Blog: Yaw Owusu

The curator of Liverpool International Music Festival on nurturing and developing new music in the city

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Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve always been fascinated by new voices, new sounds and new scenes. So I’ve been blessed that since finishing university I have been able to centre my work on helping new music artists and creatives articulate their voices and showcase their art. Living and growing up in Liverpool, I always felt this fight to support the new and emerging. Reconfiguring and re-presenting the existing norms were central to the past success of our city, at least in music and culture, but perhaps we had somewhat failed to live by that ideal after the mid-noughties, reflected in probably the longest dry spell of no dynamic music artists from Liverpool really breaking.

There could be many reasons for this. In my opinion, one had to be that the system, conscious or not, around the new music was somewhat a parody of itself. It reinforced the idea that Liverpool music was just indie and rock (despite the huge success of Cream and other local electronic and urban brands). I don’t think that this was intentional at all as we all know sometimes it’s easier to go with the flow than go against it. However what I was seeing in local youth culture circles at the time was compelling – an organic meshing of previously separated tribes leading to cultural outputs, that, when mixed with the scaling of the internet and social media, was leading to an exciting amount of experimentation, liberation and visibility. The winners, if appropriate opportunities could be presented, would be the dynamic and bold artists who were reflecting what was happening and creating compelling music.

In 2013, when the city council decided to phase out the Mathew Street Festival and create the Liverpool International Music Festival (LIMF), it felt that this could be a high-visibility statement of intent for Liverpool music, working hand in hand with some of the incredible independent music promoters during this time. When I was given the role of curator, I wanted to ensure that the festival had a contemporary feel running through it, reflecting what I could see happening at a grassroots scene level, and that that attitude would lead everything from the concept to the line-ups to the marketing. One of the elements I was keen to focus on was the opportunities for the “next gen” of Liverpool music artists, making sure LIMF, and through it the city, would be investing in the discovery, showcasing and development of new talent from within our borders – talent that for some time probably hadn’t been given the best opportunities to break through. Hence the LIMF Academy was born.

In the past six years, we have engaged over 3,000 artists in activities

The LIMF Academy is an initiative for young music artists and bands aged 16-25 from across Merseyside. Every year, we select a class who are gifted various opportunities throughout a 12-month period, including performing at the music festival and other showcases in the city and beyond, attending masterclasses, seminars and training as well as a whole host of other benefits. From that wider grouping, we support three of the most ready artists and bands through our elite development programme, which includes financial support, mentoring, live sessions, the creation of marketing assets, promotional support, free rehearsal time and memberships of the MU and PRS For Music.

Along with our partners, we aim to help those who have the potential to have careers in the music business, have something unique and interesting to offer and simply deserve a shot at progression. In the past six years, we have engaged over 3,000 artists in activities – but the legacy may in fact lie in the fact that we have supported a diverse set of music artists and bands that have gone on to build careers after engaging with the Academy. These include the likes of Mic Lowry, Taya and Sub Blue, who were showcased in our first year and have gone on to sign record deals. They also include XamVolo, Jalen N’Gonda, PIZZAGIRL, Eleanor Nelly and Little Grace, who were all involved in our elite development programme and have gone on to sign global deals for management, records and publishing. Furthermore, in 2017 our most-ready cohort was all female.

All have gone on to do some really great things already. In the context of the great renaissance in the city, these success stories and the continued dialogue that they force have seen a more honest and nuanced approach to development of new music.

With the challenges local authorities are facing who knows where LIMF or the Academy will be in 12 months and whether they can be sustained at all? But for the short time that both have existed, the positive impact has been enormous and can be seen, if nowhere else, in the burgeoning careers of some of the new voices of Liverpool music who we have helped to express their sound and stories.

LIMF is on 21-22 July. Visit For more information on LIMF Academy visit

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