Media Matters: Orchestras á la mode



This year will see the first Urban Classic Prom

By Nathan Blades

This year’s Proms are going to be taking an interesting turn, with the introduction of the Urban Classic Prom.

It stands out as a unique event for the Royal Albert Hall show, bringing the classical flavour of the BBC Symphony Orchestra with the grime, hip-hop and soul inclusions of Fazer (a former member of N-Dubz), Laura Mvula and Maverick Sabre.

But will the marriage of styles be well received by the general public? Not that I don’t think it should, but because the Proms are often thought of as something of a musical sacred ground.

Last year’s Prom was rather straight-laced, sticking almost entirely to orchestra and operatic work, though taking both vintage and modern pieces. To that end, infusing another genre, especially one that’s often (unfairly) considered as non-compatible with high-class concerts, may be contentious.

This concern is shared by Jules Buckley, the concert conductor, but he remains confident that the audience can be as unified as the music. This has me more interested in the Prom than I have been in a long time.

There have been experimental acts in the past (Yo-Yo Ma’s collaboration with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2011 is a good example), and there was a Bollywood number in 2009, but the Urban Classic Prom is a genre first for the event.

Experimentations with genre are some of the most fascinating things you can do with music. For a major event like the Proms, they have a perfect platform to introduce the idea that blurring the lines of genre can be something worthy of a high-class performance.

On the flipside, those who find the orchestra scene difficult to access can also become acquainted to new horizons – collisions of subculture genres with classical music have been tried before to some great effect.

G. Prokofiev/Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra is an album exactly like what it sounds. Released in 2010, turntablist DJ Yoda turns a performance from the Heritage Orchestra into a beat-juggled masterpiece, using the beat making sensibilities that have served high quality hip-hop for decades.

It’s a fairly major part of the urban music scene to go to complex lengths to create music tracks – and the very best uses inventive source material.

As a classic example, the ‘Amen Break’ is an incredibly well-known sample used across all different genres and social scenes, and it all spawned from a funk/soul joint from 1969.

The current pop and hip-hop music industries have adopted the sounds of ‘chiptune’, the bleeps and boops that formed the soundtracks of games from the 70s to the 90s. We hear them now in tracks from Labrinth to Ke$ha to Crystal Castles. Many hip-hop tunes use direct samples, and an entire genre has recently formed from the marriage of rap and video game music.

A lot of this kind of sampling and genre experimenation happened back when hip-hop and electronic music was still ‘underground’, not garnering so much attention and money. These days we have Daft Punk and Kanye West – big names in sampling. Now, remixes and mash-ups are a major part of musical expression (although sometimes lawyers disagree.

With the Proms, we have a major musical event that heavily features a celebration of historically famous material. The Urban Classic Prom is more than sampling; it’s a direct collaboration between styles, eras and cultures. It holds the potential for being just so… rich and interesting.

In fact, it’s not the only musical mash-up that will appear at the Prom this year – The Stranglers, a punk band, will be playing with the London Sinfonietta on 12 August. My knowledge of Punk’s musical history is rather lacking, but I don’t doubt they’ll do it service.

Details and tickets for Urban Classical Prom are available here and information on The Stranglers performing with the Sinfonietta is available here.

Photo courtesy of Panos Asproulia via Wiki Commons, with thanks.

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