For anyone who’s been keeping their ear to the ground in indie music or those who mainline Youtube, the recent resurgence of the ukulele is nothing new. Besides the plinky, delicate musical styles represented by acts like Sufjan Stevens and Iron and Wine in the early-2000s and the rise of the online ukulele video star, the simplicity, portability, and price of the “uke” has made it a trendy item among a certain subset of the glasses-and-ironic-t-shirt crowd since the middle of the last decade. Naturally, then, this weekend’s Ukelear Meltdown III, the third annual installment of Britain’s most respected (and we should add, only) ukulele festival was the biggest in the event’s history.
Yes, that’s right—in the Battlefield area of the northern city of Newcastle, uke heroes from all across the land (or from within a good driving distance) converged on the charming Star and Shadow Cinema for two days of four-stringed rock madness. Citing the 1930s depression roots of the ukulele’s popularity in England, festival organizer Craig J. Wilson noted that an expanded lineup (including such relatively large stars as Ukelilli and Abdul Khan and the Projections) syncs up perfectly with the DIY ethos of our current Great Recession. ”I think when times get tough people do fall back on entertainment because they need a little light relief. I doubt there are many people going to see intense Brechtian plays at the ICA at the moment, but there’s probably a lot who are going to see funny films in their local Odeon. The ukulele fits very naturally into that niche.” Indeed, Mr. Wilson. As internet stardom seems only a $40 ukulele away and even Kanye West’s work is taking a turn for the dower, your little festival and the little instrument it’s dedicated to might just get bigger as the decade rolls along.
For a full list of festivals celebrating the weirdest and wildest sounds all over the globe, pick up a copy of our “Music + Travel: Worldwide” guidebook to musical scenes, styles, and venues.
“Punk Rock Ukulele Festival Opens in Newcastle” (Telegraph UK)
For more on Ukelear Meltdown go to www.ukelearmeltdown.wordpress.com.
Top—Dulwich Ukulele Club at Ukelear Meltdown II, 2009, courtesy of Boof Boy’s Flickr photostream.
Bottom (left to right)—Cat Green Bike at Ukelear Meltdown II, 2009, a ukulele with tuner at Ukelear Meltdown II, 2009, both courtesy of Boof Boy’s Flickr photostream.