I receive an e-mail by a photo editor of a German music magazine.
This was unexpected.
She asks if I want to go to London Heaven to shoot Charli XCX. She offers a price for it (reasonable considering 99% of publication are “Sorry, we don’t have budget for photos”).
I am free. Free means nothing programmed that is absolutely unavoidable. Still this was about knowing last minute that I had to rush out of my job, get home, get the cameras, hop a train to London, go to the gig, comeback home late night, edit the photos, send the low-res and seeing my lovely girlfriend only once deep in her dreams, in bed, at around 2am. Next morning same alarm clock, wake up and go to work as if nothing happened.
Who is Charli XCX? I didn’t have a clue.
One month since this show I keep writing her name everywhere with an E at the end. Why Charli and non Charlie? I don’t know.
The distance between my listening (Einsturzende Neubauten while I write this) and pop girls is pretty much the same I have between what I like in photography and HDR seascapes.
Youtube a live song by her.
Cool. She must definitely play a nice show, fuck indie-depressing-rock, fuck noise-earbleeding-drones, fuck literate-intellectual-songwriting. Tonight I’m going to have fun. Or photograph fun.
I reply OK-ing. I’ll go. Technical e-mails with details follow but everything is smooth and sorted. I’m Italian but do love German organisation skills.
Heaven in London is a small hip venue in the arches near Embankment tube station.
It has a nasty security policy, big men very busy to get rid of photographers rather than helping photographers to promote the artists and their venue.
I know that. I get there early.
I get in the pit for the two support acts. Pretty unknown but still worth. The nice side of pop music photography is action and good lights. Dream condition if you spent last ten years shooting guys standing still, in the dark, behind a mic pole, in skinny black jeans.
Spoiler. I noticed the ceiling covered in white and pink balloons.
If you think pop means screaming teenagers on the first rows, you are right. We’re at Heaven but it looks like hell for the exhausted girls at the front rows. Some have been queuing since 7am.
It’s not ‘heaven’ also for the group of parents chatting outside, under the “Arches”. It must be harsh to wait for the next three hours in the winter cold. I am tempted to suggest some of them to cross the bridge and head to the Royal Festival Hall for a drink and some intellectual stimulation. The World Press Photo catalogue is on sale already, at discounted price.
Inside Heaven is all about expensive merchandising, showing ID to get a drink and waiting while screaming or, better, screaming while waiting.
Charli real name is Charlotte Emma Aitchison and she was born in… Cambridge! (Wiki says) in 1992? Gosh!
It means when I moved to Cambridge she was one of those 9 years old cute girls dancing with hippie parents at the strawberry fair. Who knows?
Last week she was walking the red carpet of the American Music Award next to the biggest pop-stars. If you believed Cambridge exported only Pink Floyd and seventhy+ nobel prizes think again. We have Charli!
She is half my age, she achieved twice my goals. Including global stardom (I will be patient). She’s not a photographer.
She supported Katy Perry, Coldplay. Sang songs with Iggy Azalea and Icona Pop. Great management behind.
Doesn’t exist. It has a title: Sucker. A big label: Atlantic Records. A couple of number 1 singles: Break The Rules and Boom Clap.
The record has been on the new releases calendar for months and pushed back endless times. It’s ready, but the success of the singles holds it to build expectation. Yes, this is how the pop formula works nowadays.
You don’t come out with a single plus an album. The single arrives, than the next, than the next… iTunes. Spotify. YouTube. Do not stop till success and press coverage is big. Once you exhausted your bullets, here’s the gun. Unloaded. Released.
Strange marketing, as if marketing was a crystalline process.
Sucker is everywhere, in case you forget the title. On the merch, printed in Charli XCX (and in her all female band) outfit, in the selftitled songs hook that goes “Fuck you, sucker!” including middle finger raised, about 56 times in the first 3 minutes of the show.
Yes, I know, I should switch off Einsturzende Neubauten Lament, an elegy of first World War, if I want to write about Charli XCX show. But I’m not sure I’d succeed anyway. I may be her father. I am light years away from teenage rebellion, even from rebellion altogether, to accept such a sad truth ain’t easy.
Charli is an empowered girl, heading a girl power movement. Feminist enough to shout out what she thinks; sexy enough to be a wet dream for an army of teenage boys.
She introduces a song, London Queen, for the first time in London. She began playing small clubs and illegal raves in UK and walked the glittery American Music Award Red Carpet with Jennifer Lopez and Taylor Swift, will soon fill arenas this side of the pond.
And until she does it with enough honesty to be convincing, well why not.
I moved to the back of heaven, for the rest of the gig. Forced (by the above famed security) to put my camera in my bag so that the only pic I get of the pink and white balloons’ rain is taken with my old iPhone.
It’s time for Break The Rules, her most successful hit and catchier chorus.
A couple well into their 20s, next to me, dances wildly. She went heavy on red lipstick, he on black mascara.
The silliest rhyme I heard since I my teenage years (but hey, those were the 80s, silly by choice) goes
” I don’t wanna go to school, I just wanna break the rules”
Goes on forever and every time gets more people into a sing along. #FeelingOld
Blow my mind
But I feel alright
And never stop, it’s how we ride
Comin’ up until we die
You catch my eye
Bitch, you wanna fly
I’m so alive
I don’t wanna go to school
I just wanna break the rules
Boys and girls across the world
Putting on our dancing shoes
Going to the discotheque
Getting high and getting wrecked
I don’t wanna go to school
I just wanna break the rules”
Few important take home lessons around this opportunity.
- Have your camera bag ready and your batteries charged. A call can arrive last minute.
You don’t want to put an excuse while you think the reason you are refusing is because you have no time to recharge camera batteries.
- Be ready to read into the opportunity and don’t let it go.
If someone offers you a job for the first time to reject it is your right, but be sure you have a strong reason to do that.
Because networking is essential and the chances that person will call you again after you said no are, erm, nil.
Being in London for this gig disrupted a few of my plans and I lost some quality sleep but I earnt some good money and added a contact that can comeback useful in the future.
- Don’t be rigid on your music taste and favourite artists.
I agree, if it’s mainly for free (or in the hope of some agency sale) I’m the first to chase only the artists I like, but to have in your portfolio some acts beyond your interest and taste help making it look less of a niche and more professional.
You can also have some fun. I did enjoy that Katy Perry gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire years ago.
- One question I could not avoid asking was “how did you find me?”
Which I asked. Surprisingly I received the obvious still unexpected question.
“I googled concert photographers in London, your name popped up high, I looked at your Portfolio and was happy with it”
Two lessons more to self (2 tips to everyone)
- Always work on promotion and SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization, and translate into “how many chances people has to find you out of a google search”.
It’s about indexing photo, tagging them properly, being featured in external sites and also have a website in the right place.
– Always keep an up to date and strong portfolio on your site.
A bit of advertising here, Photoshelter has all you need to get you going at best web speed, so being on Photoshelter for years I strongly suggest you consider it if you’re serious about photography.
With this link you can also save some $$ if you join up. Give it a try.
Great portfolios, easy to manage websites and state-of-the-art SEO.