Derry Goes Digital With CultureTECH

The inaugural four-day festival of 'tech, media and music' takes over venues across the maiden city

Gone are the days when journalists relied on landlines and shorthand to interview subjects over the phone. Nowadays, with smart phones becoming ubiquitous, and providing you have decent network coverage, you can interview anyone, anywhere, at any time, without a pen or pad in sight.

So ten minutes before I'm due to interview someone else at Queen's University, I record my conversation with CultureTECH director Mark Nagurski in my car, email the mp3 file to my Gmail account to transcribe later, and delete it from my flash card to free up space should I bump into Justin Bieber in the interim.

Rather than demanding that I respect his privacy, Nagurski would be proud. 'Whether you come from a theatre background, a visual arts background, a music background or a gaming background, digital technology is, increasingly, how we create, distribute and consume content,' he agrees.

And these days, not only do they have an app for that (Recorder is a great one for hacks working against the clock), but for those who know very little about digital technology (and if you're reading this online article, you already know more than you think) they also have festivals like CultureTECH.

'Four days of tech, media and music', the ambitious festival will take over venues across the maiden city from August 29 to September 1, 2012. The message that Nagurski and his cohorts hope to put across is that, when it comes to digital technology, the only thing to fear is fear itself.

'We’re coming at this festival from that angle, saying that anyone can use digital technology as an all round tool to develop their business, or promote their product, for very little money. We're hoping to convey that information, and inspire people who wouldn't consider themselves to be techies, in an accessible, enoyable way.'

This year, CultureTECH features an interesting mix of keynote speakers – from Edinburgh Festival CEO Kath Maitland to director of the Barbican Sir Nicholas Kenyon – musical performances by Duke Special and The Japanese Popstars, secret cinema film screenings by the Nerve Centre, workshops from the likes of Blipfoto founder Joe Tree, and the SeedComp digital start-up competition for those keen on developing a company based in Derry~Londonderry.

Open to anyone aged over 18 and based in Derry~Londonderry, the competition was won in 2011 by Conor Moran for Mobile Report, a 'report generating app for surveying professionals'. This year the format has changed somewhat, but Nagurski believes that SeedComp is the event that 'will have the most lasting legacy'.

'There’s a real mix of applicants this year, some who are recent graduates in their early 20s and others who have been involved in various industries for most of their adult lives. There are people with out and out software ideas, a huge music contingent, and some animation and gaming companies. But what they have in common is that they’re all local people who want to have a go at starting their own business.

'It was a bit of a pilot programme in 2011, but we still attracted 30 entries. The overall winner has now raised over £100,000 in additional investment and will be launching shortly. So last year’s event was extremely successful, and it demonstrated that there is a lot of talent and innovation here in Derry.

'This year we’ve been a bit tighter on the shortlist. We brought it down to six projects, who will all pitch to a panel during the festival. The panel will decide the final three, who will each receive a £5,000 prize. Then the three winners will present again during the keynote session on Friday, and the audience gets to pick the overall winner, who will be awarded an extra £5,000.'

Nagurski encourages the audience on the day to 'get into the spirit' of the competition and pose the final three 'some difficult, relevant questions'. It's an interactive element to CultureTECH 2012 that Nagurski hopes to expand on when the festival returns during the 2013 UK City of Culture celebrations.

The winner of SeedComp will have plenty of friends and competitors to learn from. Nagurski is full of praise for the 'creative spirit' prevalent in Northern Ireland's second city, and credits Digital Derry – 'a collaboration between all the organisations involved, from the public sector, the arts and cultural sectors, and of course the private sector, the companies themselves,' as he puts it – with stimulating and fostering a digital sector in the city.

'In the last two years the digital sector in Derry has nearly doubled in size, in terms of the number of companies that are actually operating here,' adds Nagurski. 'Part of that is coming out of the creative industries, and part from the software industry. So we have music technology companies, digital theatre companies, children's publications that are using the iPad and animation rather than traditional forms of media.

'From the 700 delegates who are registered to attend CultureTECH this year, I’d say a good quarter if not a third are delegates from outside of Northern Ireland, whether that be the Republic, elsewhere in the UK or from North America. There’s definite interest in what’s going on here. We have two or three companies that are coming with a specific view of looking at the city as a possible place to invest in.'

In the meantime, Nagurski certainly has his arms – and his inbox – full.

'This year we have 70+ industry speakers. We have a games tournament. We have a dozen film screenings, and we’ve got 50 music acts performing as well. We want to make sure that the current format works. Providing that all pans out, then we’ll consider how we move forward in 2013.'

Visit the CultureTECH website for information on all events, and to book your festival tickets.