Every time I go to a conference about creativity and innovation, I'm struck by just how uncreative and dull they are: hideous bland venues that are too big and lack emotion house stale formats and dreary presentation. So setting a digital media conference inside Bath's Assembly Rooms was clearly something so fabulously surreal that you just knew it had to be different. For underneath the plasterwork and chandeliers - redolent of Jane Austen's miserable marriage markets - was the most startling array of funny, clever, edgy technologists assembled in the U.K. Something delicious about the contrast between bleeding edge tech and Georgian architecture made Bath's Digital Festival utterly distinctive, original and inspiring.
Here, at last, was a festival for digital media entrepreneurs run by digital media entrepreneurs with just the combination of tech savvy and social exchange that characterizes a vibrant technology community. Nobody was talking about what Whitehall should do, about policy documents and frameworks. Instead, an assembly of hands-on artists, innovators and collaborators reported from the frontlines of digital development. And instead of wheeling out the usual cast of official spokespeople from big business, they brought in brilliant creatives from around the world to stoke and provoke collaborative thinking.
Esther Lim talking about the new trend in social discovery, Andy Mok exploring the digital scene in China, Julian Treasure talking about the power of sound: all the speakers got people thinking about what's next, what's powerful and what's global. The Onion's brilliant Baratunde Thurston did what every digital event must do: get people laughing, while Martha Ladley opened more than a few eyes to what multidisciplinary collaborative environments actually look like and do. These were just a few among a scintillating line up curated by entrepreneurs who appreciate that a vibrant tech community isn't one that just sells stuff - but one which thinks and works differently.
And for two days, selected digital entertainment projects got to work with international mentors at Peter Gabriel's Real World studios. This wasn't a talking shop but a place where real work happened.
The last thing the world needed was yet another conference with the same old speakers pitching the same old businesses and business models. So that wasn't what this was. Instead, it was a cross platform, cross media and cross cultural: a thoughtful, serious initiative designed to build momentum and connection around what is rapidly becoming a critical technology centre.
Why Bath? Well it turns out that students who come to two of the nation's top universities - Bristol and Bath - love living in the west country and stay there. They're proving they don't need to be in London, or Silicon Valley, to do ground breaking work. Neither do they look to Whitehall for hand outs. Instead, a quiet coalition between entrepreneurs and local government is bringing people together, removing obstacles and letting creative people do what they do best: come together and have great ideas. Most events like this just talk about creativity; this one just did it.
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