Parisa East is a music artist and entrepreneur with many years of experience promoting live music events, supporting local talent, and providing quality cultural experiences in Nottingham. In 2009 she launched Acoustickle: a live music platform to spotlight emerging artists, and encourage musicians to share their original compositions with respectful audiences. With decorated venues, and intimate, inspiring performance spaces, the immersive atmosphere captivates all that are present. In 2022, she received an AIM award, as the East Midlands local hero, nominated by Dean Jackson, presenter of BBC Introducing. This is Parisa East, interviewed by Acoustickle’s very own CeCe about her visions for the future and the importance of creating a stage for unknown artists…
CeCe: So, Acoustickle is celebrating fifteen years, how did it start?
Parisa: It started when I was working at The Maze, a live music venue. I was just working on the bar and worked my way up the system. I was in the office, working on the admin side of things, and I noticed that while they had live music every night of the week, they consistently had a Monday, and Tuesday gap. So I said 'Well, can I just run an acoustic night?' You know, I’d heard that so-and-so was good and I’d seen different people perform. I just wanted to run something small, so we just did one randomly and called it Acoustic Mondays. Then Gaz and Steph at The Maze - who were kind of mentoring me at the time - said ‘so-and-so have asked if they could play an acoustic night, did you want to try and fit them in?’ So I started fitting on these artists, Jake Bugg was one of them! From the very first night, we decorated it. Sarah (who was working on the bar as well) was an NTU fashion student and she had loads of tablecloths, and we were like ‘yeah, let’s decorate!’ So we had fairy lights, candles, and tablecloths. From there it kind of, like, spiralled. Every time someone caught my ear, or if they applied to play - we’d get emails and messages all the time - it just built and built from that.
CeCe: How much do you think it’s changed over the years?
Parisa: It’s changed a lot. It’s much more refined. I get more requests from people to play, but I’m much more selective about who goes on. In the early days, I would put people on who wanted to play, and I wouldn’t be as selective about them, but then I found that I kind of personally felt off-put when I’d be sitting there and they weren’t doing a good job. I just felt ‘okay, this doesn’t sound that great, and it would put the audience off’ so I’ve made it much more selective. Also, I don’t put anyone on that I haven’t heard either through video, in real life, or audio. They have to play a live performance for me to put them on, even if it’s just standing in their kitchen because studio magic can change a lot of things.
And then finally, the way it’s changed is that the sound has refined much more, like the genres. So it’s much more music of Black origin now, the jazz, soul, hip hop, R&B, neo-soul, and grime genres were always present there, but now it’s become more about that for the past nearly ten years.
CeCe: What’s kept you going over the years?
Parisa: That’s a good question. I think the main thing is all of the talent that exists in Nottingham; the belief that this city could be a musical city on the map, just as Manchester or London is. There is so much creative talent here, and putting it all together and providing an experience where people can come and let off some steam and enjoy this talent and be like ‘wow, they’re from Nottingham?’ That’s very motivating.
I also feel like the spirit guides me there. There’s a sense of purpose and the sense that God has given me this gift of finding other people’s talent, putting it out there, and helping them to share their story. People who might not get the shine, have the opportunity to come to Acoustickle. There are very few promoters in the city who would take a chance on some artists, and I’m just like ‘yeah, you sound fantastic to me so let’s get you up there’ and then they gain a big following.
CeCe: What has been the peak and what has been the pit of putting on live events?
Parisa: The pit can be when you’ve worked for months and you’ve come out with minus £300 and you have to go into your own bank account to draw the money out of. It can be when you have arguments with artists, when people may misjudge you, or when you’re in a stressful environment and arguments can happen. Plus, I can be quite reactive, and I’ve had to learn to control my temper. My tone can be quite harsh, so I’ve gotten into a lot of arguments with people over the years. But then, the peak is the feeling of ‘we really pulled that off?’ and everyone is so happy, and there is just so much joy in the room. People have been able to leave their stress at home, or even be able to talk about their stress onstage, or have come and be feeling really shaky in their personal life, but have experienced the joy in the room. That feeling is what also keeps me going because it’s like we’re bringing some happiness to people’s lives. So yeah, the peak is up there with that.
CeCe: Yeah! So, if you could go back, knowing what you know now, and knowing what you’ve achieved, what would you do differently? If anything - sometimes the journey is the journey.
Parisa: The journey has journeyed. I think I would not put twenty artists that are playing my event and are playing loads of other events the same week, into a group chat with loads of promoters and cussing them all out in one go. I don’t really want to do that. I probably wouldn’t send as many voice notes and messages, and let people pull up so many receipts on me. And I think that I would care for myself more, have more security in self-belief, and probably let fewer people tell me about myself. Just have a few more boundaries and all of that.
CeCe: Well you can do all of that moving forward.
Parisa: Yeah we can do all of that moving forward, next fifteen years.
People who might not get the shine, have the opportunity to come to Acoustickle
CeCe: Yeah ma’am. Is there anyone you want to shout out?
Parisa: Ah, there’s loads of people! Gaz and Steph at The Maze first and foremost. If it wasn’t for them, Acoustickle would never have started. Steph, Lance Hume and Dan Beswick were the ones that gave Acoustickle its name, because I called it Acoustic Mondays, then Lance said ‘when’s your next Acoustic Tickle’ because he played the first one, the second one, the third one, the fourth one…
And then I was like ‘okay, call the next one Acoustic Tickle’ and then they came to me and said ‘why don’t you just shorten it to Acoustickle’ so I was like ‘cool!’ Thanks to them, that helped identify the event.
Ben from the Alley Cafe, who is actually Ben from The Angel Microbrewery, was the second ever person to give Acoustickle a platform. Then over the years, like Christine Mystique, yourself, LoveCelestene, Sarah Baker, Hannah Money, these artists who have helped decorate this space, made props. Hannah painted the Billie Holiday painting that we use to this day.
Danny JD, Just Jai, there’s loads of people who have come in and out of Acoustickle and have added their magic to it. Nyran from Riverton Rudeboys helped fund Acoustickle at one point; we put on Akua Naru together. Vince Wilson, who is Nathaniel’s dad from Mimm, helped, again he partnered to do Akua Naru. The guys from Great Northern Inns, and just like countless people, I can’t name everybody. But yeah, a lot of shoutouts to be done.
CeCe: So you’re an artist… How has putting on live events impacted your career?
Parisa: In all honesty, I think it’s made it harder, and I think there are multiple levels to that. So I didn’t have the time and the energy to invest in myself as much, and I didn’t have the self-belief. I think to be an artist you have to dedicate yourself to that craft. Running Acoustickle was always a part-time hustle, I’d usually have two, maybe three, jobs alongside just to keep Acoustickle going. To then fit my own art into that, especially where I was like ‘ah I’m not good enough,’ really impacted it.
On the flip side, I’ve met a lot of artists, producers, musicians, and people I still work with now. I’ve managed to put myself onstage, even if other people didn’t put me onstage. Not that I like doing that. I’ve networked and managed to open a few doors. I always knew that a career in the music industry was very difficult, and Acoustickle, to me, felt like a way that I could do that; to put on other people, to grow a community, but also to be able to give myself opportunities when nobody else was doing that, especially back in 2009, 2010, there wasn’t a lot of people, though Rastarella was one of them, there were not a lot of people who would put an unknown artist who doesn’t have a lot of material on a stage, in front of an audience, and pay them, and certainly not me. Yeah. I think it’s kind of that everything balances, there’s good and bad in every situation but for a long long time I did find it challenging to be an artist at the same time.
CeCe: Is it something you’re going to continue?
Parisa: Definitely, I need to continue it. I feel like it doesn’t leave me. I never used to say that I’m a singer, but now I’ll say it. I'm a singer, I’m a vocalist, I’m a writer, I’m a performer, I’m all these things. I’ve produced with a group of people - shoutout 80p & Chewsday - about five or six songs that are in their final stages, and there’s more to come. There is going to be music finally this year because I’ve never released solo work. I’ve worked with Origin One and we went to Boomtown Fair and Soundwave Croatia, and all over the UK, but as a solo artist, nobody’s seen me yet.
CeCe: Well we’ll look out for you now. So Acoustickle is primarily music of Black origin. You’re not Black.
CeCe: How comfortable have you felt in this space, and how comfortable have people made you feel? Or uncomfortable?
Parisa: I have never identified as a Black person. I’m British Iranian, so call me what you will, but I do not identify as African or Caribbean, and I make that known. Sometimes it does ruffle feathers because people will think that I’m culturally appropriating, or maybe at times might feel like ‘oh am I taking resources, am I taking credit for something that isn’t me,’ because as well I sing reggae or jazz, or hip hop, or soul, and I’m very aware that these genres are not something that my people have created. However, I have been told by a lot of Black artists that they appreciate the fact that I provide a platform for them to be themselves, to share their art, share their original music, to provide things like photos, videos, paid performances, to help people collaborate and network.
So that motivates me to keep going. It doesn’t always feel okay, but I know that I am not doing it from a bad place. I intend to help and support people and to showcase something that I think is fantastic. I love music of Black origin, and it’s always been something that I’ve been attracted to. It feels natural when I’m putting on Jazz or Soul artists to say that ‘this is Black music,’ and to say it with chest as well. So many people will hide behind euphemisms, like ‘oh it’s soulful, it’s this it’s that,’ and I’m like ‘this is music of Black origin,’ and yes of course, people of all cultures have contributed to that over the years, but it is what it is, and I’m not embarrassed to say that. Let people say what they want.
CeCe: If money was no object, what would you do with Acoustickle?
Parisa: If money was no object I would be booking some really big artists, even just like the mid to big artists that we all love, it would be great to have Erykah Badu for instance. I would love to go to New York, and Brazil, to do international Acoustickle events, like Lisbon, and Paris, to get on the festivals. To have a stage at so many different festivals like We Out Here, Cross the Tracks, these independent festivals that exist. But yeah, booking the big artists, taking it international, and popping up at festivals.
Cece: I’ll be there.
Parisa: Also releasing music, having a kind of record label strand of it. So many artists ask us to manage them. I wish that I had the capacity to do it all, but we just can’t do that right now. Without Arts Council money we don’t get paid really, because it’s hard to promote events.
CeCe: You work at Confetti, has this helped you connect with the changing times and with the youth, because we’re in a different space now?
Parisa: Yeah for sure, working at Confetti makes me better at my job, because I’m researching, I’m teaching how to run, market and brand events at an academic level now, whereas before I would do things on my grassroots level. Now I’m teaching and brushing up on my skills all the time. With the young people as well, just the language they use, the platforms they use, how they communicate, being able to understand from their perspective how they discover music and what role it plays in their lives.
Also, I’ve always known that you would come to Nottingham and you would not know that something like Acoustickle exists if somebody didn’t take you there. Students are sheep-herded into specific spaces, and trying to break them out of that is very challenging. At least now I know ‘okay they want to get that Snapchat message from their friend, or they need to see it on TikTok.’ It’s helped me become more relevant.
CeCe: What are your hopes for the future?
Parisa: The hopes are to become a CIC, to film a documentary about what we’re doing, to be able to run the events as we are, but also start to take it outside of Nottingham. We have a date booked in Manchester, so we’re going to go to Band on the Wall. I’d really love to get into Leeds, Birmingham, London and Bristol eventually, and maybe start to go international as well. But baby steps though, we don’t want to rush things. Maybe get some of the iconic artists back, I’d love to see Jake Bugg or Yazmin Lacey back on the stage. We’ve helped some artists at the earliest stages of their careers, so for them to come back for our fifteenth year would be amazing.
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