What the Sex Pistols’ 1976 gig and Tampa Bay Startup Week 2017 have in common

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

The Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England.

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.

The Sex Pistols.

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:

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…

You can see the Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks listed under “Punk”. Click here to see the full blackboard.

…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:

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.

Further reading

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.