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Bettakultcha Bradford II. The legend continues…?

Submitted by on June 5, 2011 – 9:56 pm10 Comments

Bettakulltcha Bradford in the Midland Hotel

Bettakultcha Bradford II

Bettakultcha; the Leeds ‘night of passions’ that has transformed into a Leeds institution in less time than it takes to grow a whispy moustache. It has been ‘down and dirty’ in empty industrial spaces, and smart and posh in Victorian boutiques. Quite why it has been so successful in Leeds is open to debate-how did a few dozen people crowded into a cold & draughty Temple Works 12 months ago transform into a cast of hundreds in the luxurious surroundings of the Corn Exchange? I don’t know the answers to this, but it will be something that Ivor (@ivortymchak)  and Richard (@RichardMichie ) need to attempt to define and adapt if they are to successfully expand the format elsewhere.  There has long been suggestions that Leeds has the most expansive and vibrant twitter community in the country (largely down to the early adoption and passion of Emma AKA @culturevultures? Discuss. But not now). BK was launched and has grown through the use of social media; building anticipation before hand, discussion and critique during the event, and the easy ability to connect with those who have given presentations as well as the person you’ve sat next to. It is undoubted that the twitter community of Leeds has almost used this as their ‘twitter meet-up’.  Can the same atmosphere and excitement transfer to other cities?

The latest Bettakultcha was the 2nd attempt to take the format elsewhere, again in  Bradford, held at the Midland Hotel, with its beautiful thick carpets, chandeliers and wedding chairs. A stunning venue, but I question it’s suitability for the diy ethos of BK, especially for its early days. The summer sun streaming through the windows does not encourage the intimate and grungy atmosphere that BK is so famous for.

BK has many elements that form to make it such a legend, but ultimately, the success of the night comes down to the presentations. It is the variety of talks and the passion with which they are presented, which makes BK so great. Informative, deadpan, serious or hilarious, a little bit bonkers, or a little bit dull, the presentations and the passion make the night. As my 7th BK night, I can say these were probably the best groups of talks I have ever seen. There was no 2-3 that were particular stand-outs just because every one was so good. Informative, funny, interesting; looking at ordinary things in a new way, or telling you something you’ve never known before, this was a near perfect slot of presentations.

In an excellent presentation that was amazingly comprehensive, @atkiteach explained why he was so passionate about Rugby League (“tough Northerners and poncy Southerners” got the audience on side to join in the welcome audience participation).

There was @100objectsbradford who chose some of her favourite objects from the Special Collections at Bradford Uni.

In a hilarious talk about growing up in Bradford as the only Asian family on an all white council estate, @ismaalmas made you squirm and laugh, but was so successful because of it’s warmth and affection.

If you ever wonder how the obscure and obtuse can become a successful presentation, then @irnaqureshi and her talk ‘what your freezer contents say about you’ should help you understand.

Other talks included ridiculous graffiti, battling breast cancer, obscure lesbians, debt collecting etc. (I apologise for not being sure whose was whose).

I must give a special mention to @theflaneuse. One of the aspects of BK that has raised passions and involvement, is the concern over lack of women speakers in the early days. I presented for that very reason after complaining at 3 previous BK nights. At Bradford, this issue never once entered my head, such were the numbers of female presenters, but in addition, the ultimate ‘feminist’ BK presentation was passionately and eloquently made. @theflaneuse spoke about her varying roles as a woman; wife, mother, worker and…drag artist. In a perfect BK moment, she ended her presentation singing ‘I am what I am’. Which should potentially be BKs very own anthem!

My problem with Bradford BK is that although a few people were chatting, it is significantly lacking in the atmosphere of  BK Leeds, which is abuzz with chatter, analysis and randomness. Leeds always has groups of people who also head off afterwards to pubs and bars, and you attach yourself to a group quite happily without knowing a soul, whereas Bradford audience mostly drifted in and away again. Many Leeds attendees even book the next day off work (I appreciate the after-parties aspect has nothing to do with BK itself, but it all adds further to the excitement that is a Leeds BK, and ensures it is self sustaining).

I put this lack of atmosphere down to a few things, including the venue and the lack of twitter build up and after commentary. But, there is also the cultural difference between Bradford and Leeds. Leeds is city centre based, with an artistic/cultural leaning community. Bradford has very different qualities, it is community active and postcode focused. Generally, people do not come into the city centre, and do not attend arts based events (with exceptions, obviously). People you speak to aren’t always curious about trying arts out. Ultimately, there needs to be considerable numbers interested to create a consistent audience and ensure different presenters on a bi-monthly basis.  As a consequence, I fear Bradford might find it difficult to garner the numbers to become self sustaining. If the audience and speakers at Bradford believe in BK and want it to continue, then they have to take the responsibility that in effect, Leeds did, by telling everyone they know, blogging and tweeting, inviting friends and colleagues. It is probably up to the people of Bradford now if they want BK to carry on.

Richard and Ivor believe they are only the organisers, the facilitators if you like, of Bettakultcha. It is the people, the audience and the presenters, who decide what BK will become.  Will Bradford, or soon Huddersfield, ever achieve the same legendary status as Leeds? Should it, does it need to? Can it transfer successfully elsewhere at all?  Will BK just constantly keep evolving?  Well, that’s all part of the BK fun, you don’t have to wait and see; you can decide what you want, and help BK do it.

Alexandra (@sewhipfolkie)

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10 Comments »

  • Thanks for a great review of the second Bettakultcha Bradford. It really was one of the best we’ve ever had each and every presenter was brilliant and all in the different way which always happen at the events. We had 12 very, very passionate and enthusiastic people sharing their passions along with a very passionate audience.

    When the events first began in Leeds we had similar numbers to those in Bradford, so it’s still early days. If the numbers continue to rise and the enthusiasm continues then there’s no reason it won’t be as big as the Leeds events. As for Huddersfield, well it’s only just been born so lets see how we go.

  • Really great blog.

    I think comparing BK Leeds and Bradford (and Huddersfield) is fair, in many ways, but not so on others. BK, from what I’ve read, evolved and is still evolving: no-one designed what BK Leeds has become. Bradford’s BK just needs to do the same, and maybe it’ll look very different to Leeds’, as might Huddersfield’s. I don’t think any of us want a load of faceless franchises setting up.

    Having said that, I believe that there are fears for the future of BK Bradford if the numbers don’t rise and, as per your article, Bradfordian BKers need to sort that by getting more folk along. I’ll certainly be trying to do just that. Perhaps Bradfordians can suggest a change of venue; I know a few people who’d been to Leeds said it was a little too formal, and most people commented on the cost of drinks. Where could BK Bradford be held in future?

    If you’d like a review of BK Bradford I from a BK virgin, or how I approached writing and delivering my presentation at BK Bradford II, please take a look at my BK blogs at http://kulchadyet.wordpress.com/

    Finally, thanks for the mention above – you are very kind and I am hugely grateful and thoroughly delighted you enjoyed my presentation.

    Now let’s get BK Bradford III packed to the rafters.

  • Kieran says:

    “But, there is also the cultural difference between Bradford and Leeds. Leeds is city centre based, with an artistic/cultural leaning community. Bradford has very different qualities, it is community active and postcode focused. Generally, people do not come into the city centre, and do not attend arts based events (with exceptions, obviously).”

    A rather sweeping statement that does an injustice to the people of Bradford I feel. Bradford: a city with an “artsy” and progressive film festival, with the Alhambra that sells out most nights, the playhouse that has some very experimental theatre, not to mention the Kala Sangam south Asian arts centre and the St George’s Hall. And then there is the university with public lectures and its own art space and theatre. Given all of these do exceptionally well Bradford evidently still has an thriving artistic and learning community. Bradford may be a much smaller city in comparison to Leeds, but for such a small city it offers a lot and has some of the most interesting art projects I’ve seen UK wide. I certainly hope to present next time; it was a shame I missed it – not because I didn’t want to come into city centre, but because I was rehearsing with Bradford’s Brass Band – another excellent asset to the city.

  • Irna Qureshi says:

    Enjoyed your review of the first ever Bettakultcha that I attended. I would love to see the Bradford event gain cult status in the way it has in Leeds. As you say, Bettakultcha is about sharing passions and I agree that it’s up to us in Bradford to promote the event among our circles. Interestingly, me and my sis (@ismaalmas) had separately put our names down as presenters and were discussing our topics at a dinner party. This prompted a number of the guests (all Bettakultcha virgins) to come along – not least because their freezer contents became the topic of my presentation. I’ve also met several people since the event who’ve complained that they would have loved to come along but didn’t hear about it. This made me realise I should have shouted about it on Facebook. Will do next time.

    I also agree that an ‘intimate and grungy environment’ might be more suited although no complaints about the Midland Hotel – apparently, Laurel and Hardy once stayed there!

  • Phil Kirby Phil Kirby says:

    aagh . . . where’s the pic! . . .

  • Ivor Tymchak says:

    An insightful post. A couple of observations;
    • Richard and me have discussed at length the contribution of the venue to the success of the event. I know venues can degrade the event if people can’t hear or see the presenters but if they can hear and see, then I believe the venue has little influence on the overall outcome. It must have some influence, but I believe ‘underground’ and ‘cult’ are attitudes, not places.
    • After the event I noticed a large group of people from the audience talking animatedly amongst themselves. There really was an explosion of enthusiasm and well, passion at the event and I am convinced that the ball has started rolling for Bettakultcha in Bradford.
    We were thinking of taking the summer off for BK but after this event we felt we needed to keep the momentum going and we are looking at August for another date. Even if only a handful of people — who aren’t on holiday — turn up for the event, it will be worth it.

  • Kieran says:

    Definately do one soon and I’ll hold my ideas off for Bradford rather than the Leeds one :-)

  • John Popham says:

    Having attended nearly all the Leeds events and both of the Bradford events, I take what Ivor says about the venue, but I can’t help wondering myself if it does have an impact. BK Leeds started in “grungy” surroundings where people brought their own drinks, and has now expanded into bigger, better equipped venues, but I think there is a hard core among the bigger audiences now who have brought the culture from the early days with them, and it knocks on to the newbies.

    But, as Ivor says, Bradford’s first two events got very similar number of attendees to those in Leeds, and look what Leeds has become. The true measure of a cult event is how word of mouth builds an audience, and I think Bradford has begun on that path. These days, I am too busy at BK events pointing cameras to check what is happening on Twitter, but it would be interesting to compare the twitter buzz around the Leeds and Bradford events.

    Oh, and now comes the task of building the third cult in Huddersfield….

  • Enjoyed reading this review and comments, lots of food for thought. Here’s what I wrote about the event. I haven’t made it to a Leeds event so can’t comment on the difference between the two. I can see them evolving in different ways and I don’t think that is a bad thing at all. Other than the drinks prices, I thought the Midland was an ideal venue – we could all see and hear what was going on and the surroundings were a bit special (not like the usual University rooms).

    Talking of the women side, I have a lovely idea for the next one which is all about a really interesting woman and has fantastic fashion!

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