What the Sex Pistols and Tampa Bay Startup Week have in common

by Joey deVilla on February 4, 2015

never mind the bollocks

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…

johnny rotten

Johnny Rotten in 1976.

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.

sex pistols 1976

Glen Matlock, Johnny Rotten, and Steve Jones in 1976.

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:

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.

tb startup week organizers

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:

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 HiveTampa 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

Today:

Tomorrow:

This article also appears in my personal blog, The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.

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