Ten years ago the New Yorker writer John Seabrook coined the term ‘Nobrow’ to define the merger and marketing of low and high art. No-one cares if anything is good anymore, Seabrook argued, the only meaningful criterion is ‘is it hot?’ If, like Seabrook, you lament the decline of cultural hierarchy, it must truly seem as if the world has gone to hell in a hand-basket. In an age where a 140-character tweet on Twitter is deemed as significant (if not more so) than a 2,000-word essay in the London Review of Books, one might be tempted to believe that the citadels of civilisation have indeed fallen and the barbarians are uploading evidence of their boorish behaviour on Tumblr.
Not everyone sees it this way. I attended the launch of the Brighton Dome’s Autumn Season recently in the company of my good friend Nick Mosley, publisher of Brighton Visitor and general mover-and-shaker around Sussex. Nick is an unabashed populist and thinks the Dome’s season is too targeted at the egg-heads. I’m an unashamed elitist and don’t agree. I guess this means the Dome has got the programme about right.
So what’s on it? The mainstream is well and truly represented with concerts from the Bootleg Beatles, Michael Bolton, Heaven 17, Gogol Bordello, Goldfrapp and OMD. The Heath Quartet will perform Barber’s Adagio for Strings, practically the theme tune of middlebrow classical music fans. New musical talent is showcased over two nights featuring Will and the People, Lauren Rebecca, The Watermelons, Alice, and When Monsters Walk. Then there’s Brighton Ukulele Day (December 18) featuring the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
Brainfood is served up during the Sussex Salon Series when academics and specialists will discuss ‘The expert patient’, ‘How new is the ‘new politics’?’ and ‘What difference have civil partnerships made?’ And during the Women Writers Festival the estimable Bonnie Greer will talk about her new book ‘Obama Music: some notes from a South Sider Abroad’.
It’s the sacroiliac rather than the cerebellum that is the focus of Breakin’ Convention 10, a festival of hip-hop dance theatre featuring, among others, Sébastien & Raphael, Phase T and Jonzi D.
With workshops on stand-up comedy, soulful singing and sonnet writing, the Dome clearly hopes to get people out of their seats and into the limelight.
I think this represents neither success for the scholarly nor the victory of the vulgarians. But I do think that if you can’t find anything to do in Brighton this winter, you need a check up from the neck up. In anticipation, here’s a clip of Sébastien & Raphael in a genre-pulping slice of dance-theatre.