Does it Really Suck to Grow Up Outside of London in a Shit Town Like Basingstoke?

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Does it Really Suck to Grow Up Outside of London in a Shit Town Like Basingstoke?

London is Britain's cultural hub. But there are important things outside of the capital too, namely the local music scenes.
Ryan Bassil
London, GB

The film KIDS closes with a monologue from the main character, Telly. "When you're young", he says, "not much matters. When you find something that you care about, that's all you got." The film's about AIDS and young Telly's talking about his desire to deflower virgins, but the logic behind his sentiment can be applied more generally to adolescence. If you take away the one thing teenagers care about, there's nothing left.

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There are a lot of small towns in Britain, places like Swindon, Milton Keynes, Banbury, Derby, Cornwall, all of which which are teeming with teenagers. Like Telly, some of those teens are simply content with exploring their way into adulthood through the medium of other people. But for others, there's a desire for creative pursuits: the need to find some sort of culture beyond the statue in the town square. It usually starts with the discovery of music, which then turns into an eagerness to watch bands live. The problem is that most of these small towns exist relatively far from big cities, and rarely do they have proper, working music venues. You're generally left with something that resembles a scene from the Inbetweeners. A gaggle of kids with a clearasil deficiency watching a cover band called Dub Side of the Moon play in their local pub - and in some ways, that's an honest portrait. But for the people who grew up in places without AEG backed music tours, I'm willing to bet those local scenes, no matter how threadbare, became the one thing that, if taken away, would leave them with nothing else. These forgotten towns are so devoid of culture that each opportunity to see something real is like finding a bottle of Fiji water in the desert, and these music scenes are integral thirst-quenchers within a small town adolescence.

I grew up in Basingstoke, called "Basingrad" or "Amazingstoke" by the emo kids who hung around the fountains - and, like most towns outside of London, the music on offer was scarce. The big bands played in the capital; the medium sized bands made it to Southampton; and the small ones were put on in Guildford. As the town's Uncylopedia page suggests, Blazingstoke is famed for being a "shit commuter town full of shit other cities didn't want", like a ring road, a multi-story carpark, a dilapidated​ ice rink, at least four Greggs, and the dregs of South England's music scene. Each weekend, local bands would take up residence in whatever community center or village hall was up for the offering. Unable to afford the travel to London, or even be allowed to skirt the labyrinth of train-lines late at night without a chaperone, we were left to make do with the limited local shows that were on offer. I imagine it's the same for anyone who grew up in a town where its biggest achievements are the flower displays inside its roundabouts.

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Each weekend would start the same. Eat a Meatball Marinara at the Subway in the bus station; convince a stranger to buy us alcohol; and gleely carry our plastic-bagged loot to a gig at a secondary school's sports hall or a small venue underneath the local theatre. Unlike London, where you would have to bypass security, the shows in Basingstoke were usually put on by parents or teenagers, and turning up blind drunk, wasted on Frosty Jacks with another two litres of Strongbow in your backpack was easy. It wasn't always about music; our nights transitioned into the necessary lessons one needs to experience at that age. We watched bands, but we also learned what happens when you attempt to down three litres of budget cider in ten seconds. Which is usually meatball-flecked disappointment stained into the floor of the last train service home.

When Basingstoke got boring, which happened with frequency, or we wanted to meet people from other towns, we would head to shows in Alton, Farnham, or Andover. I remember watching You Me at Six tear down the stage at a boozed up community centre in the woods; standing next to Bring Me The Horizon's Olly Sykes while he went for a piss; and witnessing Kill The Arcade, an early iteration of the band that went on to become Brother, then Viva Brother, then Lovelife, play at some school. We were hearing music right on our doorstep and it became integral to our future. I first heard Adam Green's "Bluebirds" and The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" for the first time during an open mic show at a small cafe next to Basingstoke's train station. Small songs; tracks which pain me to listen to now. But they set me on a path of music discovery. I learnt what I liked; what I hated; and more importantly that there was music beyond the confines of The Beautiful South CDs my Mum used to play at dinner. And I think that's the point of all local scenes really. Learning there's more to music than Jacqui Abbott singing "Rotterdam", Simply Red, M People, or whatever your parents had in their collection.

By going to spots where you can hang out with new, interesting people, the world opens itself up. No longer shackled to the three bands known within your friendship group, you start to learn about other people, not just their interest in music, but the entire spectrum of the human experience, through their different backgrounds and class standing. Small scenes outside of cities and big towns are often looked down on, never thought about, and left ignored, rotting away. And - in terms of musical output - that should often be the case. The vast majority of bands never amount to anything. Their releases are terrible and suck harder than a hand placed next to a Dyson Airblade. But that's not really the point of those scenes. The point is that they're an unparalleled learning experience.

The important thing to remember is: these scenes are integral to teenager's futures. Obviously they will always exist in London's menagerie of venues, underage nights, and parks. But in places outside of the capital, it's important these creative spaces continue to be fostered. We need more local venues to open their doors to local bands. We need more kids playing instruments together, putting on nights, or DJing. Basically: we need more opportunities for creative people to do interesting things. Alongside swimming pools with slides, Harvester restaurants, and massive forests, they're one of the reasons that growing up outside of London doesn't have to suck. But like Telly says in Kids, if they're taken away, then you've "really got nothing".

You can find Ryan Bassil on Twitter: @RyanBassil