In February 2015, Bram E Gieben competed against fifteen of Scotland’s best slam poets to win the title. He’ll go on to represent Scotland in the Slam Worlds in Paris in June. Rally & Broad were both in the audience that night, and it was an incredible performance, equal parts power, control and fire. We’re delighted that he’ll be appearing at Rally & Broad on Friday 20th March for ‘Dance While The Sky Crashes Down’ with RM Hubbert, Alan Bissett, Lynsey May and Elyssa Vulpes. In the meantime, a few queries about what makes him tick tick tick…
- So…how does it make you feel?
It honestly feels incredible, for a number of reasons. I’ve always seen myself as something of an outsider on the slam, hip-hop and poetry scenes – too hip-hop for the poetry crowd, too poetry for the hip-hop crowd, and too hard to place for a lot of slam judges and fans. To win, especially against a huge field of very talented poets, has definitely made me feel that I’ve been working towards this eventual goal, and that it hasn’t all been in vain. I was ready to quit slam after this year, just to make space, I guess, for new voices… but this has given me an extra boost to keep going. What I hope, more than anything, is that my win gives hope to people whose poetry is a little weirder, edgier and more combative that they too can win slams and acclaim for their performances if they work hard enough… and that it’s not always deeply personal, emotionally-wrought poems and poets who win; that polemic and rhetoric and satire and wordplay all have their place, if delivered with passion and a little bit of stagecraft.
- You’ve been doing spoken word in Scotland for a while. What are your thoughts on the scene over the past number of years? And how is it looking to you now?
I think in may ways the scene is healthier than it’s ever been – people like Loud Poets have popularised it for a new generation of people, and the level of talent coming up through the ranks is inspiring. Someone like Sam Small, who I’ve collaborated with in the past, have pushed spoken word out to new audiences who had never encountered it beofre. There’s a progression – a talented poet can go from packed clubs and bars doing open spots or features, to paid gigs at showcases like Rally & Broad and Neu! Reekie! I have benefitted from that progression a great deal, and I think in general, spoken word has much more mainstream recognition than it did when I started 10 years ago. If I was going to be negative for a second, I might express some concerns that a generic, slam-influenced style and solipsistic subject matter have become more prevalent – I think it is still very hard to get noticed or applauded in the same way if your work is transgressive or experimental, and I also think this is a factor in the feeling that some artists have that work which deals with gender, sexuality or race in a confrontational way can sometimes be passed oveer or marginalised. I might also lament the fact that although the performance scene is driving interest in poetry, it is still page poets who get most of the press – as if one has to ‘graduate’ to the page from the ‘sophomoric’ spoken word scene. But these are minor quibbles, and quibbles that existed in some form 10 years ago, so I don’t let it bother me much. The fact is, the scene continues to grow and evolve with little outside interest or interference, and probably, this is a good thing. I’d like to see more Scottish poets travelling to perform, I’d like to see more recognition for Scottish poets from English tournaments, organisers and events. But the fact is if any of that is going to happen, we have to make it happen ourselves. Thus has it ever been!
- Poet, performer, rapper, musician, novelist, journalist, record producer, ex-Chemikal Poet, Post-cyberpunk miserablist and crime junkie…you have an insane number of strings to your bow. How do they relate to one another? And do any of them play more loudly than others, for you?
I’ve long struggled to separate music, spoken word, performance and storytelling. I think the confusion about ‘what I do’ stems from that. With my new stage show, I am combining all of these disciplines and approaches – something which synthesises them all in a theatrical way is what I am working towards. Journalism was fun for a while but wasn’t very renumerative – like many of the strings in my bow, coins don’t tend to rain from the sky when I pluck them. But I am still writing the odd piece for places like The Quietus, and I still write fiction for publication as well as performance. In my experience, self-taught artists like myself, in this day and age, are usually multi-platform artists. It’s a function of the accessibility of the means of production, promotion and visualisation which are part and parcel of our bold new creative era. The one thing left for me to figure out is what I, as an artist, can do which will be a financially rewarding pursuit as well as a creatively fulfilling one. I;m working on that…
- How important are Slams?
I think slams are vital for a number of reasons – first and foremost, they still draw a big crowd, and for an event organiser, the slams tend to help pay for the shows, which will be quieter but more expensive to mount. Secondly, they make you raise your game, by comparing yourself to other poets, and learning from their technique. Thirdly, they provide a calendar or focus for a calendar of spoken word events in a city or region. This gives the scene a chance to renew itself every few years. The only way in which they are damaging, I think, is in terms of what they do to some poets’ egos. It’s worth remembering that the opinion of a judge – no matter how qualified – is just that, an opinion, and that there is a degree of arbitrariness in every slam contest. Finally, I’d say that the need for more regulatuon of which slams qualify a poet for the nationals, how that qualification works, and standardisation of rules for slams is looking increasingly necessary, just to avoid squabbles over fairness. I can see a two-tier ‘pro’ and ‘semi-pro’ slam circuit arising in years to come, and I think that raises as many problems as it solves…
- What are you bringing to Paris with you in June?*
I’ll be bringing some old favourites like BURN and KEEP GOING. I am a bit worried about finding a French person who can translate words like ‘phenotype’ and ‘polycyclical’ in plenty of time… I’m optimistic, as they like a bit of controversial politics and science fiction, the French.
- Finally, looking to ‘Dance While The Sky Crashes Down’ at Rally & Broad in March…how will the world end?
I’m on record as being a great believer in ecophagy, or Earth-death. I strongly believe we are among the last generations of humans to walk the planet. I think the world will not end, but rather carry on without us, or with a considerably diminished human presence. The great die-off seems inevitable to me. There are a few technological scenarios I could see ending capitalism, dispensing with profit-driven economic models and leading to a kind of population plateau, which might resemble a post-singularity technocratic utopia, where humans get to mine the asteroid belt, explore the stars and spread the human virus beyond the Sol system. But my strong gut instinct tells me that billions upon billions of us will die before those technological high water-marks are reached.
In the resulting chaos, I think it’s unlikely that the values we prize as ‘civilised’ will be seen as important by those with the traits to survive. My prediction for the next few decades is an abrupt slide into fascist totalitarianism for what is now known as the ‘West’ and a continuing descent into medieval barbarism elsewhere in the world, with the surviving population hotspots tending to favour dictatorships like Russia rather than quote-unquote ‘democracies’ such as we inhabit. The erosion of liberal values in favour of ruthless self-preservation is already perfectly visible in the rise of UKIP and the Conservatives in the past decade. But the true horror won’t start until the temperature rises a few degrees – then you’ll see democratic and liberal values thrown out in favour of the genocide and murder of climate change refugees. Religion is due for a big revival – people will reject utopianism and myths of progress in favour of the simplistic ‘eye for an eye’ fables of dead eras.
Teach your children to hunt, fish and grow vegetables. Teach them to kill without hesitation in self-defence. Teach them to ride horses. Teach them not to put their faith in machines or live their lives through the proxies of social media. All very easily said, of course. Harder to do. Me? I plan to hole up in a tower block with a bicycle-powered dynamo, a DVD player and a box-set of Adventure Time. That or join some sort of post-apocalyptic biker gang….