There is no doubt that Goldsmiths’ creative output is held in high regard: the Popular Music course alone has produced artists such as James Blake and Katy B. Edward Ginn chats to senior lecturer, programme convener for the Popular Music course and director of Popular Music Performance at Goldsmiths, Simon Deacon.
Simon laughs as I ask him to briefly summarise what the Popular Music course is. “Around the late 70s and early 80s there was a course at Goldsmiths that mainly focussed on jazz and instrumental study, taught by the late Peter Driver. This was tolerated for a number of years because it was thought of as a sort of ‘add on’ to classical music study. Historically, Popular Music was never considered an ‘art music’.” Due to the high demand for non-classical music modules, a Popular Music course was created at the university in 2004. “To summarise, we look at the great musical movements in 20th century culture, which are mainly vernacular forms, such as folk and blues music. As these are not ‘written down’ forms of music, it explains why some of the students studying this course cannot read music – not that it matters.”
“What we look for when we are taking on students for our course is a track record of playing in bands and a high level of musicianship. We want someone who is already a creative practitioner. We look for people who are bright, curious and aren’t scared to write a few essays. I’ve said, and got into trouble about it before, that ‘no one would thank me if I took on fifty white-boy guitarists,’ but it’s true. We want a broad range of students who have different interests in music and are not hung up over genre or style.” When focussing on the entry requirements for the course, Simon states: “We’ve been fucked up by the government, so are looking for high grades even though we don’t want to solely rely on exam results. However, we are now taking on a lot of people doing BTECs so they’ve been submerged in studying music before doing the course.”
I asked Simon whether he could tell which students would make a name for themselves in the music industry. “You can tell some students will become successful because they are so driven, however, it is hard to tell because sometimes the most skilled musicians are unsure about what kind of music they are going to end up making. With James Blake it wasn’t clear in his performances that he was going to make electronic music. But I think his work developed slowly and was quite separate to the course.
“When the students have completed the course, we expect them to have gained skills in the technical and theoretical side but also the technological and production side. We expect every student to be able to make a good quality demo. Students who are trying to make a living through music should be able to think contextually about their work and know why they are doing it. Our course enables them to get work out there by applying to be on the NX Records mix-tape, which is a separate entity to the university. Obviously we understand that not everyone will make a living through their music, but this course provides skills to go into other occupations; such as, teaching, promotion, working in cultural industries or working in a bar.”