimacy of speaking to a cramped venue and having direct contact with her audience stripped back the merits of her poetry performance.
In the face of this melancholy, the perseverance of our network in Edinburgh is apparent. Through the course of the last few months, we’ve partaken in Zoom poetry slams, online music conferences, and above all, I’ve seen the journalistic community flourish in the face of it. Language is a powerful tool, in its humanising nature. Those of us who would typically be writing reviews of albums have turned our hand to a more personal kind of communicating. A good friend of mine and fellow music writer published an editorial for our newspaper in the March of last year. He spoke candidly, in a voice which even as a close friend I had not had the pleasure of hearing before, about feeling ill-equipped and confused. His assertions across this piece, and his editorial following showed to me that vulnerability in writing should be celebrated, and was a larger reflection of the shifting ground in both student journalism and in our wider network of creatives.
Our creative connection has survived this last year. Be it in the form of local artists cycling around the city, dropping off their work to people’s doorsteps, to local musicians who reached out in order to build radio shows around the people in their life, and the songs which saw them through lockdown. Every single piece of creative work which has come out of this year is, in my mind at least, framed as a collaboration between the artist, and those who made the choice to remain engaged with the arts in whatever form. Physical connection has obviously suffered, but the connection I feel to our network of creatives in Edinburgh and far beyond has never felt more durable. Tempest writes; “During lockdown, when physical connection was so heavily policed, we began to crave what we had previously taken for granted”. I feel that this craving has, in a way, been satisfied by the way in which we now engage with each other in once unusual contexts; it can now be celebrated in the nuances of our new routines. Social media for its faults, suddenly became the stage for countless projects by creatives in Edinburgh. Independent venues such as our beloved Sneaky Pete’s, saw support in droves in the form of their Music Venue Trust appeal, as its punters showed their gratitude in the form of donations. Being physically separate has encouraged many to become more vulnerable, and more honest, and the visibility of our connection is still clear. The threads weaving our community together are not lost, instead transformed into new, tangible way of communicating. On Connection ventures the idea that our solitude helped us become more deeply aware of the relationships we have with one another, and the importance of nurturing them.