Play Hard

Sunday sit-down with… Eunice Li, Urban Kingdom

Ahead of their 10-year celebration show at The Cluny this Friday – which features an all-local, all-female line-up – Urban Kingdom’s tour organiser tells us why the video and documentary makers are redoubling their efforts to champion women in the music industry

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 17.07.2021

Urban Kingdom began with two film graduates moving into a broken-down flat on Westgate Road, Newcastle.

In a creative industry still struggling with the after-effects of the 2008 recession, Nick Donnelly and Oliver Whitehouse decided to turn their bedrooms into film studios and began shooting local music videos for no budgets. With nothing to lose, the pair started producing videos with artists they felt were underrepresented in the mainstream media at the time. They created a home for these artists online – a platform called Urban Kingdom, which reached 10 million viewers in only its first year.

Fast-forward a decade and the Urban Kingdom team have collaborated with iconic musicians – such as jazz legend Lonnie Liston Smith and Motown mogul Martha Reeves – have shared festival line ups with the likes of Wu-Tang Clan and Busta Rhymes, and were the creative superpowers behind God Save The Queen: the world’s first all-female cast documentary film in the music industry.

In 2019, Urban Kingdom produced the book Generation W, which features 100 very different women answering the same 10 questions about living at some point during the last 100 years, since women first earned the right to vote in the UK.

These women include Olympic legend Sally Gunnell, NHS Lifetime Award-winning surgeon Dr Averil Mansfield, actress and environmentalist Lily Cole, Beyoncé’s Freedom songwriter Carla-Marie Williams, and Hannah Williams, who was sampled by Jay-Z on the title track to his last album, 4.44.

Safe to say, then, that Urban Kingdom are a pretty big deal.

Armed with creative vision, flair and a commitment to championing women not only in the music industry but in every industry, it was only really going to be a matter of time before our paths crossed. And we couldn’t be happier that we just so happened to have met the Urban Kingdom team ahead of their history-making 10 year celebration show at The Cluny this Friday night.

Why history-making, you ask? Well, the show – which features an all-local, all-female line-up, including former HLN Meets The Musician, Lizzie Esau – will be Urban Kingdom’s first-ever public event in Newcastle. It will also mark the start of a nationwide tour which will see them collaborate with some of the most exciting independent artists and venues on the UK music scene right now.

We caught up with Urban Kingdom’s tour organiser, Eunice Li, to find out how preparations for the show are going, why local indie artists Georgia May, Lizzie Esau, Abi Nyxx and Phibi are all ones to watch, and just how special it will be to open the Urban Kingdom tour right here in their hometown…

 

 

What’s Urban Kingdom all about?

Urban Kingdom was started in Newcastle around 10 years ago by our founder, Nick, and his friend Oliver. They just wanted to create a platform that’s separate from all the commercial stuff that you find on YouTube, for example. Urban Kingdom is very much about being independently owned and really giving artists their own platform without having to compromise any of their creative outlets. Oliver left Urban Kingdom in the early years, after finding out he was to become a father. He needed to move back home, where he started his own platform, Sektion Red. But we’re still a big independent community. Oliver’s daughter, Eve, actually wrote in Generation W, back when she was just 6 years old!

Urban Kingdom was started as a site-only video platform and, ever since, the team has worked on a whole load of different types of projects. Our main process is always about creating work that survives time and celebrates the truth of our characters.

 

And Generation W is one of those projects?

Absolutely. Generation W is all about empowering women. During lockdown, we produced an online festival series through the Generation W brand, which featured 50 female artists from all over the world who filmed their videos themselves and then we published them all exclusively on our platform. We’ve also created our debut book, also titled Generation W, which features the stories of women from all walks of life. The natural progression now is that, for the rest of this year, we’re taking Generation W on tour with a series of live shows.

 

 

When did you join Urban Kingdom?

I joined last September. Mainly, I’ve been helping Nick organise and prepare for the tour: finding sponsors, looking at different venues and artists and liaising with everyone behind the scenes.

Throughout lockdown, there have been so many unprecedented changes that we’ve had to deal with, so it’s involved a lot of strategising and thinking about different ways we can work to ensure that we’re still putting on the best shows that we can.

So the Newcastle show is the start of a UK-wide tour?

Yes, we’re starting things off in Newcastle. We’ve recently confirmed a date in London’s Soho in August, and then in September/October we’re going to Nottingham, Leeds and Glasgow. We’re speaking with more venues at the moment too, but they’re waiting for confirmation that restrictions will stay lifted. But Newcastle is definitely our first show, and it’s extra special for us as that’s where Urban Kingdom first started.

 

 

Urban Kingdom presents… Generation W at The Cluny this Friday will be Urban Kingdom’s first ever public event in the city where it all started. Why is now the right time for a gig like this?

Independent artists are becoming more popular than ever before and there are now more platforms out there for them to be able to showcase their talent, without them having to be part of a mainstream label or having a big record deal backing them. People really want to hear from independent artists now. And especially, I think, from women.

 

Females have always been underrepresented in the industry – in any industry, really – and now we’re finally living in a society which is becoming more and more focused on finally empowering women and empowering independent artists.

For us, all this goes hand-in-hand with a live tour, especially after a whole year of staying indoors and of artists not being able to earn a living. Hopefully everyone’s going to be really excited to come along and hang out at the show on Friday – especially as it’s the first weekend we’re actually allowed to have life back to some degree of normal!

 

How important is it to you all to have the gig at The Cluny?

We’re so happy! The Cluny is one of the most famous venues in Newcastle, and they’ve been closed for live music during lockdown too so it’s going to really great for everyone involved to open up there. It just feels like we’re really starting afresh in the arts world.

 

Talk us through the all-female line up – why are Lizzie Esau, Georgia May, Abi Nyxx and Phibi all perfect for this gig?

They’re all self-starting talents who are very confident, and the fact that they’re all from the North East really helps hammer home that sense of community at the show. They’re all very different as well – Abi is more grime and old school hip-hop, while Lizzie is more indie/hip-hop; Phibi has that bluesy feel to her music and Georgia is out-and-out soul. So having such a varied line up is a great way to cater to all different types of audiences. We hope there’ll be a good mix in the crowd!

Urban Kingdom have always been huge supporters of women in the music industry. Why is this so important to you guys? 

The idea for the Generation W online festival series, for example, came at a time when a lot of festivals were being called out for not having enough female headliners, or sometimes for not having any female headliners at all. And that’s still an ongoing battle. What Urban Kingdom really wants is to get ahead of the game and provide more availability and accessibility to female artists. Because there are a lot out there! And people just don’t know about them. Festivals are one of the best places to discover new artists, so if you don’t give female artists a slot then they’re never going to be as celebrated as their male counterparts.

The show will be your first time in Newcastle. Is there anywhere you’re particularly looking forward to visiting?

I’ll have about a day to explore, so I’m just excited to walk around the city and soak it all in as much as I can! I think Nick is going to show me some places too, so he’s going to be my tour guide! We’ll be doing some photoshoots and we’ll definitely visit Full Circle Brewery at some point, as they’re sponsoring the show.

What would be your advice to any women in the North East looking to start a career within the music or video production industry?

Support each other. It’s so important. The industry is so competitive and, especially as women, you have to stick together. It’s such a cheesy thing to say, but it’s true! And utilise the fact that you are female too, especially within such a heavily male-dominated industry. Sometimes it’ll seem really bleak – during the lockdown it just seemed like it was never going to get back to normal – but there is always light at the end of the tunnel. So I’d say persevering is very important, too.

 

 

What does the future look like for Urban Kingdom?

We’re creating a tour documentary, so we’ll be releasing that at some point. In August, we’re launching a new video platform called Generation-W.com, which we will be previewing new exclusive shorts from at our show at The Cluny.

And then, after all that, we’re hoping to be able to do more live shows in the future. Maybe even outside of the UK – because we have worked with a lot of artists from different countries. So lots to look forward to!

Urban Kingdom presents: Generation W, doors: 7.30pm

The Cluny, 36 Lime Street, Ouseburn, Newcastle NE1 2PQ

To find out more about Urban Kingdom, check out their website or follow them on Instagram

 

 

 

 

 

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