putting the `e' into literature

Techno and house meet the poetry reading
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Indy Lifestyle Online
THINK of a literary reading, and you might think of a crowded bookshop, warm white wine and polite applause. Think of a nightclub and you will probably think of thumping music, warm beers and sweaty T-shirts. Put the two together and you have something approaching Arthrob, an event designed to marry literature with techno, poetry with house music, plus the common visual paraphernalia of modern clubs.

As Alice in Wonderland mused: ``What is the use of books ... without pictures or conversation?''

A break in the music is normally death to a dancefloor, but at Arthrob when a writer takes the stage, the dervishes stop whirling and listen. The concept was devised by a Chilean-born nightclub promoter called Anesto, who was influenced by traditional events in his homeland where the likes of Victor Hara and Pablo Neruda, or lesser versions, would speak at clubs.

``It is poetry, music and people getting drunk along the way. But instead of a guitar we have a DJ,'' he says. ``A couple of years ago I saw Irvine Welsh doing a reading at the South Bank. He had so much energy, but it was no place for that to come across, so I thought of putting him on in a club. I just knew it would work. It's an obvious idea but nobody's ever done it. I had been doing clubs for 10 years and I was getting bored of putting on a few DJs and a couple of lights''

His events have featured Welsh, Hanif Kureishi and young poets and writers whose material is appropriate to an audience well versed in nocturnal excess, a factor that worried Kureishi considerably before he read an excerpt from The Buddha of Suburbia.

``I read at midnight. Everybody was jumping around and I thought `they will never stop', but they did. People were as attentive as at normal readings, and seemed very interested, though I didn't sell any books. Most book things are stuffy, dreary - people standing around drinking wine, but this is a good combination because literature is considered posh but kids should listen to rave, take E and read books.'

If the likes of Kureishi and Welsh are perceived to have blazed a trail into territory where literature was previously anathema, then other writers are happy to follow. First-time novelist Ben Richards, who read from his brutally funny book, Throwing the House Out of the Window at an Arthrob event on Thursday night at the Complex club in Islington, comments: ``Whatever the hype around Trainspotting, it has to an extent broken down the idea of the literary world as self- enclosed. The whole rave scene has been purely hedonistic and I think by now people want to be challenged mentally when they go out. The club scene has fragmented into older and younger clubs, and it's probably true that 18-year-olds would prefer unadulterated techno for four hours, but otherwise people enjoy the novelty of a reading.

Like Welsh, he started as community writer, winning a competition at his local bookshop in Whitechapel, London, that offered pounds 1,000 and a promise that an agent would read the manuscript. Happily for Richards, this resulted in publication by Headline Review.

On Thursday night there was considerable hype around Welsh himself, who was due to arrive on stage at 1am to perform a new play, but failed to do so. But the show went on with recitals from Richards, novelist Geraldine Geraghty, and poets Selina Saliva, Jock Scott and Murray Young, names that are gaining currency on the burgeoning live performance scene. And, believe it or not, there were even snatches of literary conversation - at least two renditions of anecdotes from Welsh's novels were to be heard near the bar.

It was all rather novel to the representatives of the publishing industry present, who are waking up to the fact that marketing a book can involve more than ringing your favourite literary editor.

``This sort of thing is great,'' says Mark Hutchinson, publicity manager of Headline Review, straining to be heard above the din. ``Word of mouth is so important, it is still probably the best method of marketing a book. You can try anything else but you can't be sure it will work. It's about targeting an audience and understanding books don't just belong in dry environments.''

Later, during Richards's reading, one of his characters says: ``It's imperative that we get some drugs.'' There are loud, knowing cheers from the audience.

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