Finding Needles in Haystacks - Teddy, Stocktown

Published by:
The Applied Team
December 8, 2023
min read

This time on Finding Needles in Haystacks, we’re talking to Teddy Goitom, the founder of Stocktown. In the realm of artistic exploration and collaborative innovation, Teddy Goitom emerges as a luminary figure. His journey traverses the pulsating heart of hip-hop in the early 80s to the expansive horizons of online platforms and cultural representation. He has been involved in so many projects over the years that it’s hard to comprehend, let alone summarise, so we’re not even going to try. Instead, we focus on art and collaboration.

How and where did you start out?

I got into the hiphop scene in the early 80s. I was influenced by the music, it was a wave that came into my life and others as well, because it was something we could identify with–the music, the dance... Living in the Stockholm suburbs in the 80s, life was mostly just about playing soccer but when music came into the picture it pushed us into a group feeling and a sense of belonging.

I loved to dance when I was a kid and I started a small breakdance group and we went and battled other neighbourhoods. It became a thing that went back and forth and then we went downtown to show off our skills. It was just exciting! I felt I saw so many talents and I think that was my starting point. First of all, people were so much better than me at this art form and I was just fascinated. I wanted to capture those moments.

From breakdancing to online platforms…

I was early into tech. We had this small basement in town, located under Stockholm’s first internet cafe, so we could use their internet connection. While I was experimenting with stuff I was also building websites for companies, especially in the music industry, for the few who understood that the internet was going to be a thing. It was how I survived financially. 

With my organisation Rötter we wanted to figure out how we could broadcast culture. To do that we needed different skills, like designers, programmers, producers. It was more like a DIY project; no-one was properly educated in these fields but we all wanted to level up.

Our first idea was to send a national DJ championship online. I contacted them and said that we'd love to stream their competition. They didn't understand what we meant at first, they didn't know it was possible. This was '96. Some technical wizards helped us out with equipment and we managed to do it.

“I don't think anyone saw it except ourselves

because the modems and internet connections were just too slow. But it was an interesting experimental time, and it worked!

In 1998, Stockholm was the European Capital of Culture. I took the opportunity to pitch the organisers, saying: "One of the biggest art forms is not represented here." And to my surprise they agreed and invited me to come up with a proposal. That year, Rötter turned into Stocktown. Since then, we’ve been streaming underground live shows, produced music documentaries and TV series, arranged festivals and expositions, and offered emerging artists and talents a platform online. The latest online project is called Afripedia, a searchable catalogue that features a hand-picked selection of African artists globally and their work. Afripedia is currently transitioning into a marketplace, offering access to affordable art from its network. It’s launching in October 2023.

Do you think you could go into a normal office job?

Eh, no. I've tried it. Once. I don't feel it. I like the freedom to choose what to do with my time, to be wherever I want to be. Maybe I could work for a regular company if I believed in what they do, and if the work environment is good and they'd let me work from wherever--then, maybe. Freedom is much more important to me and it always has been. These projects are an escape from doing a nine-to-five job.

"There's talent everywhere but there's very little access

When was the last time you used a CV?

I don't think I've ever had one. I tried to do a portfolio on my personal website but even that was difficult. I don't know what to pick, what to say, where to start. Maybe my work speaks for itself. I guess people might want to read bullet points of what you've done but I've never been able to define myself and what Stocktown is. I don't have a one-liner elevator pitch, so then it becomes even more tricky to know what to put in a CV, what to say and for whom. I am my job--it's what I do.

What qualities do you look for in people you collaborate with?

You have to have a lot of patience. Things don't happen fast when it comes to funding, so you have to believe in the vision. There needs to be a shared understanding of why we're doing what we're doing. I look for people who are better than me, and I surround myself with people of different skills. In a team of few people you have to have good communication [skills] to understand the needs and the challenges that come up, and that builds trust. It also means there will be less misunderstandings. You can be extremely skilled at what you do but if you don't have these qualities you're difficult to work with. If everyone understands the vision it also gives you more energy to go forward. It's also important to have a positive mindset and be open to making mistakes. 

Apart from basic human nature, is there anything that is surprisingly similar in all these people you've met?

Everyone wants confirmation. The way they want that confirmation differs, but

“In one way or another people want to be recognised for what they do."

Some want to stay anonymous as long as the work gets shine. Also, I’ve developed a hunch for artists who will be successful. Of course you can define success in many ways, but I mean in terms of fame.

There are many different factors and it’s hard to pinpoint, for example how they talk to others, if they’re very strategic... There I see similarities, too.