I hadn’t previously come across the term “hypercycle” and Dannie’s definition has not yet made it onto Wikipedia. She explains hypercycling as the rushing of cultural works towards public consumption before they are ready. The idea resonated deeply with my own experiences and was illustrated by some poignant case studies.
The author and playwright Jason Hewitt provided a stark example of being caught in a hypercycle upon finding a publisher for his first novel which took four years to complete. The contract committed him to produce a follow-up within 14 months, in addition to promoting the launch of his debut.
Every musician and music fan has heard of the Difficult Second Album Syndrome, an affliction made worse by the decline of physical releases in favour of digital downloads and streaming. Add to this obvious hypercycle the commercial pressures faced by the major record labels, and you could fear for the future of music and culture as a whole.
Former Island Records manager Marc Marot highlighted the dilemma faced by labels who are reluctant to let go of the business models (and profit margins) that served them so well in the past. He used to enjoy the freedom and integrity to select his roster of artists based on excitement, instinct and long-term promise. This allowed him to truly nurture his artists’ creative process. He has since had to adapt his approach to meet short term targets and write predictable success stories.
By sheer coincidence, I attended one of PJ Harvey’s recording sessions at Somerset House the very same day as hearing her former manager’s account of how his A&R style dramatically changed. Needless to say, witnessing the rehearsal and recording process of one of the UK’s most exciting and talented artists was an inspiring and uplifting experience. But how many less established musicians have the opportunity to lock themselves in a studio, write an album – and be paid for the process?! And would an as yet undiscovered Polly Jean be given a chance under the current obsession with get-famous-quick schemes?
Hypercycling is not just prevalent in the private sector. Quite the contrary. Many artists and organisations spend a lot of time and energy on painstakingly completing funding applications instead of concentrating their time on the creative process itself. By the time grants are approved many projects have to be rushed, thus resulting in a much less satisfying experience for artists and audiences.
My personal hypercycle was that of trying to continue to nurture personal relationships and uncover new trends while having to meet increasingly short-term (and short-sighted) targets driven by economic forces rather than audience needs. How do you generate year on year growth in a declining market with fewer people fulfilling more tasks? My individual solution was to jump the sinking ship and reclaim autonomy by first moving into freelance, then leaving the media industry altogether. Progress since has been slow and gentle; facilitating a series of crestcycles has been immensely satisfying and reinforced my trust in the right person appearing for the right thing at the right time.
The responses to the effects of hypercycling, or the burnout syndrome it can lead to, tend to be very individual. However, there are examples of movements with the collective aim of slowing down - whether it be our approach to food, city living or even media – and achieving individual wellbeing and universal sustainablilty.
Since starting to write this piece I have attended FutureFest, a thought provoking conference lead by innovation charity Nesta. and would like to end by quoting leading brand consultant Ije Nwokorie who believes that creativity is everything that automation can never be. Time is ripe for a slow culture movement.