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Many people across Oxfordshire joined us at the Metamorphosis-inspired tent, Jitterbug, over a blustery weekend to mark Kafka’s centenary. Nearly 3,000 people joined a free programme of talks, yoga, crafting, storytelling, circus, cabaret, spoken word and the culmination of a dance programme for a group with Parkinson’s.

Created by Trigger and co-produced by Trigger and the Cultural Programme, the events included workshops with local artists and organisations like Oxford’s Story Museum , bringing their own unique approach to share with the general public. They were joined by academics from the University of Oxford who provided an insight into Kafka’s work and how this still has relevance today.

Highlights across the three day event included our very own costumed buzzy bee and fuzzy fly characters who entertained the children, who were also encourged to have their face painted, chase bubbles and make their own buzzy bee costumes. This was followed with an exclusive evening performance by the ‘rebel chantreuse’ and international superstar, Meow Meow, who wowed the audience with her Kafka-esque performance of classic show tunes from the likes of Kurt Weill through to the more contemporary ‘Itsy Weeny Yellow Dot bikini’ number on Friday.

Our costumed characters were on hand again when a fashion show took centre stage on Saturday, judged by the team at Dragademia, who also almost brought the tent down in the evening with an outrageous cabaret performance followed by a debut collaboration between local aerial artiste Julia Sparkle and MC RAWZ. 

These were interspersed by panel sessions across the three days, hosted by resident Kafka academics from the University of Oxford. around such topics as Kafka’s influence on contemporary art, his approach to his work and his enduring legacy. A final panel session on Sunday also discussed the fascinating world of insects and their pivotal role in shaping our future.

The Bodleian’s printing press also worked hard on Sunday and produced almost 500 insect images. A further 2,000 people stopped by to see Jitterbug and take photos and more than 500 took away a copy of the Bodleian’s special edition of Metamorphosis.

Our thanks to our creative partner, Trigger and all the artistes, academics and organisations who helped make this event such a success, and to the crowds who joined us to make it all worthwhile. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

Iconoclastic composer Steve Martland (1954-2013), known for crossing musical boundaries, has inspired an exciting project to explore and revive his ground-breaking music and introduce local audiences to his work who may be unfamiliar with contemporary classical music. Ahead of a performance at The Bullingdon, Oxford in June, we reflect on the legacy of this experimental composer who made significant contributions to contemporary classical music. As we pass the 11th anniversary of Martland’s passing in May, his innovative spirit and defiance of convention continues to resonate, making his work as relevant today as it was during his lifetime.

Breaking boundaries in music

Steve Martland was not content with the conventional confines of classical music. His compositions were a unique blend of the classical tradition mixed with the unconventional. He is the only composer signed to the now legendary Factory Records. With them he performed alongside DJs at infamous Haçienda nightclub and released albums under their ‘Factory Classical’ imprint. Factory’s aim here resonated with Martland’s in that it sought to cross boundaries, this time in marketing classical music to their regular post-punk/alternative audience.

Unconventional and informal performances

One of Martland’s most significant contributions was his mission to perform classical music outside the traditional concert hall environment. He wanted his music to be accessible to all and often staged his performances in less formal, more dynamic settings such as clubs, pubs and local arts centres, bringing his powerful compositions to new and diverse audiences.

Inspiring research

The project has developed into a series of concerts in collaboration with the Komuna Collective – a group of young artists, musicians, DJs, and composers committed to an interdisciplinary approach to the arts – bringing Martland’s compositions for string quartet and the Steve Martland Band to bars and clubs in Oxford and London alongside newly commissioned works. Inspired by his experimental approach the performances will see local DJs work in and around the classical works performed.

Newly commissioned works

Whilst Martland wrote a series of works for the ensemble line-up of the Steve Martland Band, with his death in 2013 these works are rarely heard together and few composers have written for this instrumentation which is a great shame given that it crosses many genre and audience borders. You can expect rarely heard performances of these works and newly commissioned pieces inspired by Martland’s approach. The upcoming concert will be a fitting tribute to his lasting influence and a celebration of his enduring legacy.

Don’t miss Steve Martland Hits the Club on Friday 14 June, 8.30pm, at The Bullingdon, Oxford, which is free to attend.

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