As WMAS is one of the partner’s of BuzzJam, a one of a kind, music-tech collaboration, I had heard an awful lot about it. Not only were we partners, but we also made up one of the teams and after last year’s event, the WMAS boys came away from it buzzing (pardon the pun) with excitement. So I couldn’t wait to see what all the fuss was about.
For those of you who, like me up until a couple of years ago, don’t know what a hackathon is, picture robot wars mixed with challenge anneka combined with your most intense study/work night at university. Ultimately, it is a group of coders/hackers/developers working intensely on a project.
BuzzJam adds another dimension to this and asks the coders to team up with a musician and collaborate to create a brand new musical instrument in just one weekend culminating in a performance.
This year, once again, our role was twofold: find and support the tech teams AND team up with a musician to create our own hack. We also had the added bonus of Shaun Curran a lovely journalist man on our team to see how it all worked and to come up with an idea for our musical instrument.
So at 10am last Friday morning an eclectic ensemble rocked up to the Red Bull Studios London to begin an epic 58 hours of collaboration. Many of the artists, and some of the coders for that matter, had no idea what to expect. They met their teammates and after breakfast and a quick introduction, scurried off to their work spaces to find out.
Before we could begin work on our own hack, we had to make sure all the teams had everything they needed. They didn’t. So my first task of the weekend was to complete a three hour round trip to Saint Albans to collect a £3 component vital for making a wireless touch shirt; Challenge Anneka eat your heart out!
I returned just in time to start super gluing magnets to chess pieces. Yes our project, thanks to Shaun, was to turn a chess board into a musical instrument.
I think one of the most eye opening things for me, was the amount of hardware customization involved. This was definitely not a load of nerds sitting behind computers tapping away whilst the artists watched on waiting for their final performance. There were holes to be drilled, wires to be soldered, shirts to be sewn and tattoos to be designed. I for one learnt a load of new skills and came away with a huge amount of admiration for the “geeks” who create these weird and wonderful things. They know how to do a sh.it tonne of stuff!
To add a further twis to the tale, the WMAS team had no artist on day one. As the tech partner, we weren’t going to be taking part this year, just helping everyone else. It was a last minute idea to get involved. So on Friday morning, Red Bull Studios London sent out a tweet asking for an unsigned, solo producer to come and join in the fun.
Thankfully, the awesome Omaar AKA Solaris responded and halfway through day two, we got to meet our artist.
The weekend flew by in a surreal whirlwind of wires and tools and lights and music. The vibe in the studios was amazing. Everybody was working flat out to create something awesome but not only on their own instrument, we all helped each other. If you didn’t know how to do something or didn’t have something you needed, all you had to do was ask and help would come running (often literally). It was a collaboration between artist and coder to create something specific but there was an overwhelming feeling of all being in it together wanting to create something awesome. This wasn’t a competition in any way which brought everyone together in a warm, sweaty, panicky, fuzzy hug powered by technology.
A couple of hours before the doors opened to the public for our performances (arrgghhhh), we passed the chess board over to Omaar. Due to the last minute nature of our project and Omaar joining us halfway through, he had had limited time to actually learn how to use this brand new instrument. With our hearts in our mouths, we watched him sit down to play. It’s amazing how wholly invested you become in a project. But we lived and breathed this thing for three days and once you pass it over all you can do is hope and pray that it works.
Other than a couple of aesthetics, the LED lights which we had spent hours drilling holes for, soldering and hot gluing, wouldn’t turn on, the “Chesslo” worked and Solaris smashed his performance as did the other four fantastic artists.
We watched Nimmo playing a conductive tattoo thanks to Adam, Tom Walker accompanying himself on Brandon's wireless shirt, Lake Komo making some crazy stuff happen with Sam, Greig and Sid’s 'Stardis'and Tiggs Da Author playing his musical wrist band courtesy of Sean Tracey.
Thank you so much to so many people for a fricking awesome weekend. To the WMAS boys, Shaun and Solaris - we nailed it! To Young Guns, Sony and WMA and to all the awesome coders and artists. I bloomin’ loved my first hack weekend.
Now time to sleep for a week.
Keep an eye out for videos of the weekend springing up on the interwebs soon and check out the BuzzJam website for more information.