Here’s a story that anyone who’s taking part in any of the activities of Tampa Bay Startup Week — or wishes they could take part — should read. It’s a story about a seemingly insignificant gathering of like-minded people, and how the ripples of what its attendees did can still be felt today, an ocean away…
It’s June of 1976 in Manchester, England, and a small group of people gather in a tiny venue called the Lesser Free Trade Hall to see a band play. There’s nothing really remarkable about this group of 42 people, and that evening’s featured musicians are unknown at the time.
The band calls themselves the Sex Pistols.
As I mentioned, there were no famous people in the crowd at this show, or at the follow-up show that happened about a month later. The Sex Pistols had not yet caused an uproar throughout Britain with songs like Anarchy in the UK and God Save the Queen, and it was well before they invaded the US in 1978.
Attendees ranged from the local mailman to a few rebellious school children. But a handful of others in that small audience became some of the most influential people in independent and now mainstream music.
A gig attended by a few dozen in a venue that could easily hold hundreds would normally be considered a flop, but turned out to be anything but an ordinary concert. The influence of the Sex Pistols and the punk rock movement they helped kickstart can still be heard today in every band that features a spikey-haired youngling beating rapid power chords on a guitar. Johnny Rotten would later found the more experimental Public Image Ltd, and manager Malcolm McLaren would cast his musical net even wider, branching out into disco, funk, hip, electronic music, world music, and even opera.
That “handful of others” in the audience were just as important. Among them were:
- Howard DeVoto and Pete Shelley, who organized the event, were also members of The Buzzcocks. Their single Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) has wound up in some of the most unlikely places, including the soundtrack for Shrek 2.
- Tony Wilson, who hosted a TV show featuring the still-new punk rock movement, and who would go on to start Factory Records (home of New Order and later, Happy Mondays) and Manchester’s Hacienda club (featured in the movie 24 Hour Party People)
- Martin Hannett, who would go on to become a legendary record producer
- Paul Morley, who would go on to become a music journalist for the Brit music magazine NME, promote the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and co-found Art of Noise
- Mark E. Smith of The Fall, whose influence can be heard in later acts such as Pavement, Sonic Youth, Guided By Voices, Faith No More, and even the electronic act LCD Soundsystem.
- Mick Hucknall, who would go on to become the lead vocalist of Simply Red.
- Steven Patrick Morrissey, who would go on to become the King of Mope and lead vocalist of The Smiths, who would go on to inspire just about every emo rock band that followed.
- Three young men named Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook. Inspired by the performance, Hook would buy his first guitar, and the three would form a band named the Stiff Kittens, which would later go by the name Warsaw, after which they’d finally settle on the name Joy Division. They would go on to become one of the best-known and influential New Wave bands. After Curtis’ suicide, the remaining members who would go on to become New Order, who’ve influenced anyone who’s ever plugged in a MIDI cable into a synthesizer. To this day, New Order’s Blue Monday is the best-selling 12″ single of all time.
These output of the bands that arose from this one gig would help define alternative rock and its subgenres, from punk to goth to synthpop to grunge, for decades to come. All this came from a concert that almost nobody cared about at the time, attended by people nobody had heard of at the time.
“The gig that changed the world,” as alt-rock aficionados sometimes call it, did so because it brought together people with similar interests who were passionate about what they did. Its attendees saw that popular music was changing, and after being inspired by a group of troublemakers, decided that they could be part of that change. They went on to create music their way, and make their mark on the world.
The people behind Tampa Bay Startup Week (pictured above) may not look punk rock, but they’ve most certainly got its DIY, “we have an idea and we’re going for it” spirit. Like the Sex Pistols, they’re a band of troublemakers putting on an event on a shoestring budget (yes, Chase is sponsoring, but without them, the budget would likely go from shoestring to none), and at the moment, it isn’t being noticed by most of the world outside “the other bay area”.
Like the music scene in Manchester the mid-1970s, the work-life dynamic in Tampa Bay in the mid 2010s is undergoing some big changes:
- Between July 2013 and July 2014, Florida grew its population by six figures and took New York’s place as the third most populous state in the union.
- Tampa Bay’s population growth is surpassing that of the entire country, what with people moving here in droves.
- Forbes put Tampa in the number two spot on their top 10 list of cities for young entrepreneurs.
- There’s a trend of young people to choose to move to smaller cities with lower costs of living (and if they’re willingly moving to Buffalo, Tampa Bay should be a very easy sell)…
- …and with this current crop of youth should come more entrepreneurial activity.
If you look carefully, you can see the initial rumblings of change here, from the One Million Cups gathering that takes place every Wednesday to all the local interest in The Iron Yard to places like The Hive, Tampa Hackerspace, and Eureka! Factory to the ex-Marine who’s doing good and helping your beard feel good at the same time. I see a lot of the necessary ingredients for change here that I saw in Toronto in the mid-2000s, and so does GeekWire…and with a subtropical climate to boot!
I hope that like those 42 people who attended that Sex Pistols concert in 1976, that some of the people at Tampa Bay Startup Week’s events will get inspired, start their own businesses, and shake the universe.
(I’ll be at tonight’s tech cocktail mixer with my accordion. If you ask, I’ll gladly play you my rendition of Anarchy in the UK.)
Upcoming Tampa Bay Startup Week events
- One Million Cups – The ECC kicks off Tampa’s first One Million Cups at 8:00 a.m.
- One Million Cups in St. Petersburg – The Greenhouse host their One Million Cups at 9:00 a.m.
- Tampa Hackerspace – Lunch will be served up with a side of lasers at 12:00 p.m.
- Creating a Unique Crowdfunding Campaign at 3:00 p.m.
- Tech Cocktail Mixer at Chase Basecamp at 6:00 p.m.
- Open Make Night at the St. Pete Maker Space at 6:00 p.m.
- Geek Breakfast rise and shine for the first one of the year at 8:00 a.m.
- Fireside chat, Reliaquest CEO, Brian Murphy will be hosting at the Chase Basecamp at 11:00 a.m.
- Tech Job Fair at Basecamp at 3:00 p.m.
- Family 3D Print Night at the John Germany Library at 6:00 p.m.