Sheffield is a city that’s widely known for its contribution to music, having given birth to iconic industry pioneers such as the Arctic Monkeys, The Human League, and Def Leppard to name but a few. Over more recent years, it’s also become the home of a new and exciting technology-based music movement: the algorave. A phrase coined by TidalCycles co-founder, Alex McLean, an algorave is an event that sees people come together to dance to improvised electronic music that is being created in real-time by ‘performers’ who code it live. Once a small and intimate community composed of algorithmic musicians from the Yorkshire area, algoraves are now taking place on a regular basis all over the globe. Our city was even host to the third annual AlgoMech Festival just last weekend – a celebration of algorithmic and mechanical movement.
Typically, an algorave will take place in a fairly dark room with sufficient wall-space to host multiple projections of engaging and abstract visuals, all of which are coded live before the crowd’s eyes and adapt as they respond to the changing music. The tracks themselves are built up gradually from scratch through the manipulation of code to make patterns, something which will generally result in every single algorave being an entirely unique experience – in fact, many performers will delete their tracks once they’ve been played. It’s one big experiment that everyone present is involved in, even as a bystander. Because each performer is composing and working in real-time, they respond directly to the audience’s reaction and to each other. There are no “headliners” at these events either – algoraves are designed to encourage inclusivity and diversity, so the stage is given instead to semi-anonymous people, regardless of gender, race, or creed, that use a broad range of different approaches to create music that’s made for everyone. Just like technology, algoraves aim to bring people together.
At Highlander, we like all things uncomplicated, and that goes for algoraves too. Alex McLean’s intelligent open source software, TidalCycles, makes creating algorithmic dance music accessible to anyone, regardless of whether you have coding knowledge or not. It’s free too – but if you want to support Alex’s efforts, he’s more than happy for you to buy him a coffee! Alex emphasises that although algoraves are steeped in technology, they’re still a very human activity, and even goes so far as to liken them to using a knitting pattern to create a jumper! There are also algorave workshops and social coding meetups happening all over Sheffield if you wanted to get involved.
Truthfully, it’s unsurprising that Sheffield has been the hub that’s fostered this impressive international movement, not only due to its rich musical heritage, but also its status as one of the best cities in the UK for technology start-ups. Only last year, research from Amazon software company Sellics recognised Sheffield as the third best city worldwide to start a digital firm. To add to that feather in the cap, Highlander’s hometown was also named the best city in the UK for start-ups in general by Paymentsense in early 2019. It seems that our culture of hard work, love of technology, and history of music has all coalesced to give rise to the algorave.
We’re very proud that algoraves found their origin in Sheffield, and think they’re a fantastic way of encouraging young people to better get to grips with technology, coding, and the amazing things it can make possible, as well as a great vehicle for STEM.
Photography courtesy of Dan Hett.