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  • Writer's pictureLeon Riccio

INTERVIEW: How Alex West is keeping Reading’s music scene thriving

At the heart of Berkshire’s ever-growing music scene lies the monthly BBC Introducing gigs, where local bands and artists perform at a free-entry event in some of the town’s most popular venues.

At the heart of these shows lies Alex West, a 24-year-old radio presenter who is fighting tooth-and-nail to keep the Reading music scene alive during one of the country’s toughest economic climates.

Speaking to me from the Purple Turtle garden, the Berkshire-native said: “While anyone can release music these days, gigging is becoming more exclusive to artists who have the funds to do it, which is a real shame.

"Bands like Sundara Karma and The Amazons would tour smaller venues across the UK, but a lot of these venues no longer exist. It’s also not financially feasible, as artists can’t go to these smaller venues on a tour of the UK and make any money from it.
"Our cultural spaces are not a priority for the people who decide where our money goes, and that's the issue we are all facing.
“We don't get paid to put on the BBC Introducing gigs twice a month, but we really want to build back that local scene. We don't personally fund the shows, but we don't take any money from them either, and Nicky Booty and I work on them in our own time.

"We’ve been able to give loads of platforms to artists and we’re now growing something unique to Berkshire. We’re getting there, but there’s lots more we want to do.

“We have a good baseline of punters who will come to shows for their favourite band, and we have a few regulars who sometimes don’t even know who is playing but come because there’ll be good stuff. That’s how we want it to be for everyone - we want people to be able to come to their local BBC Introducing night and know they’ll see three fantastic up-and-coming acts.”

Reading-local Alex West took on the role of BBC Introducing broadcaster for Berkshire in April last year, after winning several university competitions, hosting two shows on Absolute Radio and presenting the official chart on BBC Radio 1 during Christmas 2020.

Since taking on the role almost a year-and-a-half ago, Alex has been hosting free-entry monthly shows at the Purple Turtle and at the Reading University Student Union bar on campus, hosting rock, pop, rap and electronic artists in a bid to keep the local scene running with fresh up-and-coming musicians.

He continued: “In Berkshire there’s a lot of cool stuff happening, but sometimes it feels like people aren’t necessarily aware of what cool stuff everyone else is doing - we’ve had some incredibly talented artists come through that have international audiences, but people in the same town as them don’t even know who they are. I was kind-of inspired to bring people together and build more of a community around the area.

“A lot of artists and communities have moved online, which has meant more people are less associated with a sense of society and are thinking more as individuals - While that’s great in a lot of ways, it has also meant our sense of community has disappeared. Local media has gone, local pubs and venues are closing, and to lose a local music scene is a real shame.
"It is possible for artists to find a community online, but I don't think that should be at a loss to the local music community.
“For both fans and for artists, it’s worse without local musical communities - artists may have an amazing online fanbase, but if they have got fans in-person locally that are supporting them, those are the people who are going to stick around for their whole careers. For the fans, being able to see local artists play nearby is just such an amazing thing.

“I think what I’m trying to say is that you shouldn't have to go into London to see or play good music.”

Discussing what the radio presenter has been doing behind the scenes, Alex said: “When Nicky and I at BBC Berkshire came into the roles, we recognised that there was so much happening in Berkshire but artists weren’t aware of what other artists were doing, so we started to bring them together and set up group chats for artists in similar genres to meet one another.

“We’ve also brought together creators like writers, photographers, and videographers from the local scene and introduced them to the musicians and to each other. We want to make Reading a place to build up your portfolio and make it somewhere really cool to cut your teeth.
"Whoever your favourite artist is, there's an artist like them in Berkshire.
"If you’re a fan of Bring Me The Horizon, there’s a band called Yaoki, if you like Radiohead there’s a band called Doops, and if you’re a fan of Wolf Alice you’ve got Wynona, whose lyrics are pure poetry.

“You’ve also got electronic musicians who people don’t even realise they’re from Berkshire but are massive, like Malarkey and James Carter, who recently collaborated with MEDUZA on their latest one of their latest tracks ‘Bad Memories’, which already has tens of millions of streams.

“You've also got rappers like Deyah, Songer, and Yxng Dave who was track of the week for BBC Introducing on 1 Xtra the other day. The list is endless, and I think if you want a comprehensive view of the scene, turn up to the gigs and listen to the shows. There’s a bit of everything and we’re quite lucky to have that in Berkshire.”

The next BBC Introducing Berkshire show will be held at the Reading University Student's Union bar, featuring Dani Sylvia, Char, and Rhi'N'B, on November 11.

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