The Mission

What’s So Important About Street Music?

In the current state of the world, it becomes necessary to tell a collective story – with countless cultures, narratives, dreams, and abilities weaving the fabric of our cultural commons. Street music offers an incredible example of this vibrant cultural commons, often hiding in plain sight in the public space of cities and towns across Europe. It can act as entertainment, but also as social intervention. One of its capacities, as I continuously experienced, is how it connects strangers, spontaneously bringing people together in busy urban spaces through the shared language of music. 

Street music is an art form that takes place outside of cultural institutions, and street musicians are often people who exist on the margins, whose lives and livelihoods are precariously placed in the material and socio-economic realities of modern urban life. And yet, they are exercising a kind of power, through artistic and financial self-determination, and as placemakers actively transforming public spaces. Performing for locals and tourists alike, street musicians are on-the-ground cultural ambassadors, contributors to the rich tapestry of public life in their respective cities.

Street music is very much about freedom: freedom of expression, freedom to make an honest living, freedom to exist in public space. It can also be seen as a form of peaceful rebellion, whether through the rejection of the capital-driven music industry and the grind of conventional work-life, or the defiance of laws that increasingly restrict public space and who gets to use it. It’s about contributing as a free individual to a more beautiful, expressive world: bringing heaven to earth, without a permit.

Phase one: A Collection of Europe's Pavement Melodies

The Sounds Like Van Spirit journey began as a personal mission to record songs by street artists across Europe. From the very beginning, the project took on a life of its own and began evolving into something much bigger than just a collection of songs. Motivated by the desire to connect European cultures across borders and create something meaningful beyond the confines of corporate entertainment and media, I saw street music as the perfect example of music in its essence, being created for the people, by the people. With street music, there is no middleman, just a pure and direct exchange between artist and audience.

Through my initial two-year engagement with street musicians all across Europe, I began to see a bigger story emerging: the way that these pure melodies and genuine human stories wove together to showcase both diversity and shared human experience across borders. The musicians themselves spoke about a higher purpose in what they were doing, articulating desires for freedom, connection, and peace. A new mission had emerged, a project showing how music can unite through its ability to get to the root of the human condition in a way anyone can understand. 

Phase two: Experiencing Pavement Melodies Through a Book and Film

With the understanding that there was a bigger story to tell, I began to compile the wealth of photos, video, interviews, and journal entries from my journey. Complimenting the incredible songs on the album, the visual and narrative insight of a book and documentary film would enable me to take the audience behind the music to the people and stories that I encountered. 

The book is intended as a companion to the recorded music, and will feature lots of pictures, road stories and interviews, and profiles of each artist featured on the album. Each artist profile is accompanied by their song lyrics, with QR codes that will link the reader to a high-quality digital stream of the song online. Organised by country, the reader can follow along the same route that I took on my journey through Europe, with photos and road-diary excerpts that let you experience the adventure through my eyes – reflections on the highs and lows, challenges and triumphs along the way. 

The aim of the documentary is to bring the viewer along for the ride on this journey to discover Europe’s Pavement Melodies, taking them on an adventure down the scenic winding roads of Europe and into its vibrant urban centres, to find the hidden talent waiting around the next corner. This movie offers an unfiltered glimpse into what I experienced when I set out to find the most interesting street musicians in each city: the challenges of foreign places, money struggles, travelling and living in a decrepit van, but also all the incredible connections I made, colourful characters I encountered, and the magic of discovering these unknown musicians and their songs. 

At heart, it’s the story of how a crazy and, at times, seemingly impossible dream came to life and grew through all these ups and downs, with the support of so many individuals and communities along the way. I wanted to show what happens when we remove the intermediaries and institutions, and attempt to make a direct connection to the abundant culture that often exists right outside our doors. I hope that it can also serve as an example, to inspire others to embark on their own DIY missions – that you don’t have to wait for the perfect moment or the right conditions to do something you’ve only dreamed of. You never know what it could become. You are here to create.

-Marten Berger (founder, director)