Beyond the great halls and impressive theatres of many bustling, modern cities, entire enclaves of music, art, sports and communities create and sustain themselves from the ground up. Tickets to see a play or ballet in the Sydney Opera House or Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre will always be high on a traveller’s to-do list, but beyond the glitz and glamour of the Louvre in Paris, lesser-known worlds thrive and continue to do their own thing, away from the prying eyes of tourists and tourism boards.
For the wanderer who wants to get into the scene of the cities travelled to, a whole new world awaits if you venture further away from this week’s recommended activities.
MAD ABOUT MUSIC
So you walk into a dingy bar where a local band is set to play. Beer is being poured, conversations are everywhere, the dance floor is starting to fill up. Or maybe it isn’t, and the band sets up and sound checks in front of an empty room – one that’ll stay empty as they play.
Maybe you’ve entered an open mic night and acoustic tunes from singer-songwriters fill the room, or a mohawked punk rock cover band brings the energy of decades past to the stage.
People mull over music with wine, a mosh pit begins to form, the crowd jostles and jeers, or claps and cheers – whatever it is that’s happening, it isn’t the sort of thing you’d read about in a guidebook, and definitely not the sort of show you’d see featured on the city’s TimeOut weekly guide.
Maybe you get a T-shirt to commemorate your introduction to this city’s indie scene which you will now forever wear with pride and smugness because back home, no one but you knows who this band is. Or maybe you buy a DIY CD, or a cassette tape, which is evidently the new way to say “we know you no longer have a machine to play us on but we don’t care because we’re THAT indie”. But hey, no judgment here.
Maybe the room fills up with smoke and there are 100 people in it when there should really only be 10, or the sound system is dreadful, or the beer is bad. But you’ve still been part of something you quite easily could have missed altogether.
For these reasons, it is highly recommended that before any new adventure, you suss out that site (there’s always a site) that tells you where to go for activities of this sort. Pick a band that sounds cool, find a nearby open mic night, investigate the scene on Twitter. Maybe you’ll hate it, maybe you’ll find people just like you, maybe you’ll realise the place you’re visiting is so much more than the Top Things To Do This Weekend list.
At the very least, you might acquire a new record and/or an appreciation for people who work hard to do what they love, whether or not it’s for your personal entertainment.
ARTY DOES IT
I get it. You’ve been to New York and you want to be able to say that you’ve been to the Met, because that’s obviously what people do. It didn’t get famous for nothing.
But beyond what the world has decided is the best art we have to show for ourselves, thousands of independent artists host their own shows in clusters of small art galleries, while cafes and event spaces team up with the city’s up-and-coming crew, and the next Van Gogh is still trying his best break into a bigger scene.
It all starts somewhere, and you could go right ahead and explore what we already know is great, what you’ve seen a million times in films, movies, books. Or you could take a chance and see what the next obscure art prodigy has been up to while you sip on wine and see how the undiscovered sophisticates interact with their work, their colleagues, their admirers.
A great thing about indie artists is that your experience with their work is always going to be that much more personal. Get a signed postcard or a print, have a conversation, ask about their plans, follow them on Instagram.
Art can already be amazing before the rest of the world decides where it stands.
THIS SPORTING LIFE
As much fun as it is to watch the world’s greatest athletes on home ground in massive stadiums, there’s so much more to the sporting world than what we see on TV. Instead of paying through your nose for a Premier League match, check out what’s going on in the city’s amateur boxing federation.
Show some love for women hitting hard and fast with the local roller derby league. Combine sports and music and venture over to see what the youth of today are doing with breakdance, or see a whole different side of the city’s façade with parkour.
None of this information is difficult to acquire online – find a cool new sport, take some awesome photos or try something new yourself.
FIND YOUR PEOPLE
People want to connect with other people who have similar interests. That’s just how our world works. Where there’s one person who loves cooking, there will be a group that person can join, never again having to cook alone or remain solo in their passion. Book clubs, women’s organisations, chess teams, hiking groups, food and wine pairing fanciness and everything else you can think of – put your concerns of language barriers and not knowing anyone in a new place aside and find your people, connect with them over what you already love and discover familiarity in a strange place.
If I can find a feminist community in Moscow who likes to gather and talk about the 1990s USA-led riot grrrl movement in Russian, and I have, you can find your thing, too.