“What IF…” places youth voices at the heart of a creative process to make music videos as provocations for discussion within the Oxford science and ideas Festival.
Participants are typically not looking for a music project but abandon scepticism and enjoy the process as confidence gathers pace. It involves 30-40 contact hours of youth work, bringing in artists and production specialists that fit with the interests of a small group of exceptional young people who may have been directly involved in the criminal justice system.
There is a positive change in each person, for example: 13 year-old Cameron (pseudonym), shared experiences of complex mental health difficulties that included self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Cameron began to channel his feelings into his music and developed a powerful song. Care home staff noticed a change in Cameron’s behaviour; rather than shouting, he went to his room to write when he was feeling upset and had not self-harmed since the project began.
IF Oxford creates opportunities for new voices to be part of a rich innovation landscape. This project has evolved with many partners, including Oxfordshire Youth Justice Service and a University of Oxford social scientist researching how class background influences language usage and other behaviours, prompting the question: What if socioeconomically disadvantaged could youth better express their emotions?
Watch the videos below…
…the 2020 tracks
The team began developing the 2020 version in January 2020, planning to work with up to a dozen young people to create new music and videos for release during IF Oxford in October 2020.
Recruitment was in its early stages as the COVID pandemic struck the UK, creating a situation where everyone was waiting for the crisis to subside, hoping to deliver the project in the usual way, possibly at the end of the summer holidays.
In 2020, everything ground to a halt or adapted to work in new ways, What IF chose to maintain a youth-centred project and the team adopted a one-to-one approach. New challenges prompted a whole range of ideas from conspiracy theories, to music engineering or developments in criminal activity. The wrap-around creative process allowed for individual tracks and videos to be created by working remotely and in recording studios when COVID measures were implemented.
Three new music tracks were presented at a Festival event on 9 October 2020 and were later shown to Oxford City Councillors and the Minister of State (Ministry of Justice), Lucy Frazer, QC.
Collecting feedback from the young people themselves, their parents and Youth Justice Officers, revealed positive changes in participants’ mood, outlook on life and engagement with creativity. Three of the young people have joined a mainstream community music project with In-Spire Sounds to continue their artistic development since ending their work on What IF.
With thanks to the collaborating artists: Rawz, King Boyden, Easy, Sam Mansell, Danyal Ince and Matty Bowles.
…the 2019 tracks
The project was repeated twice in 2019, first with a Channel 4 documentary producer researching County Lines, working with older teenagers. This offered the opportunity to create a posse video while creating material (later unused) for broadcast.
The second version worked with younger teenagers to reflect on community and neighbourhood themes, using photography as an ethnographic tool to inspire lyric writing.
These two very different examples of music share roots in the darker circumstances young people may experience and stimulated a third activity within the Festival. This public discussion event brought together families, two social policy researchers and two practitioner-trustees of a youth charity to explore the lived experiences of young people within their community.
…the 2018 tracks
The first project in 2018 involved several 13–16 year olds, a group of musicians and MCs, sound engineers, video making professionals and social scientists. Workshops explored aspects of youth culture, touching on crime and the question “what if?”
Youth participants co-produced their own rap-music videos and mixed-format performances. They worked with Soundworks and Inner Peace Records, developing tracks and videos with Rawz, Rodney P and Nutty P.
The videos and live performances formed events in the 2018 Oxford science and ideas Festival for an audience of 150 people which premiered in Oxford Playhouse.
There is huge appetite to further develop this project and explore how young people can find routes into creative outlets, from filmmaking and music making to storyboarding, gaining insights into technical or creative careers.
What IF… has invested £40,000 from grants and donations (2018, £14,00; 2019 , £7,000 and £9,000; 2020, £10,000) by bringing together relatively small funding opportunities over the past three years to make professional music videos created by youth participants working with professional creative role models.
Partners working with What IF include, the British Science Association, Leys Community Development Initiative (CDI), Oxfordshire Youth Justice Service (YJS) and a donation from the Saunders family in memory of Diana Ford.
Creative organisations and freelance musicians include Urban Music Foundation, Soundworks and Inner Peace Records, who support the creative processes required to make this project work.