11/08/2013 10:52 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Stream's Endless Flow of Ideas


Big ideas are useless without amplification. They are like plants without sunlight and water. Creating Rebel Music didn't seem like a big deal to me at first. It's only when we started filming the documentary series about protest movements in turbulent countries that I realized what a powerful tool it was to present new stories about those places.

The goal of Rebel Music was to present a youthful narrative about conflicted places like Egypt. Before we landed in Cairo, a few days before the June 30 protests of the Second Revolution, my own sense was that the dissidents gathering in Tahrir Square were largely politically engaged and disappointed by Morsi, or older, conservative, bearded Muslim Brotherhood activists - the stereotypical image you see on TV for 15 seconds. I was shocked by the diversity of the crowds that thronged the streets, and inspired by the sense of empowerment they possessed. Tattooed young women, cab drivers, housewives, businessmen armed with iPads, musicians, filmmakers and theater groups, all participated in the largest protest gathering in history. The intellect, passion, sense of duty and humanity on display blew my mind. These people were risking their lives to fight for democracy, whichever side of the argument they stood on. Thousands of them died. Our efforts to tell the unfiltered story of the Egyptian Revolution, giving voice to people America rarely hears about, were greeted with surprise and applause by the Egyptians we met.

There aren't too many hopeful stories in the mainstream media about the Israel-Palestine conflict either. But in our research we found several courageous and inspiring narratives such as the popular Israeli heavy metal band Orphaned Land collaborating with their Palestinian counterparts Khalas. This is the recurring theme of Rebel Music: empowered youth fighting a terrible status quo to create positive change in their countries, and in the process, expanding our own view of the world.

These were the thoughts on my mind when I touched down in Turkey for Stream, WPP's annual global "unconference." Turkey, with all its beautiful contradictions, is something else, but to spend three days marooned in the exotic, sun-drenched coastal town of Antalya along with 350 thought leaders with no agenda but to hallucinate the future of media is beyond extraordinary.


A few months ago, when I showed David Sable, the visionary Global CEO of Y&R, an early trailer of Rebel Music his eyes lit up. David is that rare leader who looks beyond traditional measures of success in business and wants to make the world a better place. He suggested that I screen Rebel Music at Stream. I was inspired by how well the project was received at this unusual congregation of offbeat thinkers, and radical creatives. Presented by Israeli investor and innovator Yossi Vardi, and Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, the genius of Stream is not just its loose yet fiercely intellectual atmosphere, but also its deceptively effortless execution by WPP's Jonathan Lenson and omnipresent superwoman Ella Weston.

At Stream, there are no pretensions or long, soporific presentations. The temporary suspension of humdrum business reality, presence of high-caliber minds, and absence of attitude (and internet connectivity) makes it the perfect storm for true dialogue and creativity. From the loosely themed discussions that happen poolside, to evening group sessions like Ignite, Gadgetathon, The Pitch, and Extravaganza, to Stream Cinema and Midnight Cooking Madness, the "programming" is mischievously delightful. The staggering diversity of participants and ideas from around the world is humbling and exciting. I made more genuine connections and gained more useful information and inspiration in seventy-two hours than I would in a year of routine work. From Tara Marsh's family memoir of "Running with the Bulls" at Ignite, to Archie Hamilton's documentary about the spread of western music in China through scrapped CDs, Stream presented an unending flow of stimulus.

Which brings me back to amplification. I showed two episodes of Rebel Music at Stream Cinema, a fantasy seaside drive-in jutting into the Mediterranean Sea, on a makeshift screen stretched across the twilit sky. We had an influential audience of executives, entrepreneurs, and techies wrapped in blankets, nursing cans of Heineken. Afterwards, Streamers from Israel to India and the UK sought me out to discuss, collaborate, extend promotional support and generally applaud the series. At the Ignite session I presented an argument that globalization and digital media were creating a more colorful and democratic pop culture landscape. That session seemed to spark a lot of curiosity and debate about music in general but more importantly for me, a genuine interest in the kind of vital global artists MTV World seeks to expose; artists like Israeli neo-soul singer Ester Rada, pop starlet Kyary Pamyu Pamyu from Japan, and young and rising Jamaican dancehall deejay Popcaan.

On the way home, I shared an early morning cab ride to the airport with Andrew McLaughlin, CEO of Digg, who I had seen but hadn't met. "I am listening to the new Bomba Estereo album you mentioned in your talk," he told me. That led to discussing the role of social media in the dispersion of ideas, recent Turkish history, Egyptian politics, and of course Rebel Music.

It's more than a week since this year's unconference ended, and the conversations are still on going. That's the thing about Stream. It starts but never really ends.