What do the Sex Pistols’ 1976 gig and Startup Week Tampa Bay 2019 have in common?

In theory, Startup Week Tampa Bay should amount to nothing.

Let me start with a controversial statement.

In theory, Startup Week Tampa Bay 2019 should amount to nothing.

It’s almost a too-easy argument to make. Tampa Bay’s cities — Tampa, St. Pete, and Clearwater — don’t have the sort of entrepreneurial or tech cachet of Silicon Valley, Austin, and Seattle. It doesn’t even have the rep of “upstarts” such as Raleigh, Denver/Boulder, Toronto, and Montreal.

Tampa, St. Pete, and Clearwater are also overshadowed by other, better-known Floridian cities: Miami and Orlando. Tampa Bay’s geography and horrible traffic fracture the area. Between bridges and drive times that are twice what they should be, locals are reluctant to travel within their own areas, never mind the nearby sister cities.

In theory, Startup Week Tampa Bay is wasted money and effort that could be better spent on a metro area more likely to grow a good tech/startup scene.

I keep emphasizing the “in theory” part of my statements about Startup Week Tampa Bay, and it’s for a reason immortalized in a quote by computer scientist Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut:

If we play our cards right — and by “we”, I mean the organizers and us, the intended audience, Startup Week Tampa Bay’s accomplishments could be bigger than anyone dreamed, and certainly what would be expected in theory.

I say this because we’ve seen this sort of thing before. Of all the examples I could pick, I’m going to take one that’s close to my musician’s heart: 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

Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall.

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. 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 relatively unknown band called the Sex Pistols played a concert at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall. A mere 42 people attended. That’s 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”.

What separated this gig from all the other Tuesday night gigs with fewer than 50 people is who were involved and showed up:

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 ˆ 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.

Startup Week Tampa Bay 2019: The week that could change the world

The people behind Startup Week Tampa Bay (the 2019 team is pictured above) may not all 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, TechStars is very obviously 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 Startup Week Tampa have done their part by organizing their event for the Tampa Bay area, just as Shelley and Devoto did back in 1976 by bringing 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.

Worth reading/watching

Tampa Bay’s tech “scenius” depends on us: Scenius is a term that Brian Eno coined to describe the extreme creativity that groups, places, or “scenes” can generate. I recently wrote an article about it here.

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 2019 revision of an article I posted in 2015.

One reply on “What do the Sex Pistols’ 1976 gig and Startup Week Tampa Bay 2019 have in common?”

Comments are closed.