Word Is Born
Word was born long ago. But that doesn't stop the wordsmiths of Melbourne trying to find completely new ways to use words. Melbourne artist Tim Helmy is on a mission to bring together Melbourne’s best wordsmiths including spoken word poets, comics, freestylers and written rhymers. The MC for the evenings is editor of literary journal Going Down Swinging, Geoff Lemon.
Although Lemon is a spoken word performer it's a long time since he's taken the stage. An extended stay in Argentina and his role as editor have kept him busy. "I started eight years ago, so this is a bit of a comeback. I am working on some half-finished things and polishing up old works. There will be a fair bit of work that people haven't heard, if I can remember it - doing it all from memory is the hardest part of the job."
Lemon says Helmy related the inspiration for the Word Is Born event to him thus: "[Helmy] was watching Mantra doing a show and he saw him breaking into a whole a Capella section at the end of his show. He thought that MCs didn't do that enough. He got this idea that he wanted to bring together a whole bunch of hip hop MCs and other spoken word artists and get people concentrating on the lyrics again, more so than just the music. I fit in because I used to run a similar kind of show called Word Play for a few years, up until 2009."
The shows, being held at Horse Bazaar on Saturday May 21 and Saturday May 28 boast a lineup including Joelsitics, Sean M. Whelan, Lesson, 1/6, Muma Dosa, Vytal One, Julez, Mr. Monk and D-Wolf. "It's a pretty extrodinary line up and it was great to see someone else going off and contacting all these people who I had admired," says Lemon. "Julez and Dragonfly in particular are fairly hilarious guys, who really don't take themselves at all seriously, which is a nice breath of fresh air. It's good to see them with people like Sean Whelan, who writes these kind of long dreamy stories. I really like getting people who are completely different types of performers on the same bill."
Amongst the MCs, poets and storytellers is the odd comedian. "Having comedians is good because if people are laughing they're relaxed, they're having a good time, they don't feel under any kind of pressure," says Lemon. He says comedians can also provide a good bridge for audiences new to spoken word performance. "Everyone thinks they're going to have the worst time ever. People who used to come to Word Play [a similar evening Lemon ran until 2009] were dragged along by people who had been before and they'd say, 'Nah nah nah, it's good…' and people be like, 'Oh shit, I don't want to go.' They'd get their arm twisted and they'd be sitting there like they were on the execution block waiting to have the worst night of their lives. If you can get a comedian to come out and make people relax and laugh, then they warm up and they sort of think maybe they're not having such a bad time after all, then they're much more inclined to be open to what's coming next.
Lemon's under no delusions that all artists are good at their craft though. As editor of Going Down Swinging he reads and listens to hundreds of submissions. "There's a lot of boring poetry and it's boring because it doesn't use its language in a new and innovative way and that's what we're trying to do: find a way of expressing things that hasn't been used before."
The show brings together artists who might not otherwise meet. Lemon reflects on the mixed discipline nights he used to run. "One of the most rewarding things about the whole experience was looking around the room at a crowd of 150 people at these gigs and there would be a bunch of hip hoppers in their hoodies and caps and stuff nodding along to Chris Wallace Crabbe. Then there would be a bunch of people in their 50s and 60s listening to Joelistics doing a rap and getting something out of it and afterwards there would be all these people chatting to each other. You would have the middle-aged generation chatting to the MCs and finding out something about this artform that was so foreign to them. That whole part just was really rewarding, it was really heartwarming to have younger hip hop fans listening to poets and realising, 'Maybe this stuff isn't boring, and maybe it's not academic and maybe it's not impossible to understand, maybe there's actually something going on.' There was definitely a feeling of bringing together artists and writers. Ultimately all of these people are writers, just different kinds of writers, but it brought together writers who would not otherwise have encountered each other."
While hip hop MCs and poets may be writers at their core, they have drastically different exteriors. "People have a bad perception of poets, because they think they're boring," says Lemon. "I'm sort of constantly working to rehabilitate the reputation of not all poets (because some of them are crap) but poetry as something that can be good, and when it's good it's fucking fantastic. Also I'm trying to rehabilitate the image of hip hop amongst people that don't respect it because there's so much more to it than the douchebags you get on MTC rocking around thinking that they're top shit. That's not hip hop, that's just commerce, that's just selling shit. Our aim is to find the people who are making music - a good rapper who writes properly and with thought is a poet; a poet is just a person who uses words really."
Perhaps MCs and poets aren't so different after all. "At the base of all of this is that I'm a word geek - most poets and rappers are word geeks, they're people who were brought up reading," says Lemon. "They stll read voraciously and they are fascinated by language: the things that you can do with it and the ways you can play with it. You can do so many things with language. You can build so many intricate puzzles and if you poke a little hole in something or change a letter to something else, suddenly the whole sentence means a different thing. It's this endlessly fascinating set of blocks, or Lego set, or something, where there are so many interchangeable parts and so many options and variations and the results that you can get out of it will be so varied. There's so much fun to be had. People who love hip hop for its lyrics love listening to the way the rapper can play around with the language and make sentences flow together and run together and the jokes and the double entendres and the similes and everything else. People who love poetry love the same things - the amazing creations that you can come up with just with words."
Word Is Born is a unique exploration of personal, emotional expressions through vocal performances showcased at Horse Bazaar on Saturday, May 21 and Saturday May 28. Horse Bazaar is situated at 389 Little Lonsdale Street. Performances will run from 9pm -1am, with meals available from 5pm. Entry is $5 before 10pm and $10 afterwards.