Rooted in Realness: The Ropes to a Successful Cultural Partnership with Gilles Peterson and Damien Bradfield

Lola Baraldi
Jul 1 · 6 min read

The lounge spaces of Selina in Mexico City’s vibrant centro seem to be fashioned from an algorithm for the connected backpacking digital nomad, decked out with inspirational quotes, brick walls, beanbags and loft windows. This boutique hospitality startup provides accommodation, coworking spaces and local experiences, spread across 40 properties in over a dozen countries. Raising $100 million USD in their recent Series C investment round¹, the Panamanian group is expanding to the UK to continue building and repurposing spaces into millennial communities.

One of Selina’s most promising initiatives is SIMS: Selina International Music Summit — a gathering in its infancy with two editions in Medellin, one in Mexico City, and other cities around the world likely to follow. The summit merges showcases, panels, workshops, parties and talks hosted by local venues and collectives, as well as relevant brands. SIMS features emerging and buzzing musical cities, giving a platform to members and makers of the local scene to connect and zoom in on their stories. As they grow and gain access to further international programming, let us hope that SIMS continues to nurture this connection to locals.

Selina International Music Summit, Medellín

Among their more compelling curations, a workshop, talk and showcase with the alternative hiphop maestros of Stones Throw Records; direct panels with management agencies, providing a refreshing behind the scenes of what sometimes seems to be an impenetrable industry; and of course, the Balancing Culture + Commerce: How to Build Successful Partnerships talk, an insightful exchange between two unique content diffusors and modern tech/music entrepreneurs, who have successfully channeled their vision into a product that millions benefit from practically and artistically.

The conference kicks off the weekend; it features bona fide culture magnate and music expert Gilles Peterson, head of Worldwide FM, BBC 6 music host, musician and label boss, sitting across Damian Bradfield, who’s not only made a lot of our lives easier by founding WeTransfer, but did it with a welcomed focus on the arts, building user experience beyond basic functionality. The talk is well attended by an edgy attentive audience, most of them hopefully ready to absorb ideas and channel them into their respective projects.

Diego Campuzano for IndieRocks

The two friends navigated questions on the intersection of art and commerce, dialoguing about the collective views that enabled their own successful collaboration; truly embodying certain values within the professional landscape allowed them to connect with a compatible business partner, creating solid foundations for a large-scale impact. They touched on prioritising long term vision, as things take time within the industry, trusting others and giving them autonomy, operating with a willingness to make mistakes, and most of all, nurturing authentic human connection in any relationship. They shared perspectives on the importance of DIY culture, narrowing down on personal beliefs and advocating for them despite resistance of those around you, and locking in with peers who share an innovative mindset.

These values have breathed life into their business model. With Bradfield at the head and Peterson as creative director, the ‘aesthetically pleasing and friction-less’ file sharing platform WeTransfer has gone beyond its foundational purpose. WeTransfer has nurtured a tasteful visual culture spotlighting independent art: their landing page features a curated flurry of visual art, and one third of this advertising space is given away to the creative industry, from designers to illustrators, photographers to musicians. In 2016, this amounted to a billion page impressions.² Along the way, they’ve surrounded themselves with people who add value to the company’s creative fabric with leads, taste and recommendations.

The WePresent blog is a digital treasure chest of artistic stories from all over the world; from large-scale projects to grassroots coverage, from politics to anthropology, films to conversations, abstract art to architecture. Boasting collaborations with New York’s International Center of Photography, Gorillaz architect Jamie Hewlett, Björk, John Legend, and many more, the topics and editorial layout speak for themselves; it’s a cultural rabbit hole to get lost in.

When asked about his beginnings with Worldwide FM, Peterson spoke of the appeal he saw in internet radio as a valuable way forward for culture sharing, one that could give exposure to expertise, acting as an ‘antithesis to the algorithm’. Effectively, high up on the entrepreneurs’ priority lists stand a desire to expand and diversify avenues of cultural intake. WeTransfer distributes content from across all continents, with a model of 50/50 gender representation.³

Partnerships here enabled expansion of cultural reach by multiplying channels of its diffusion, assured a level of financial stability that allowed more grassroots initiatives, and stimulated crossing over. Peterson and Bradfield mutually cited the importance of crossing over to audiences who might not be as tuned in as those who regularly follow art or radio, but who might find appeal in the product. This tied into their shared willingness to convert people to culture.

“We share similar values” Says Gilles Peterson. “Creativity, originality and the championing of new talent. WeTransfer is culturally very different to any other company I’ve worked with. We are on the same page and share the same goals; namely to help people discover.”

Peterson contextualised the present-day necessity to develop strong partnerships for music diffusors, due to increasing instability of the landscape: “the adventurous project days have gone along with the golden days of Island Records in the 1980s” — referring to the label that popularized reggae and demonstrated historical flair in the artists they supported, before being bought out by Universal Music Group in 1989. However, they spoke of non-reliance as a key ingredient to said partnerships; cultural organisms need to strive for self-sufficiency as businesses, due to unreliability of brand presence and corporate interest in the cultural sector, as was seen recently with the closure of Red Bull Music Academy. A brand cannot be a substitute for the human connection nursed to build unique rapport with artists and groups, which in turns leads to quality and valuable content.

Another strength of this alliance is seen in the shared adherence to subtle brand exposure, of prioritising collaborative cultural diffusion and event-production over one-dimensional product placement. They see value of a brand presence that is not in your face, that espouses the way of its partner and partner’s audience, providing a more multilayered, implicit yet experiential presence to be associated with memorable events.

This sometimes means alternative models of execution in more time-consuming ways. Peterson’s festival, Worldwide Fest, has been built as such. The event isn’t branded, and pays artists lower fees as a consequence; the artists consent to being part of the project and support its rationale. Some lineup additions are secured through swaps, with Gilles trading in performances. These arrangements would not be possible without the aforementioned foundations of strong human connection. Brand presence, reminds Peterson, remains an unparalleled vehicle for meaningful large-scale curations, but these efforts are to be balanced out with many other priorities.

Worldwide Fest

We didn’t come out of this with a formula, as it was presented and as it seemed the moderator tried to orient the discussion towards, as there is none. To truly continue giving the creative sector the exposure and resources it deserves, the two successful business partners encourage going about endeavours with purpose and authenticity, hence walking down a certain path where we are bound to come across other humans who are just as unwavering about their passion.


[1] Crunchbase. Selina Funding Rounds. Retrieved from https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/selina#section-related-hubs

[2] The Independent. How WeTransfer is helping artists and giving away billions of page impressions. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/wetransfer-wallpapers-art-artists-illustrations-paintings-backgrounds-interview-a7628836.html

[3] The Independent. How WeTransfer is helping artists and giving away billions of page impressions. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/wetransfer-wallpapers-art-artists-illustrations-paintings-backgrounds-interview-a7628836.html

[4] Bradfield, D. Music is the fuel for this creativity. Retrieved from https://medium.com/wetransfer/the-origins-of-music-1093ed789394

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Lola Baraldi

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