Yesterday I visited the British Music Experience museum at the O2 in London. The first thing to say is that I have never before been so emersed in musical history, because this museum holds practically all records about music that has shaped our modern culture in Britain. Here is their promo video:
Before I even got there I knew that they keep up with modern customer desires – they use ‘smart tickets’ which allow you to bookmark your favourite parts of the exhibits – there were card readers throughout the museum where you just place the card on the reader and it registers for you (a bit like an Oyster card); you can then look back at what you have seen, on the website.
When you got in you were shown a really well-made video explaining what they have in the exhibits and how the smart ticket works.
I also knew, when I entered the main exhibition area (which they call ‘The Core’), that they ensure a pleasing appearance, with a multitude of lighting and projector effects throughout.
I was a little bit surprised as to how small the whole museum was, but that didn’t matter – there was already enough information to take in…
They had certain rooms designated to certain time periods and eras of British music. It started off with the mid-50s when Britain was inspired by American styles such as jazz and blues, creating the skiffle genre, which was responsible for creating pop music (with groups such as The Beatles and The Kinks), while some artists started to use harder sounds, forming early rock music – more artists started to follow this trend and some used inspirations from other genres such as RnB from the US, creating many diverse styles of rock – in the mid-70s during harsh economic times, artists such as the Sex Pistols started punk rock to protest, while other artists were developing hard rock, progressive rock, and heavy metal started to appear in the 80s, which was also a time when electronic instruments had started to be used by pop artists making electro-pop and new wave, which inspired underground rock artists to a new genre: brit pop, which was responsible for the more modern pop sounds, e.g. with boy and girl bands, and singer-songwriters, which is where we are in the present day.
It was totally fascinating experiencing this broad journey of how musical styles have evolved throughout time, and I’m sure, if you are a musician and keen in this gripping history, then I’m sure that you will love it too.
There were bucket-loads of interactive artefacts with hundreds of video clips and timelines which give insight into certain genres’ histories. There were even display cases filled with historic and valuable items, including guitars and clothes that various rock legends have played and worn, but they’re not your stereotypical boring cabinets with tiny bits of text – you put headphones on and a commentary gives more information about them, with video clips of them being used, on screens to the side.
It doesn’t stop there either. There were also displays (with headphones and commentaries) of various types of playback mediums used throughout history, such as gramaphones, cassette players and VCRs. Opposite were screens with headphones, with timelines of big broadcasts (e.g. TV and radio shows) throughout the years.
I’m not even nearly finished. There was a touchscreen (and headphones), which they called ‘Hey DJ!’ which showcases classic and important dance tracks (most were from the acid house era of the 1980s).
Last, but certainly not least, there was an interactive studio with various instruments and a vocal booth, with video tutorials on how to play them – I had a go at the guitar.
At the end of the visit, you are put into a room with a great big 3-sided cinema screen, with a number of screens behind it giving 3-dimensional effects, with strobe lights and a big sound system – in here they show highlights from famous concert videos – the lights and the sound really make you feel like you’re at a festival.
Coming here I think has really been valuable to me, to understand more about how modern styles of music and cultures of music in Britain have formed, and how people used to experience music.
I rate this museum 4 out of 5 – I would love to have rated it 5 but there are two things which are stopping me from doing that.
Firstly, I was in there for a while and I was getting hungry, and it was about lunchtime. Me and my mum therefore asked one of the members of staff if we could leave and come back in again – they didn’t let us. We eventually had to get the manager involved in order to let us leave. Not letting you go and have something to eat when there are no food facilities in the museum is really stupid.
Also, the smart ticket system is confusing – I realised, when I registered my ticket on their website, that you can only look at the information that you have bookmarked if you scan the ticket after you have looked at it (I did it mostly the other way round, so I got barely any information available) – they could have made that clearer.
Despite the mishaps, if you’re an aspiring musician like me, then visiting the British Music Experience is an unmissable chance to learn once and for all how music in Britain has got to what it is today.