Bengi Ünsal - Lockdown Meltdown

by Music Tech Fest | MTF Podcast

Bengi Ünsal is Head of Contemporary Music at the Southbank Centre, the UK’s largest arts centre, where she is responsible for a year-round programme of more than 200 gigs and contemporary music performances across its iconic venues - the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room. She manages the award-winning Meltdown, the longest-running artist curated festival in the world. 

The 2020 edition of Meltdown, curated by Grace Jones has been postponed to 2021, and the world has changed for major live music venues, festivals and artists. Bengi talks about coronavirus, Black Lives Matter, and how she managed to work her way into a dream job that has now become a work-from-home gig.

Follow SouthBank Centre on Twitter
Follow Meltdown Festival on Twitter
Southbank Centre’s FutureTense

Photo: Cesare De Giglio for Southbank Centre


Dubber Hi, I’m Andrew Dubber. I’m the director of Music Tech Fest, and this is the MTF Podcast. Bengi Ünsal is the Senior Contemporary Music Programmer at London’s Southbank Centre, Britain’s largest art centre and one of the UK’s top five visitor attractions. Now, every year she’s personally responsible for over 200 gigs and contemporary music performances at the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the Purcell Room. She also manages the Meltdown festival, which is the longest running artist-curated festival in the world, with names at the helm like M.I.A., David Bowie, Jarvis Cocker, David Byrne, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Robert Smith, Nile Rodgers, and now Grace Jones as curators. Which is all well and good in normal times, but times are not what you would call normal. 

Live music venues, concerts, and festivals are, of course, among the most seriously challenged activities of the current crisis, and I found Bengi still working, but working from home. We spoke about technological solutions, the future of live music, Black Lives Matter, how to land a dream job like hers, the greatness of Kylie Minogue, and what the next big thing in pop might be. From lax-lockdown London, this is Bengi Ünsal. Enjoy.

Dubber Bengi Ünsal, thanks so much for joining us for the MTF Podcast today.

Bengi Thank you for having me, Andrew.

Dubber So the first question for you is what was live music?

Bengi What was live music?

Dubber Yeah, we used to have this thing called live music. Do you want to tell us a little bit about what that was?

Bengi Yeah. Before COVID times, you mean?

Dubber Yeah, absolutely. 

Bengi Yeah. I feel as we still have live music. But, yeah, what was it? It was me going to Southbank Centre, going to Royal Festival Hall or Queen Elizabeth Hall or Purcell Room and just getting out of my usual life for an hour and a half, probably. Having extreme fun and being filled with joy, and just connecting with an artist eye to eye, and then feeling that I had some way in making that happen when I look at people’s faces around me. That was live music for me.

Dubber Right. So you’ve got the dream job. Do you want to tell me a little bit about what that entails?

Bengi Everybody says my job is the dream job, yeah, I know. I agree with that, but it has… The end product is the dream. What gets you to that end product is actually days and hours of normal work like everybody else does, in front of a computer screen most of the time, listening to music maybe even less than some other music lovers do. And you’re trying to put your tastes in the equation but not as much concentrating on the audiences who you’re serving. It has different characters and parts to it. 

Dubber Right. Tell me what the job is.

Bengi My job is I am Head of Contemporary Music at Southbank Centre. Southbank Centre is the UK’s and Europe’s leading arts institution. It is based by the South Bank near the Thames in the centre of London. We have Royal Festival Hall which is 2,500 capacity. Was built in 1951 after the Second World War, which I find quite poetic, to bring joy to the nation after the war because it was just… People’s economic and emotional states were just ruined by that time, and, yeah, I find it quite poetic that they decided to do a Festival of Britain, and Royal Festival Hall was that building that they built to base it.

Dubber It was also the place where they had the first concert of electronic music by British composers, wasn’t it?

Bengi I think that’s Queen Elizabeth Hall which was built in the 60s, and, yeah, it’s a great building as well. So we have Queen Elizabeth Hall, we have Purcell Room, we have Hayward Gallery which is one of the leading arts galleries in London and the world, I would say. So that’s Southbank Centre, and I do everything programming in terms of non-classical music. When we say contemporary in European countries they might go “Oh, contemporary classical.” especially, but it’s not. It’s everything other than classical music I programme and I’m responsible for, including the Meltdown festival.

Dubber Wow. Okay, Meltdown’s a really fantastic example, but give me some examples of some of the programming choices that you might have made.

Bengi It depends on the venue as well. Royal Festival Hall has 2,500 capacity. You can have a Paul Weller gig with an orchestra playing for the first time which is recorded and then pressed as an album later on, or you can have Meltdown festival, The Cure playing a very special show, or Peaches doing an unbelievable, your eyes out of your back kind of a show as well. So it depends on the context a little bit, but it’s rock, it’s Underworld doing an electronic music live set. Although it’s a seated venue, I feel it’s the most comfortable standing venue in London because the seats go up, so you don’t have to just… You have your own space, you can go get your beer, it’s just very… Yeah. I like it a lot, Royal Festival Hall. You can have Thundercat, you can have a jazz legend, you can have a classical music concert. We have four resident orchestras as well, although I don’t do programming for them. Also we have literature events, we have dance and performance. I’m just responsible for that part of the programme. 

Dubber Right. I’ve got two questions, and I think that they might be the same question, and that is where does all your knowledge of music come from? And the other one is where does your love of music come from? Is that the same question?

Bengi Probably. I’m not sure, maybe it’s not. I think my love of music might be a bit before, because my father… We had vinyl at home, we had a record player. I was born in Ankara but I was brought up in Istanbul in Turkey. So I remember listening to his record collection from Pink Floyd to Cat Stevens to Ruhi Su, who is a huge folk artist in Turkey, and just jumping up and down over the seats, playing games with my sister, and that’s probably where my love comes from. 

But then again, I can’t say that I learned everything about music from my dad. Not at all. I don’t know. I was just so… I just loved listening to music, or whenever I can, but I didn’t have as much growing up. The first cassette I bought was probably when I was 13/14 years old because we didn’t have that accessibility to that music. It wasn’t easy. So I was just asking my father “Could you please get me a cassette?”, and he would just go and get it and it’s Duran Duran ‘Arena’, for instance, but I didn’t specifically ask for it. I remember asking for Rick Springfield. But, yeah, it’s a cousin, it’s someone that you admire who is older than you listening to a piece of music and you go “Yeah, I want to be like them.”, and you start listening to music. I think that’s how I started. 

And then my knowledge probably came through… We had satellite TV and we had Sky. There was this guy, his name escapes me now, he had this two-hour radio-show-like TV programme with a very static background, and we used to listen to his voice and he would just put on videos as well. And then MTV we had through the satellite, so I’d listen to a lot of mainstream pop music growing up. But my mum was also a piano player, and we had a piano at home which I didn’t get to learn, unfortunately. It’s a big regret.

Dubber But starting with Rick Springfield you went really deep into some really esoteric music, some really intellectual music. Your approach to contemporary music seems to be very quality driven.

Bengi I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know if I can say that. I was really into pop music at first. I know the whole catalogue of Kylie Minogue. I have been a huge fan all my life.

Dubber Kylie’s quality. 

Bengi Yeah, Kylie is super quality. And then I listened to Madonna. I listened to INXS. I listened to a lot of mainstream. Not pop always, but I’m not sure if it was esoteric. But it has definitely became eclectic as I grow up. Definitely became quite eclectic. And I started working in music in 1995 in a TV station. Music TV station as well, which meant that I had to listen to different kinds of music as well, so I think that fed into it. I think that answers your question.

Dubber Yeah, it does, because I think to go from music fan to Head of Contemporary Music at Southbank Centre, there’s stuff in between that. And so working in music television, but you’ve been a DJ, you’ve run a festival.

Bengi Yeah.

Dubber What was the path? What was the chronology of that?

Bengi It’s 24 years in the making. So, basically, when I first started I remember just being at home watching MTV all the time. Whereas I should have been at university studying business administration and management, I was basically really just spending the whole day watching TV. And then a friend of mine who was working in a music TV station, they had an agreement with MTV in Turkey, so I just pulled all my courage and said “Do you have a job at the radio and the TV station? Because I would be cleaning the floors if I can just get into that building because that’s where I feel I belong.”. And they were “Oh, we’re looking for someone at the MTV side of things, the Music TV side of things, so why don’t you just come and just interview for it?”. That’s how I started in 1996, I think. 

And then we were talking to record labels, getting videos on Betamax, big, big cassettes and stuff, and that made me start a relationship with Universal, then Polygram Music, and then I started working there. I was thinking of going and having a master’s degree in New York about music business, and then the person who was Head of International at Polygram said “Why do you go and just spend a lot of money? You can start working here and you will learn it from the bottom up.”. And then I started as a junior product manager there, and when I quit I was Head of International. And then I went to BMG, worked there for a year. And then I said “Yeah, I’m going to do my own festival.” and did the third edition of the first open-air festival in Turkey called H2000, went completely bankrupt.

Dubber Welcome to the world of running festivals.

Bengi Yeah. It was actually good. It was just this other stuff that… When you want something to happen, sometimes that love makes you blind, so I didn’t see the problems arising. We had sponsors, we had really good acts, our ticket sales were good, but the bureaucracy of things with the municipality, with the landowners, we had problems there. And it just became a disaster for me, so I went bankrupt before I was 30, and I spent nearly a year in depression. Thank god my parents helped me through that. And I think it was a blessing in a way, in hindsight. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. 

Dubber Yeah. And in what way was that a blessing?

Bengi Because if I succeed then, I made money, I think… The way I see it, I wouldn’t be concentrating on what was important for me, why I went into that business. I feel that I could have been infatuated with success and money, and I could have… Whatever I did wrong in the first one, if it slipped and if I became successful, I think it would come harder in the second one because still there is not a lesson learned there. That’s the way I chose to take it, and I’m not regretting it. It was horrible, but I’m not regretting it. 

And then I started working for Charmenko, it’s a European booking agency. They book artists to Eastern European festivals and events with Nick Hobbs. I worked with them for a year, and then I went to Istanbul Jazz Festival as the Assistant Director. Worked with Pelin Opcin who used to be Istanbul Jazz Festival Director. Now she’s London Jazz Festival Director, so it’s nice that we’re in the same city again. 

Dubber Oh, lovely.

Bengi Yeah. And then I ran a record label for two years, again, this time a local record label called Doublemoon which was coming up with, I think, really amazing music which was a fusion of East meets West, but not in a cheesy way. Really top quality, top-notch way. And I really loved that experience, and I did it for two years. 

And then Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, who does the Istanbul Jazz Festival who I used to work with, they basically said “We’re opening up this venue, would you like to come and run it?”. So I went, and I basically… It was just four walls, and I was the Artistic and the Managing Director of that venue for six years which became really, really successful. Yeah. And then I wanted another challenge, basically, and I started looking around. I knew that I wanted London to be my next base, and I looked for the right job for a year and a half. 

Dubber Wow.

Bengi Because I wasn’t in a hurry. My life was very comfortable. Istanbul is a beautiful city with an amazing nightlife. I knew everyone, everyone knew me. It was my comfort zone, so I was happy to just be there until I found the right challenge. And then Southbank, I applied online and miraculously they got me. 

Dubber Well, I’m guessing there were probably a few people in line for that gig, so you must have interviewed well. 

Bengi Yeah, I think so. Yeah. Maybe being in Istanbul and working for Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts gave me that multi-art discipline that Southbank Centre has as well. And also being a venue in Istanbul I booked a lot of artists. I took the chance on Nils Frahm, Ólafur Arnalds, St. Vincent, John Grant. Those artists were not big then when I booked them for our 600 capacity venue, but when you look at them on a CV you go “Wow.” because they’re headliners, right? In a way. So maybe they might have. And during my Istanbul Jazz Festival times I was involved in Norah Jones, Robert Plant, Roger Waters, Shakira. Big, big, big gigs, so it looks good on a CV. Maybe that’s why.

Dubber What’s the main difference for you working in, say, Istanbul, and working in London?

Bengi First of all the structure of the business industry here is different. In Turkey, venues are the promoters, mostly, and in London, venues are mostly rental spaces. They do their own promotions as well, like we do at Southbank Centre and some other venues do, I’m sure, but it’s mostly the promoters go and hire out the spaces and they do their own shows. So that was the first thing that just strike me as different. 

And then the working culture is completely different. London people just… From nine to five, or six, whatever, they come at their desk, they work, they rarely have communal lunches, whereas in Istanbul you come to work, you take your coffee, you go back, you just have a chat with your friends, colleagues, and then you go out for lunch. You become friends. I’m not saying I’m not friends with my colleagues, I love them and I am friends with them, but I think the Mediterranean warmth and the way of living life is different than what you have in London. I would say those were the main two differences for me. 

And also although I knew all of the agents. I didn’t know most of the promoters, so I had to get used to that kind of working. And the fee structures are different. When you’re in Istanbul the costs are different. The competition is different here. So, yeah, it took me probably two years to get used to it.

Dubber Is access to artists any easier when you’re in London?

Bengi It depends, as I said, because it goes through the promoters, and promoters sometimes… You have to have a good relationship with the promoters and the management, I think, and agents. All three of them, not just with the agent. It’s not enough this time around. So maybe it’s easier if you’re going through from the emerging level up because then they want to be supported by an institution like Southbank Centre or a promoter. They want to be supported, they need that. But on the top level, it’s probably more… It’s a business, right? We have 2,500 capacity. We can’t actually pay as much as what the big festivals or the promoters can pay, and that is very frustrating at times. 

Dubber So all of these is in the context of ordinary times. And a large part of what you do is sitting at a laptop and sending emails and talking on the phone, and you can do that at home, but there’s a large part of your job that you probably can’t do at home. Do you want to talk about how the lockdown thing has affected what you do?

Bengi At this specific time it was really great in terms of I really think I can personally work better at home. I’m more efficient, I don’t like commuting, we have an open office which I can’t concentrate that well. I really am more comfortable and more efficient working from home, so I did get a lot of work done. Especially when we had to postpone or cancel gigs and it needed my undivided attention. 

So the first months worked out, but the problem of this, what I can’t do, I can’t do Meltdown festival. It was supposed to happen last week and we couldn’t do it. It’s going to happen next year. I can’t go and just… Even if you do a digital concert, you can’t talk to the artist face to face, you can’t just touch them on their arm, you can’t give them a hug, and that’s me. That’s how I operate on a personal level. Not having that is a difficulty. I think there’s a critique of having Zoom and video calls, for sure. At first it was interesting and it was exciting, I think, and I was like “Yeah, we’re talking only half an hour, an hour. Everything is focussed, we get the work done. Amazing. No more useless meetings.”, etc., but after a while, I think, after four months, it’s not too good just having to look at one computer screen.

Dubber It’s quite tiring doing the Zoom video calls, yeah. 

Bengi It is tiring. But, yeah, I can’t complain. I really love working from home. I would love to… I was thinking of that. I don’t know if we’re going to ever go back to the office, in the sense that because the times are changing, right? This effect, we cannot say “Oh, okay. It’s back. Let’s go to the way our life was before this.”. I think it’s going to change. So I was just thinking, what kind of an office, what kind of a workplace, would I want to have? 

So I think in my ideal world I would still be working from home, but maybe once every week I would like to go to a place which I don’t maybe call an office, where there were couches and then like a coffee machine, good quality, where I could have quality time with my colleagues. Where they tell me what they read, what they saw. It’s not just like sitting in front of the computer, but having that real interaction. That would be my dream scenario going forward, and I hope that it happens. 

Dubber And how’s the output of that work going to be affected? You talk about something like Meltdown festival. That’s about bringing a large group of people all together in a way that probably isn’t encouraged anymore. How’s that going to change?

Bengi Yeah. I think if you look at where I live in east London, if you go to a park you can see people are gathering up. They’re just so looking forward to going out right now. I think maybe the way we do programming for which audiences might have to shift a bit. At the beginning I’m not sure if the older ones, the vulnerable, the people who feel that they are vulnerable, might not be willing to go out as quickly as the younger generation, so that might affect how we programme our venues. But let’s wait and see. 

I think Meltdown always, because there’s the artist involved, it’s the perfect setup for a festival. Everybody wants to be associated with Robert Smith, Nile Rodgers, Grace Jones, they want to see them walking down there on Riverside Terrace, so I’m hoping it won’t be affected. And I’m hoping maybe it will be affected in a positive way where people want to come together and enjoy that unity together. But you’re right, we can’t be just naive and think that it’s going to be the same. It’s not going to be the same.

Dubber Have you had to give any thought to the idea of online performances or anything like that? Or have you just said “No, no, we’re not doing that. That’s not what we do.”?

Bengi I think that’s what we should be doing. I have been a big advocate of tech and online live streaming, etc. When you have a big company that is… It’s not just Southbank centre, by the way. I think it’s many other companies right now, probably including even Live Nation. When they have a certain way of doing things, and when it’s successful, they don’t want to look at other opportunities that much, and that emergent opportunity come and just bite you in your face, and they go “Oh, what happened?”. Oh, it has been coming, you just need to realise. So I think live streaming in terms of concerts maybe was coming, the VR technology was coming, there are companies that are doing it. But this coronavirus situation has just forced it so much on us, and suddenly it was so accelerated that maybe most of the companies are left behind already, including us. So, yeah, we definitely want to do it. 

Let me talk from a contemporary music point of view. I don’t think it’s going to go away. I am sure it’s here to stay. Maybe it’s going to take five years, three years. I don’t know when coronavirus goes, if it goes, and if everything goes back to the new normal, people might start going to live concerts again. Of course, it’s a completely different experience, but I think there is definitely a market for this experience as well, and we have to do it. We have to. We’re late in getting ready for it, but we’re going to have to accelerate our systems and get there. I definitely am a big believer in it. 

Dubber Or at least in the possibilities. 

Bengi I’m guessing you are as well. 

Dubber Yeah, a little, a little. Yeah. The experience of such a mediated event is a weird one for me, but then I’ve never been a big one for crowds. I’m a fan of records, so my experience of music hasn’t changed quite so much.

Bengi Yeah, I have records as well. When first MP3 started I was completely against them. 

Dubber Really?

Bengi Completely, because I was probably working at the record label back then and I didn’t like the fact that it was piracy involved. But then, now I use streaming services all the time. I do have a record player and I play records, and I keep on buying records as well, but to me that’s a different experience than scanning and maybe just background music, so I feel still there will be… 

And also geographically, we don’t know if we’re going to be able to travel as much. There was the climate change pressure coming in anyway. We were thinking “Do we really need to go to Berlin by flying? Or France, with a plane.”, so now I think people will be more… Yeah. I bought three/four digital concert tickets over the past month. I just bought one today, this morning actually, to a Lianne La Havas gig at Roundhouse.

Dubber How nice. 

Bengi Yeah. I paid £12 for it and I’m happy about it.

Dubber Fantastic. Obviously there’s a lot of talk about COVID-19 being disastrous for the creative sector. Do you think anyone’s seeing any upside? Is anybody benefiting from this new situation?

Bengi Probably Spotify and Apple is. In the past three months their market value just doubled, I think, Spotify’s.

Dubber Wow. I was really hoping you were going to say small independent artists, but that’s not how the world works.

Bengi No. It’s not good for the small independent artists, unfortunately, and it’s not good for grassroots venues. It’s not also good for big companies like us because of our costs and the way that we are structured. What was the number? I can’t remember the exact number right now, but, yeah, 46 million pounds is required to save grassroots venues in the UK alone. They’re in so much hardship. And I’m part of Music Venue Trust, I’m in the board, so they’ve just raised over two million pounds to help those venues. And they’re saving venues, they’re doing a great job. And the government is helping, trying to help with the furlough scheme, but it’s not enough. We are going to lose at least five million pounds, and that’s if we open in April. If we open it before that we’re going to lose even more because of our costs and because of the decreased capacity that we can get back onto with. 

Dubber Right, wow. 

Bengi Smaller artists, independent artists, maybe they might through their record sales, through their funding options, be getting stuff, but they don’t have any live income coming and they are going through so much hardship. And we should do our best to support those artists because the big ones, they are postponing their tours, maybe they can more than the others afford writing a year off, but certainly not the emerging artists, the smaller artists. And actually the whole industry supporting those artists. The hosts, the production crew. It’s a huge industry that is servicing us, and they are going through a huge hardship as well.

Dubber Yeah. I spoke to Beverley Whitrick from the Music Venue Trust early March, just before this kicked in, and music venues were already not having a very good time. Is the government stepping up and making any concessions to the fact that, A, it was already hard, and B, now it’s impossible?

Bengi They’re trying their best, I think, but it’s just… Music Venue Trust is trying their best. They’re doing everything they can. They’re writing open letters to the government. They’re amazing. And some artists are supporting them as well, so these funds are being raised. But the government… I’m not saying they are doing enough or they’re not doing enough, but I think they’re trying to do something. That’s my opinion. Of course, they need to be doing more. They need to be giving more to Southbank Centre as well because… Not just us, every other institution. But that’s the thing. How are you going to prioritise? How are you going to…? The hospitals… It’s hard, but, as I said, Beverley and Mark are doing their best to attract their attention to it, and they’ve done. They’ve come a long, long way in the past five years. They’ve actually put the grassroots venues as a word, as a term, into the sector. So, yeah, they’re amazing.

Dubber Fantastic. Well, it’s not just COVID-19 that’s in the news now. Obviously the Black Lives Matter thing is a really important issue. On that, how does that impact upon what you do? For instance, what’s your approach to, say, inclusion in programming?

Bengi It has always been on our agenda. It’s not a tick boxing exercise, but we look at our numbers. And Arts Council also wants us to just give those answers. I was just looking at it. We look at how we programme BAME artists, we look at the audiences. I was actually looking just yesterday on last year’s Meltdown numbers and it was 49% BAME on Nile Rodgers’ year. This year it was going to be, I don’t know, 80% BAME with Grace Jones’ Meltdown, but it’s going to happen next year now. 

So it is very important to us, but in terms of improving, we have actually made a commitment. Our CEO and the exec board made a commitment saying “We have been working on it, but we also accept that we’re not good enough yet and we have to improve ourselves. That’s why we need to be accountable.”. So we’re just going to publish our numbers, we’re going to publish what we’re going to do in the next years, but it’s also very… Yeah. That’s what we do. In terms of our staff, in terms of our senior management, we have to be more diverse. In terms of our artists and our audiences, I think we’re doing great, but we need to do even better and do our share, basically. 

Dubber Yeah, because it seems that… One of the big conversations over the last five years that I’ve noticed has been about inclusion of women in music programming, and now the emphasis is… I don’t know if it’s less on that, would you say?

Bengi On this I would say maybe it’s not on top of the agenda right now, but, again, Robert Smith’s years are 46% female.

Dubber Sorry, is that at the front of the stage or is that including the band? Or is it including the technicians?

Bengi No, no. Not technicians, it’s the band. It’s the band. It’s if the artist has female member or members or front members. It’s just… Not the technicians. The technicians are… Southbank is a very female institution, I should say. Our Chairwoman and our CEO, Director of Music, me, Director of Production. It’s just quite a lot of female leadership in our company. Director of the Arts Administration is also female. Quite a lot. But, yeah, you’re right. I think now it’s taken a back seat maybe, but now is the time for Black Lives Matter to take the front seat, so it’s going to take the front seat and we shouldn’t be… That doesn’t mean that we should be forgetting about that. Not just the women, also, but it’s not just male/female, right? Nonbinary.

Dubber Sure.

Bengi So we should not forget about those things. I’m going to the same direction whether Black Lives Matter is on the front seat or not. But in the same wagon, I think.

Dubber Yeah. It does occur to me because there are other things we should be thinking about like the eco considerations, the accessibility of venues, and those sorts of things, and this feels like an opportunity to redraft the rules of how we think about live events. 

Bengi Exactly, exactly. Actually, just before COVID-19 there were talks about this. I remember reading, for instance, Emma Banks who is one of the biggest agents in the music industry saying “Our bands should start thinking about their stage setups. Do they really need this much of equipment? Do they really need that kind of show? Do we really need to fly tonnes of stuff to somewhere? They should be thinking about the green, ecological impacts of what they do, and we should be looking at our footprint, basically.”. So it was just happening there and then this happened. I hope that all these together, like with the technology, that acceleration, I hope it accelerates where we’re going to go and how we look at things. I really do hope that this is the positive output of the times that we’ve been going through in 2020. I really do hope. 

Dubber You mentioned when you were back in Turkey and you were putting on acts like Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm and people like that before they were Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm. Who are the people that you’re looking at now and thinking “We need to get on these people now.”? Who should we be looking out for?

Bengi That’s a very hard question, and I don’t know if I can answer that.

Dubber One example would be really, really good.

Bengi So we have the slot at Southbank Centre every Friday between six and seven. We pick artists that we think are going to be the next big thing. It’s called futuretense. So we just give them a slot to have this concert every week, and it’s just… 400 people come to watch all those bands and then we hope, and some of them already did, they go from futuretense to Purcell Room, which is our smallest capacity, and then hopefully to Queen Elizabeth Hall and then to Royal Festival Hall. So we try to nurture them through that system. So if you check the futuretense tab on our Southbank Centre website, those are the people who we think are the future.

Dubber Brilliant. I’ll put a link to it on the show notes as well. 

Bengi Thank you.

Dubber Given that you have what a lot of people would call the dream job, is there a next step that’s an obvious thing for you to go to? Is there a progression beyond this?

Bengi I don’t know. It’s a very hard question because I feel there’s so much more I can do at Southbank and I’m very much committed to my job there, and I really, really want to make more of it. And what I have been always interested about, and more interested now, is the digital side of things and the tech. I would be interested to challenge myself, develop myself in that area more, I think. To me, it’s more “How can I learn more? How can I use what I have learned over the years to do something else that is a different version, a better version, of what I’ve done until now?”. So, yeah, I think that would be a good progression, in a way, because I really do believe that’s what the future is going to hold. I don’t know. I’m constantly thinking, that I can tell you, but more in the “What can I do for Southbank as a member of the staff to make it even better?”.

Dubber What’s your favourite example that you can think of of music tech in performance? People using new types of musical instruments or technology in a new way on stage.

Bengi On stage?

Dubber Yeah.

Bengi I’ve not seen anything other than the gloves, and it has been used. But we did VR. So you put the VR on and you’re in the orchestra, and everybody is… We did it with Philharmonia Orchestra. We do that kind of things, and, yeah, I need to get a list of things from you to pass on to my participation colleagues, it seems. I think personally I’m more interested in the tech of the distribution and the participation in the digital sphere, and the analogue of making music. But that’s a personal…

Dubber Absolutely. So what’s your hope? What does next year look like? What do you think would be a good outcome of all this?

Bengi The good outcome would be that we would be looking at what’s really important and try to get lessons from it in terms of our management and the way we put acts on, from Black Lives Matter to diversity to inclusion to climate change. But then again, on a very practical note, I would hope that we start in January the latest and not April and start doing things uninterruptedly. If it’s not going to go away I think we just need to get used to living with it, and we have to find ways to keep that interaction going in the physical space as well. Whether it’s with masks… I know it sounds and looks weird, and it’s very uncomfortable, but really I think we need to get the life going. So that’s what I ask for 2021. Hopefully we can get some kind of clarity and sanity back. Yeah.

Dubber And what would you say to somebody who is looking at you and thinking “That’s what I want to be when I grow up.”?

Bengi I would say thank you. Thank you very much. 

Dubber Any tips though?

Bengi My tip would be just working hard and trying, I think. Not assuming that you can’t get that job, you can’t do that thing. Just go and talk to people and just show that you’re interested. Try to get it done, and work. It’s not just getting the job. Getting the job is just all the ideas that you have, because the young people have a lot of ideas, but it’s just not those ideas. You have to make them happen. And in order to make them happen you have to work and be determined. I think that’s my only… Yeah. That’s my advice for anyone. For anything, actually. 

Dubber Bengi, thanks so much for your time. 

Bengi Yeah, thank you, Andrew. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. 

Dubber Absolutely, yeah. Fantastic.

Dubber That’s Bengi Ünsal, and that’s the MTF Podcast. You can follow the Southbank Centre on Twitter, that’s @southbankcentre, and Meltdown festival is @meltdownfest. I’m Andrew Dubber, you can find me @dubber on Twitter, and Music Tech Fest is @MusicTechFest not just on Twitter but absolutely everywhere. If you enjoyed the podcast make sure you’re subscribed, and you can share, like, rate, and review, which is going to help other people to find it. Of course, if you didn’t like it but you’re still listening, there are lots of other episodes to check out that might be even more your sort of thing, so go have a look through. In the meantime have a great week, and we’ll talk soon. Cheers. 

Subscribe on Android