The Levi’s Music Project is a global platform that collaborates with the world’s most relevant artists to provide access to music and inspire the next generation of creators. As the first project to hit UK shores, Skepta was a natural choice as someone that embodies the modern day independent spirt and the perfect mentor to show young people what it means to be an artist in the modern digital age. The brief was simple: gather a group of young aspiring musicians, throw in some inspiration from the V&A exhibition You Say You Want A Revolution: Records & Rebels, 1966-70 and develop material in a purpose built studio in the heart of Skepta’s hometown of Tottenham.
This all culminated in a triumphant showcase in the V&A’s stunning Raphael Room on a purpose-built set against bespoke visuals by uber-cool designer Kate Moross to an audience including the likes of Wretch 32 and Copa90 frontman Poet. Just as Skepta has journeyed from Tottenham out into the world, with the help of their community, these 12 students have carved a path for themselves from Tottenham to the V&A and beyond.
This is the story of how the project and that evening came together.
the Levi’s Music Project.
"I’m from Tottenham and my sixth form, Harringey, let me know about Levi’s creating something in my local youth centre. The opportunity to collaborate with talented musicians my age was a highlight. The class was full of so many wide musical interests which created new references for me, to be inspired by, and encouraged me to produce different sounds. The whole experience has pushed me to hone my craft and take my first step in my dream of being a successful musician."
"I grew up in the same estate as Skepta, Meridian. I’ve had the chance to make friends and learn how to produce my own beats. Having a chance to perform at such a big venue, like the V&A, has really made me focus on my showcase. If I had to think about what I would be doing in the next 5 years I would say I’d be winning my 4th MOBO Award."
"I’ve been able to learn how to fine tune my own way of creating and recording alongside others. It was hard but I’m learning and it’s made me more confident within myself. There has always been a bubbling UK music scene that’s full of diversity, especially where I’m from in the Isle Of Dogs, so I’m always searching for new sounds that excite me. Expect to see me rocking out on a stage near you."
Finding out I could potentially work with Skepta, and perform at the V&A, sounded like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Working with a group that is always up for getting stuck in and sharing ideas ignited my passion. I like the fact that the Ambassador, Skepta, isn’t just the face of the project but actually gets really involved with it. He helped us create material from scratch and collaborate all our diverse styles together. I’ve now got a new confidence level to continue being an independent artist and I’d love to be able to inspire other young girls and a whole generation to chase their dreams ‘cos if you work hard enough, it will happen. I want to be the face of inspiration."
"I instantly knew I wanted to be part of it. I’ve always rated Skepta and I’m at a point where I have the right material; I just need a leg-up into the industry. I love the fact, at the moment, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in your bedroom or at Abbey Road – anyone can make a song and it could bang country-wide overnight without the bells and whistles of the traditional core music industry any broke kid sitting at home can crack the industry and that’s what motivates me. I now have a lot of new material but more importantly, new friends.
"I first found out about this project through a Youth Club based in Islington called Platform. Then I saw it on the Levi's' Facebook page and that Skepta was a part of it, I was just mind blown and couldn't refuse to take the opportunity. I’ve been able to learn how to merge together with a group of talented people. Thinking of concepts as a unit allowed us to be creative and form the music we want to make. From my experience of attending a Youth Club I've been able to find myself as an artist as well as a person, therefore I hope to help in giving back all the staff's hard work and what they've provided me with. I can wait to return the favours and contribute in enhancing the spirits and ambitions of the youth!"
"Prior to me getting a place or even applying for it I saw it as a big step in helping the young up and comers to achieve success with their own music. Bringing people of so many different backgrounds, ethnicities and genders together, to create something historic. Aside from learning from the big names in the industry and being connected the best thing about this project is working with 11 young and talented individuals. The mixed feelings of being optimistic and confident were rooted in my stomach before our final V&A performance but overall it was epic. My eyes have been opened to the effects of revolution and how it is now affecting our generation. We’ve all been given the tools to be the inspiration for our own generation and to lead the ones to come."
"Over the last few months I’ve been challenged like no other time before. Even before I applied there was a buzz around the ‘Levi’s Music Project’ the opportunity sounded incredible. After I managed to get the support from my family, I scraped my application in minutes before the deadlines. Music is my essence. Playing the piano inspires me every day to improvise jazz more fluently. I’m usually walking around in a world of my own; a world filled with music that is. I absorb myself with every genre, but my favourite is Old School Hip hop and Jazz. Amy Winehouse and Nat 'KinG' Cole’s work inspire me but the course has allowed me to broaden my knowledge so I can deeply understand the levels of singing and song-writing.
"It was an honour to perform at the V&A and has to be one of my best performances I’ve done so far. The venue’s not just full of amazing history and art, but it’s also beautiful and such a vast space. Its acoustics let the echoes ring out and resonate so it was exciting to perform in a new environment. My aim, as a musician, has always been to be as self-sufficient as possible. I write all of my own material and I’m currently learning how to produce my own work too. The best thing about this project has to be that we could work creatively with each other, without boundaries. We have creative freedom and get to all share our visions, so we'll all have some creative input in the final product."
"I have been making beats for as long as I can remember and even recall teaching myself how to play the piano from the age of 4. Being a part of the project has made me discover people who love and enjoy music just as much as I do. Having not been to an exhibition before it turned out to be an amazing experience going through the V&A museum – I witnessed how much things have changed in the industry and with technology. All these experiences have made me feel like a proper artist. Performing, alongside all of the other artists, at the V&A allowed us to have a real platform to showcase our hard work. Gaining so many new contacts to work with has been such an important gift to leave with. As a producer I’ve opened my mind on how I get to where I want to be. If I stick to music I will go far and wide."
"Having the opportunity to go to the V&A and witness music history right in front of you was very visually inspiring. Seeing all of the old records, costumes and the Woodstock room was incredible. I discovered I could relate to political musicians in the exhibition, like John Lennon and Yoko Ono, because they were protesting for what they thought was right; rebelling against the norm and societies ideas of what is socially acceptable. Then to perform in such a historical room, with so much space and power, made me feel very powerful. I’ve discovered my confidence singing to a bigger audience and want to make people happy with my music and my voice."
“I'm a big fan of the neo-soul and jazz-influenced scene, especially artists like Alpha Mist, Tom Misch and Sam Wills. The access to the V&A artefacts exhibition, like seeing hand written lyrics, allowed me to see someone's creative process so we could see the similarities between our own, and the 'greats’ processes. It was so encouraging for me to trace my favourite artists’ journey and connect the dots. The course enhanced our musical abilities but also supported our mind set and taught me the significance of having creative control. I now know the importance of trusting myself and to not be swayed by negative opinion – so over the next few years, I can enjoy my journey.”
Over the course of the Levi’s Music Project, the 12 young artists were given real-world practical lessons from accomplished musicians, songwriters and artists to help propel them to the next step in their careers. Preditah was on hand to give students the technical knowledge to help transform bedroom producers into professionals. Songwriter Jin Jin was also brought in, this time to share the expertise that went into hits for Jess Glynne, Dizzee and Roll Deep. Finally, art director Kate Moross stepped in to teach the budding artists everything they would need to know to put on a memorable and professional performance, as well as how to define their individual creative identities.Watch the full film of
the Levi’s Music Project.
How have you found working with the participants, what are their styles like?
I think because my aim is just to give them the first seed of an idea of how they can approach their own project as individuals, because you know some people are releasing their own music some people are writing music, some people are signing others peoples music. So there is a range of what types of performers or artists their are, so I think today was just about showing potential of what they can do for their own projects and also addressing the performance at the end of this Levis project when they preform together, about how they approach that visually. While thinking about performance as an art-form in itself, and I think there is a real mix generally in terms of how people identify themselves some people are very confident, some are more shy, some want to be on the front of the stage, some want to be pulling the strings in the background so it’s just helping them realise who they want to be and where they want to be in that environment, its kind of the first step.
How would you advise somebody to find their own individual style?
I always say don’t worry about style. In the same way that when your making music, just the fact that your making it is what your style is. I always say to people design is a process, so something comes through you and you express it. So you think of an idea or you get given a brief and then you process it and spit something out at the end (theres probably a nicer way of putting that!). I think of style as that process, so you will naturally impart a piece of yourself on the work as it passes through you in whatever way. Like I don’t try and make anything look a certain way, I just do what I feel is right for the project for the client/artist or whatever capacity. Maybe sometimes theres similarities between those things or the way you connect them and back in the day you could group all my work together. But now I’d like to think that you could see all my work in my place and you’d be like “yeah that all make sense” but you couldn’t take two pieces of work and make them feel like they fit together. I like the fact there is no style, I don’t believe in style I believe in personality and opinion and I like to think my work is an expression of my personality and now I work with other people, it’s about theirs too.
What Tips would you give people who are wanting to get involved in creating music and pursue songwriting?
You have to be doing what you love everyday, it’s like a sport you need to train. I think it’s important not to rely on technology or equipment, just use what you have. I remember when I was starting in music working with Roll Deep and we were plugging in headphones and using them and mics! You just have to make the most of what you have at the time. And through that you become more creative by repurposing technology in a new way.
On every level of music the creation of music never really changes. It’s still the same process whether your in a big professional studio or a bedroom set up you still have to think of concepts.
How did you first get into song writing and music?
It was kind of by accident, I never realised you could have a career in music, for me it was just a hobby. I kind of fell into music through being at home when I would just write lyrics, and sing over peoples music on the radio. I would just create my own melodies over hip-hop and grime and just sing over the top myself. I just did it because I thought it sounded nice and I was jamming, not because I thought it was writing.
So I’m from Manchester, but I met this woman who put me in touch with Roll Deep. From there I got in touch with Target, and we ended up meeting at the studio with the whole crew. I didn’t really know anyone at the time, Wiley and Flowdan were sat there and I just started writing when a beat was played. Overall collaborating is massively important, it’s the key. When I got involved in the scene where everyone was writing and helping each other I really realised that this is what I wanted to do.
Once the 12 students had completed their tracks, they were ready for the big showcase at the V&A’s Raphael Room. With Kate Moross’ jaw-dropping visuals in place, the students crammed in some last-minute rehearsals ahead of the showcase. This was the culmination of all their hard work; not just during the mentoring process at the Selby Centre, but the culmination of all the years they spent getting to this point. Now they’ve got professionally produced and well-written music to perform, honed to perfection with the help of Levi’s, Skepta and all the mentors, songwriters and producers involved. Now it’s up to them.Watch the full film of
the Levi’s Music Project.
The whole Levi’s Music Project, Skepta’s launch performance at the V&A Museum, the mentoring process and the return to the V&A for the artist showcase in the Raphael Room were all documented on film. But this is only the beginning. This is a long term platform and the Selby Centre is going to stay open for the community in Tottenham to make full use of for years to come. Read more about the Levi’s Music Project here.
Words by Joseph 'JP' Patterson, James Keith and Laura Brosnan. All photos (except Jin Jin) by Vicky Grout. Wretch 32, Preditah and student performance videos by Tim & Barry, all other videos courtesy of Levi's. Site design and build by Plinth.