[URBAN NOTE] “Hamilton: The benefits of living on the outskirts of cool”
Spacing’s Alanna Stuart writes about Hamilton’s position on the edge gives it a chance to innovate. Gerschenkron’s argument from backwardness?
Despite its new reputation as a real estate hotbed, Hamilton has yet to be branded as an internationally renowned cultural hub, though the annual Supercrawl arts festival is threatening to change that. The steel town still has more boarded up storefronts than venues and cafes, yet it’s also managed to birth a Grammy-winning electronic music scene that’s been celebrated worldwide since the ’90s.
I made a documentary about this community, and, in the process, came to realize that Hamilton’s cultural impact didn’t happen in spite of its perceived weaknesses, it happened because of them.
Looking at other geographic musical movements revealed this phenomenon isn’t unique to Hamilton. Take Virginia Beach, VA, for example. The mid-sized, tourism-driven military town gave birth to Timbaland, Missy Elliott, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo (The Neptunes), and The Clipse, who together, planted the seeds for the rap and “future R&B” revolution of the’90s and 2000s.
Meanwhile in the UK, musicians growing up in the airplane manufacturing centre of Bristol, two and a half hours west of London, fused hip hop production, singer-songwriter craftsmanship, and reggae music to form its signature trip hop sound and more. Influential bands like Massive Attack, Portishead, and Roni Size Reprazent all emerged from this sonic mish-mash.
Though their music lends these places an air of avant-garde now, when their scenes’ champions were growing up, none of these cities were anybody’s idea of cool. And I think that was part of their advantage.