CLASS OF 2017: Graduating with a PhD is music to Neal's ears


Almost 20 years after first setting foot on campus, Neal Spowage is delighted to have scored a doctorate from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).


Performing in a disused nuclear reactor in Stockholm (2015) - photo by Amit Patel

Having dropped out of sixth form as a teenager, Neal is just one of two people in his family ever to go to university and has spent the past eight years researching experimental music performance.

Fuelled by his lifelong involvement in post-punk, indie bands Neal focused his PhD research on making live electronic music more engaging and exciting to watch, by “bringing musicians out from behind their synthesisers and laptops”.

The 46-year-old said: “The support from DMU’s Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre, and the thriving community of both staff and students surrounding it, has been invaluable.

“I’ve made great contacts inside and outside of the university leading to some excellent collaborations which have formed a vital part of my performances and research.”


With dancer and choreographer Danai Pappa in DMU's PACE building

Neal first joined DMU as a mature student in 1998, after years of working in factories and eventually as a graphic designer for a military production company.

“Even back then DMU was as cutting edge and as avant-garde as it is now,” he said.

“With a taste for graphic design, I decided to study Multimedia Design as it looked like a really good course and I hoped it would help me to progress.”

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After graduating he landed a job at a local cross stitch pattern company - DMC Creative Ltd – designing bespoke patterns based on photographs sent in by customers.

Four years later and following success with his post-punk goth band Screaming Banshee Aircrew – Neal features on the band’s third and final album – he decided to take his passion for music to the next level.


On stage at Brunel University (2011) - photo by Sally Trussler

Having enjoyed his time at DMU the first time round, Neal enrolled on an MA in Music, Technology and Innovation, which also resulted in his dyslexia being diagnosed by DMU’s student services.

He said: “Everything suddenly became much easier. I’d always struggled before, but couldn’t put my finger on why.

“DMU was very supportive and provided me with equipment like a laptop with the relevant software on it and tinted glasses to help with fatigue, as well as study support.”

It was a renewed confidence in both his academic abilities and following his musical passion, which convinced Neal to embark on his PhD.

He is particularly grateful for the opportunities he had at DMU, including the chance to work with professional dancers and to perform with legendary Chinese musician and poet Yan Jun.


At DMU's PACE building (October 2016) - photo by James Andean

Neal also had the chance to teach certain modules on DMU’s Creative Music Technology course, saying: “It’s been rewarding seeing very quiet students flourish and go on to produce something that surprises you. Not only do you get to watch students develop, you also learn from them too.”

After nearly 12 years of being a student at DMU himself, Neal is ready to spread his wings and is hoping to continue researching either within higher education or at an artist-led institution.

He said: “I will really miss DMU, but I have to move on so I can grow.”

Posted on Thursday 26th January 2017

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