Writer Jasmine Khan / Photographer Andrew Roberts
Birmingham to London, it might only take an hour and fifteen on the train, but anyone who has spent time in both cities knows they can be worlds apart. I’m catching up with newly appointed BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ, Kaylee Golding (aka Ya Favourite Gyal From Brum), following her return from the capital and her first week on the job as a daytime presenter for 1Xtra.
Making history as the first regular BBC 1Xtra weekday broadcaster outside of London, I wonder if she’s got the answers. How do we stop all of Brum’s rising musical talent from being dragged down south and what does the return of Kaylee, and the arrival of 1Xtra, mean for the future of Birmingham’s creative scene?
Kaylee is a massively welcoming presence; her big smile and easy conversation makes it feel like you’ve known her for years. “I think London can be such a big place that that sense of community might not always be there,” Kaylee says, considering the differences between London and Brum, as we lounge in Medicine Bakery in the Mailbox.
“It can be in each borough or in each radio station that you’re in, but in Birmingham I do feel like everyone really knows everyone. I also think the music is incredible, there’s so much rising talent.”
Kaylee’s resolute, “home’s home at the end of the day”, and after six years working in London she’s ready to shine some light on the vast array of artistry Birmingham has to offer.
It’s good to note the positives first.
Kaylee praises Charley Valentine in particular, who Kaylee started doing music with when they were “literally in church,” as well as events like “Boxed Out” which she says is an “amazing event with an amazing community.” Kaylee also takes a moment to “plug plug” her own event ‘On Your Gaydar’ which puts on brunches and day events for the LGBTQ+ community.
Moving onto the not-so-positives, Kaylee explains: “I think what’s very difficult in Birmingham is we don’t always have the infrastructure, so when people are living here I’ve seen a lot of them give up on their dreams.
“There’s just so much going on in this city, it’s insane. But I’m just seeing a lot of people still moving to London and I get it… I did the same thing. But it’s about us trying to work together and build.
“In other cities, you can be handed opportunities a little bit more. It’s like an ‘Oh, we have a lot of funding so there’s this internship. Or there’s this, or there’s that. Whereas in Birmingham you have to go and find these hidden gems, these opportunities, and just make the best of us not having everything.”
While we all know Birmingham is struggling to compete with London and other established creative cities like Manchester, with many major artists missing it as a stop on their national tour dates, Kaylee is optimistic about where our local creative scene is moving.
“The infrastructure is definitely growing as the city grows and I see a lot more people wanting to be in the creative industry and wanting to invest in themselves which is wicked.”
However, she goes on to say: “Funding is a massive thing because to be a creative you have to have the money to invest in yourself, you have to have money for equipment, you have to have the money to be able to volunteer and say, ‘I’m going to go to practise my craft with this.’ So without funding people can’t be creative.”
It’s tough out there, especially with the cost of living crisis. Yet, Kaylee’s got plenty of steam to put behind Birmingham, she wants local musicians to back themselves and stick it out with their craft.
Kaylee’s keen to examine Birmingham from every angle, explaining how hard it is to be the first to make movements and build from the ground up. But also how “our creative scene is so much more talented because you have to really graft. The people that hold out do really well, and longevity is a great thing.”
Somewhat hesitantly, Kaylee adds: “Sometimes, when I say sense of community, people sleep on people in Birmingham. By that term I mean, it’s not until people leave the city and make big moves that everyone’s like ‘Oh, hold on one second we love this person’.
“The OG’s that have been doing it in Birmingham for a long time, if we support them more then they’re more than just local Birmingham artists, we have to push them outside of our city as well.”
And I agree, we got a bit of an issue consistently showing up for musicians and creatives as a whole in Brum. And whilst everyone knows everyone, not everyone in the creative community is doing as much as they can to look out for the scene as a whole.
Kaylee continues: “If we’d supported them (musicians) a lot earlier on in their journey, and I’ve seen it with so many people, they wouldn’t have to leave the city… because the city is supporting them.
“If you’re making enough noise in your city, then other people will find you,” says Kaylee confidently. “Whereas in Birmingham we kinda go the other way round, like you go to another city and make a lot of noise and then your city supports you.”
Bands that go the distance rarely do so in isolation. As Kaylee tells us, a bit of noise brings more noise and builds bigger, more sustainable creative communities, allowing individual artists/bands to rise up and be successful.
We’re in complete agreement, collectivity is vital – but how does this translate into action?
“There’s things that everyone can do,” explains Kaylee, “If you’re just a general consumer you can listen to people’s music more often to make sure they’re getting the streams, you can use word of mouth, when people ask you who you listen to the first people that come to mind could be local artists. It’s little things like that.”
Getting into it, Kaylee stresses: “I understand it’s a cost of living crisis, but if you go out anyways and you go to the same resident clubs all the time, you might as well go to an event, go see some music, go support a different DJ. You just turning up is supporting.
“If you’re putting on an event, make sure you’re booking local guests and performers. If you’re on radio yourself you can make sure you’re trying to play local artists.
“A lot of things come up in conversations that you’re having with people. It could just be having a conversation and someone’s got a project, I could say I really appreciate this artist and then next thing you know they’ve got a collab and they’re doing something.
“It’s about making sure that if you’re in the heart and soul of the community then you’re having these conversations and you’re doing these things.”
Now Kaylee is firmly back in the centre of Birmingham’s music scene, what is she going to be doing to improve the plight of Brummie creatives, and can we expect to see more BBC Radio stations making a move to the Midlands?
Kaylee makes it abundantly clear she’ll be keeping an ear to the ground for local talent to spin and an eye out for gigs to attend. She stresses, “a lot is already happening,” noting the recent (somewhat controversial) move of Radio 1’s Newsbeat to the second city, as well as “most of the Asian Network” making their home in the Mailbox.
With the BBC set to move its entire Birmingham base to Digbeth by 2026, Kaylee “doesn’t know” if there are plans to move more significant sections of BBC Radio to Birmingham.
For now, Kaylee thinks what’s most important are “the shows that have moved down, it’s for us to really get it right and be successful because then it’s proof to the different broadcasters that Birmingham works.” And work it does.
Kaylee Golding hosts 1Xtra from 1-4 pm Monday to Friday, you can listen live here www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/live:bbc_1xtra
For more from Kaylee Golding to go: www.kayleegolding.com
For more from Medicine Bakery go to: www.medicinebakery.co.uk
For more from The Mailbox go to: www.mailboxlife.com