Bunker to bunker

Blog by Louise Dodgson under Music Training & Careers

I caught up with Kenny Sanger Director of The BUNKER, once primarily a recording studio steeped in history, now a music development organisation for the Sunderland area. The Bunker is a one-stop shop for the needs of unsigned musicians within the area, helping to promote, manage and develop those who need their assistance.

What is your background in music?
I was in bands when I was younger, left University and trained to be an accountant but got made redundant, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Got back into music as a self-employed accountant, and then got into a bit of property development by chance. So when the Bunker came up for sale, nobody really wanted the building and me and a friend decided to give it a crack. We knew it was a really important part of Sunderland and didn’t want it to turn into a restaurant or flats. So we beg, stole and borrowed everything we could to open it up. All we really knew was music so we thought of all the 15-16 rooms that are here, let’s make them all into rehearsal rooms, because there was a demand for it.

How did The Bunker develop from a rehearsal space into other areas?
People started coming into us and asking if we would put on gigs and find management, things like that, so we started getting into that and it has now developed into my role; being less hands on with the bands to deal more with other music businesses. We work closely with Generator, co-ordinating their music business development programme in Sunderland including training and panel events. We work with the City Council, Youth Offending Service, the local college and University offering training, and in the past have delivered NVQ training for the colleges. We don’t get any funding so we have to have a mix of bands coming in and willing to pay, as well as trying to win contracts and that probably puts us in a better position.

What’s The Bunker’s ethos?
We aren’t the only studio in Sunderland. We aren’t the only promoters or management in Sunderland. So you have to be aware of that and realise for us to be able to help the scene develop we have to work with as many of those other people rather than see them as competitors. A lot of people see us as a recording studio and rehearsal place but I see a lot of what we do as music development. We are almost Generator’s right arm for the Sunderland area. So we want to be here for as long as possible to help as many people as possible. We have an application to be a charity and that may help us to achieve some clarity. We are a community music organisation to help people of all ages.

What do you think the difference is with the Northern music scene to others in the country?
Bands here just get on with everything, are more willing to put the work in and are pessimistic. They don’t feel that they have to move away to make something happen. There was a documentary on Radio 1 the other week about how bands from Sunderland can survive in the UK and worldwide without having to move away. Bands here are very willing to put on their own events and work with each other. If you ask some of the Sunderland bands they might say there is a little bit of anonymity in Sunderland, they can just go to the pub and get on with stuff and a lot of bands from more culturally developed areas won’t be able to do that.

Bands and artists to watch out for in the area?
We Beat The System - it’s really refreshing to see a band so young sound quite mature. The Generals - I think they are one of a whole list of bands who have been around for a few years and work really hard. There seems to be a bit of a folk movement at the moment with the likes of Matt Stalker & The Fables, Martin Longstaff & The Lake Poets, Rain Falls Down. BBC 6Music and Radio 2 have all been on the back of that. They seem to be putting on a lot of gigs together at the minute. Frankie & The Heartstrings are great. They actually volunteer here on the board and have a room along with The Futureheads. Great to have them around to inspire the younger bands.

What advice would you give to unsigned bands?

I always try and advise them to work at it and don’t put anything out there until its good enough. A lot of bands say ‘ah we’ve made this demo, it’s not very good but we’ll put it out there anyway’. Just make sure that you are ready. We try and encourage bands not to chase the dream of a record deal but to work on their package and do things themselves rather than looking for the elusive record deal.  Put your own nights on and network with bands. If you ask any of the successful bands they will say don’t oversell yourself. Think of yourselves as a business and what your product is. But enjoy it and don’t take yourself too seriously!

Check out The Bunker's MySpace profile


the bunker, kenny sanger, north east music, sunderland music, unsigned bands, unsigned artists, music rehearsal rooms


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