I’m going to start with a controversial statement: in theory, Tampa Bay Startup Week 2017 should amount to nothing.
Good — I’ve got your attention now.
It’s an easy argument to make. Tampa Bay’s cities — Tampa, St. Pete, and Clearwater — don’t have the sort of entrepreneurial or tech cachet that other places, from the usual suspects Silicon Valley, Austin, and Seattle to upstarts like Raleigh and Boulder. They’re overshadowed by other Floridian cities: Miami and Orlando, places that are known even internationally. The bay geographically fractures the area, and the locals see the bridges as barriers that prevent them from visiting their nearby sister cities. What could the well-intentioned team behind Tampa Bay Startup Week 2017 possibly hope to accomplish?
If we — the organizers and we, the people for whom they organize this annual event — play our cards right, their accomplishments could be bigger than anyone dreamed. This sort of thing has been done before, quite notably in 1976, at a seemingly unremarkable event in a failing city in England that would later be known as “The Gig That Changed the World”.
Manchester, 1976: The Gig That Changed the World
You could draw a number of parallels between Manchester, England and Detroit, Michigan, especially in the 1970s. Both were cities that grew to become industrial powerhouses in the first part of the 20th century, and both saw their fortunes decline drastically and become bleak urban wastelands after World War II. Both would also end up changing the course of music history in unexpected ways.
In June of 1976, a still relatively unknown band called the Sex Pistols played a concert at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall. There were a mere 42 people, which is respectable for a band that plays at your local bar on a Tuesday night, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of gig that would “change everything”, until you consider who was in attendance and what they did afterwards:
- Two art school student friends, Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley organized the event. They ended up forming their own punk band, Buzzcocks, whose single, Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) has wound up in some of the most unlikely places: covered by Fine Young Cannibals in the ’80s and Thursday for the 2004 video game Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland, and featured in the soundtracks for the 1986 film Something Wild and the 2004 film Shrek 2.
- Devoto would later form the post-punk band Magazine, who would influence ’80s acts Ministry and Peter Murphy as well as late ’90s acts Radiohead and Jarvis Cocker (lead vocalist from Pulp).
- Shelley went solo, during which time he recorded the synth-pop single Homosapien with producer Martin Rushent. The experience doing all the drum machine and synth programming for that single would serve Rushent well, as his next project was The Human League’s ground-breaking album Dare! (the one with their big single, Don’t You Want Me).
- Tony Wilson, who hosted a TV show featuring the still-new punk rock movement, and Martin Hannett were there. They would go on to become a key figure in the Manchester and alt-rock scene by:
- Starting Factory Records, which featured a number of notable bands: Joy Division, New Order, A Certain Ratio, The Durutti Column, Happy Mondays, Northside, and (briefly) Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and James.
- Wilson would open the legendary nightclub, The Hacienda, featured in the movie 24 Hour Party People and a key player in the rise of the acid house and rave scenes.
- Hannett who would go on to become a legendary record producer.
- Steven Patrick Morrissey was also in attendance. He’d ditch his first two names and 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.
- Also there:
- 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.
- 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
- Mick Hucknall, who would go on to become the lead vocalist of Simply Red
- And finally, 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.
The headlining act (the Sex Pistols) and the organizers (who’d go on to form the Buzzcocks) of this poorly attended, seemingly insignificant gig were so influential that they’d end up in Jack Black’s lesson in School of Rock…
…and the concertgoers from that gig would go on to build the foundations of alternative rock and influence a lot of people who took up the electric guitar, synthesizer, or turntables.
In theory, this concert should’ve amounted to nothing, but in the end it changed everything in the music world.
The Gig That Changed the World 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 they made their mark on the world.
Tampa / St. Petersburg 2017: The week that could change the world
The people behind Tampa Bay Startup Week (the 2015 team is 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 Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto organizing the Sex Pistols gig, 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-late 1970s, the work-life dynamic in Tampa Bay in the mid-late 2010s is undergoing some big changes:
- People are moving here in droves,
- Forbes has put this area in the number two spot on their top 10 list of cities for young entrepreneurs,
- we’ve got both University of South Florida and University of Tampa teaching entrepreneurship,
- The Iron Yard is teaching motivated go-getters to code,
- One Million Cups has consistently been gathering hustlers every Wednesday,
- we have more than our fair share of makerspaces, what with The Hive, Tampa Hackerspace, and Eureka! Factory,
- we put on a great BarCamp, CodeCamp, and Ignite,
- and we have a healthy tech meetup scene.
The team at Tampa Bay Startup Week have done their part by organizing their event for Tampa and St. Pete, just as Shelley and Devoto did back in 1976 by bringing the punk rock to Manchester. How the rest of the story ends is up to us.
I’ll repeat what I said at the start of this article: In theory, Tampa Bay Startup Week should amount to nothing. In practice, and as shown by music history, if we take inspiration from the event, make friends and connections, and take action, it could be that gathering that changed the world.
Visit Tampa Bay Startup Week’s site to find out what’s up this week!
For those of you who’d like to know more about The Gig That Changed Everything, here’s the BBC’s special on the event, titled I Swear That I Was There:
This article is the 2017 revision of an article I posted in 2015.