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On curating, Port Eliot and The No. 9 Bus to Utopia.

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A curator used to be a custodian at a museum. It became someone who selects acts at a festival. Now it’s what you and I do in our lunch hour. We share shit we like online.

Sometimes people connect with it and sometimes they don’t.

We share it anyway.

This Feed led me on a journey through our desire to curate and pass on.

Curating implies knowledge, knowledge implies power. Power is something that the finest digital curators hold dear.

In a recent article in the New Stateseman, David Byrne, the award-winning musician known for his eclectic cultural collaborations, observed that social media recommendations are a form of curation: ‘The internet memes and viral eruptions, the algorithms and whims of the herd, sweep us along’. And they seduce us into buying things because they know what we like, what we buy and what we dream about.  Perhaps.

Byrne was talking about curating in the context of Meltdown, the annual arts festival at the Southbank he’s curating this year.

Festivals work like spiders webs of co-dependent threads. Each adds strength to the others to create a beautiful whole.

Festivals work like spiders webs of co-dependent threads. Each adds strength to the others to create a beautiful whole. They’re about more than marching from one event to another, a well-thumbed programme in hand, circled like the Radio Times at Christmas. They’re about stumbling upon the unexpected. Wandering into a new sound, being blown away by some upstart in a field you’ve never heard of. Bumping into a stranger in a dark tent and smiling, not apologizing. Singing the body electric in a woodland rave. Not making up your mind too soon.

The not making up your mind bit is important. Because it opens us up to possibilities, and that’s what all the best festivals are about.

My Port Eliot this year was naturally about the stunning setting, the wild swimming, the culture and the literati. Food, fashion, music, books, or any combination of the above, are the main ingredients of this magical gathering.

But the best tales were unexpected and the most thrilling performances were unheard of. On the Saturday morning, I’d wandered over to the Idler Academy tent to hear Laura Barton speak mournfully about music and sadness. As I began to walk away, an unassuming slight man in glasses and tweed took to the stage and began an academic treatise on ghost villages through a brilliantly amusing, politically astute stand-up performance.

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Bramwell’s crowd-funded book The No.9 Bus to Utopia is all about his post-heartbreak quest to find alternative ways to live by travelling to communities across the world that survive (and sometimes thrive) outside of the meanstream. In a sense that is the promise any good festival makes: to give people an opportunity to peer out of their rabbit hole and make the leap into something different.

My festival highlight was Fumaca Preta, a post-punk Portuguese band who wore spandex, head-banged their Afros, and boasted a sense of the absurd not seen since The Darkness.

If a search engine was to scan my cultural preferences and musical taste, Fumaca Preta would not have registered. Which is why the finest curators function in the realm of the real, where wildcards are mashed up with sure things. Where anyone can jump aboard the Number 9 Bus to Utopia for a day or two.

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