Paying Musicians their P's and Dues in a Global Pandemic
A Rishi rattled rant
© Flyer by @alberto_eggmund https://www.bellyclubclothing.com/ All profits for this print run will go to https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/
It’s hitting 9pm on an autumnal Saturday night - The usual ritual at this time of year involves swanning around my room to the wispy tones of The Cure -10:15 Saturday Night, feeling supercilious swigging Shiraz in my leopard print coat as a night of hedonism at Mick’s Garage awaits. Instead it’s 2020 and I’m sat here on the GOV.UK website filling in a petition named Let Us Dance - Support nightclubs, dance music events and festivals Is this real? Someone press STOP on this Charlie Brooker-esque dystopian nightmare. I’m sure this experience rings commonplace up and down the country as the ‘Friday feeling’ seems like nothing but a distant memory and we are itching in the kitchen to get back into our beloved stomping grounds. Music is a muse, an emotional release that provides solace and guidance in times of despondency. The lack of support and financial hardship that is being faced by those in the arts who spend years of their lives mastering their craft, so that we can revel in those moments of celestial connection and joy that live music and club culture infuses is quite frankly harrowing. Do the people creating the puritanical laws know how it feels to spend hours in their studio perfecting pool-synth percs, the peak feeling when you didn’t click save and Ableton crashes or getting vexed because the manufacturer bubbled your test press that you’ve just dropped your whole life’s worth of savings on? Not to mention being up until 4 am stressing over that loop, post your 12-hour shift at Bocca di Lupo which involved being spoken to like an imbecile because Tracey had too much peppercorn in her Risotto di Pesce. Yes, let’s not forget that being a musician is a second job to most, not just a luxurious extracurricular activity. Although, let’s cut the MPs some slack here as they aren’t totally sullen to a second job or three. So many MPs lead by example - last year they declared £3.35m from second jobs and there have been cries to tighten the code of conduct around payments from organisations that might hold “undue influence” on Parliamentary employees. No, I wasn’t talking about George Osborne dropping off your Nando’s donning black and green Deliveroo stripes.
Musicians work long and hard out of sheer passion and love for what they do, but now they are not being paid their dues as the UK government fail to recognise the music industry as an economic export. This attitude and Rishi Sunak’s recent claims that professional musicians like their artistic counterparts might have to “find ways to adapt and adjust to the new reality” reeks of Orwellian snare not the kick kind. A society that ceases to be happy out of existence, one that is homogeneous and where self-growth is encouraged strays away from the Tory party’s tenacious view of humanity. A career that brings happiness and cultural opulence is deemed inept and apparently not “viable.” The UK music industry has endured an alarming halt financially and for the most part live music as we know it remains on hiatus. A scope of talented musicians, sound engineers, set constructors and event staff are being scathingly dictated to seek employment elsewhere. We are staring right at a lost generation who are facing a cataclysmal war on culture.
As a response to the pandemic decimating the careers of those in the live music sector, a catalyst of campaigns were set up such as #LetUsDance and #LetTheMusicPlay. These impassioned pleas caused the UK government to fix up and acknowledge the importance of the industry to the nation's economy. Proof that it’s not all burgeoning doom and gloom people power prevailed and for a brief moment anger towards the UK government subdued, as the first rounds of funding from the DCMS and the Arts Council’s £1.57bn Cultural Recovery Fund were announced in October. There was a sigh of relief as many music venues integral to the nation's music community received the grant money. London’s Corsica Studios received nearly half a million, Fabric £1.5million and Manchester’s independent music metropolis - THE WHITE HOTEL, Band on the Wall and Night and Day were all deemed eligible for the grant. This news provided a micro-dose of fresh air, especially for the latter which was almost on the brink of closing in 2014 after a neighbour with a back catalogue full of bummed notes filed a noise complaint against the iconic N&D venue. NME recently ran a story covering the full scope of venues who tragically missed out, and it ought to be pointed out that there are a few raised eyebrows at the eligibility of some of the entities that received the government-funded grant. Owners of grassroots venues who lacked professional resources were sorrowfully forgotten about including London’s independent venues the Lexington and Windmill. I fail to fathom how an entity who is largely affiliated with Sony Music - cough cough Ministry of Sound managed to bag themselves an 'I’m alright Jack' grant totalling up to almost a million pounds! By the time the next round of grants arrive I hope to see a major reassessment of the application process to help those who are actually stuck for cash. In other realms of Covid club news Manchester’s night-time economy adviser, Sacha Lord is locking heads with Boris Johnson as he gears up to pursue a Judicial Review into the legalities of implementing restrictions within the region’s hospitality sector, based on a lack of scientific evidence. Although, before you give him a standing ovation it’ll be worthwhile for you to have a conversation with an OG Mancunian scene member on Sacha’s polarisation of the city’s music scene. They will probably tell you straight and give you a debate worthy of BBC Question Time. I feel that he is a strong spokesperson for the hospitality and music sectors but his genuineness to the UK music scene specifically rave culture is a dubious affair - alleged locked DJ contracts, Ibiza priced drinks, topped off with agonising early entry times into his world-renowned Warehouse Project events are enough to make any purest shudder. That being said industry allegiance has influenced these squeezing blood out of a stone government movements, pinpointing that the people of a nation so vigorously rich in musical heritage are a tough sell when it comes to Boris’ trepidatious policies on the UK’s live music scene.
The news that the edifices that we heal our working week souls in being saved along with Beardyman (trust, view the full CRF list here) is welcome with open arms but a sanguine visage of me adorned in my ‘Bratz’ shoes and Namilia motocross dress dodging the crowd, whilst balancing two pints of Stella in plastic cups aren’t on the horizon just yet. That privilege is enough to make anyone nervous in the corona age - I imagine unwritten rave protocol will be stringent if/when we return to our beloved clubs. Dreaming aside, what about the people who turn these venues into the zeitgeist playgrounds that we express ourselves in? The musicians, the roadies and promoters, etc. who aren’t greatly protected when it comes to a crisis like this. Many have still not received financial support during the ongoing crisis. The £1.57bn CRF fund will not be filtered to them directly and it is estimated that 45% of musicians are not covered by the government’s SEISS scheme at all.
You cannot spell painting without pain, right? Despite the all aboard “no fun” zone and the initial ignorance of the Tory party to grassroots culture I believe that bricolage will come out on top. What do creatives do best? Reshape, invent and steer clear of the orthodox. Basically it is up to US! The grassroots music community to take action - the organisations who were lucky enough to receive the CRF need to use their funds to support their network of creative freelancers, we as consumers need to not be so reliant on streaming platforms and dig deep into our pockets: buy directly from record shops, pay for live streaming events and attend small scale sit-down events such as Costa Del Tottenham (when lockdown does one). In the larger music ecosystem, the government needs to be judicious and put pressure on the key stakeholders of major streaming platforms, to determine the fairness of their business models and the revenue generated by the artists whose material features. Music streaming in the UK alone brings in more than £1bn a year in revenue. However, it is estimated that artists can be paid as little as 13% of the income generated. Trainspotting a common denominator here? YES, corporate entities are taking musicians' eyeballs and coming back for their eyelashes by under-compensating them! It is about time when playing the word association game that we link the word musician with the word pay. I am not just talking about the fat-cats who sport a twinset cravat and pocket square, and who refuse to drink nothing but coffee from a French Press who capitalise on the fruits of artist's labour - that would be stereotypical of me. There are many global underground brands who are heavily reliant on the free work that artists contribute, even though they engage in major brand partnerships with corporate labels such as NTS x Carhartt and not to mention the big alliance on everyone’s lips in the scene at the moment Boiler Room and Apple. The newly negotiated model means that 100% of the royalties of all music featured within the uploaded DJ sets, will be paid out to the DJs and the rights holders of all the tracks that are featured (provided the music is registered). Are they paving the way for a seismic shift in making sure DJs are finally paid in full or is this a merge towards paying DJs in “peanuts” and turning what was once underground into a self-centered capitalization and commercialisation escapade? The jury’s out!
The fact of the matter is creatives are ‘viable’ and nor do we want them to be wiped of their illustrious personalities and morphed into a dejected Hedge Fund Manager enduring vomitus ‘office bantz!' My heartstrings have been pulled at and smeared over the decks at the ones who after years of free dedication to the scene finally signed a release with a major label, to the ones who took the anxiety fuelled leap of saying ta-ra to their soul-destroying 9-5 jobs to pursue their dreams and to the ones who had been up all night stickering their screen printed labels onto 300 vinyl covers, only to have their hot wax masterpiece dust collecting in record shops as the COVID-19 shitescape peaked in March - derailing any hopes of their tune being the enraptured festival anthem that Fourtet did so well with his remix of Bicep’s Opal in 2018 (warning! It’s a festival moment tearjerker). I fear that some crucial 2020 magnum opus’ aren’t being given the salutes that they so deserve as music venues lie in a state of purgatory and we try to navigate through this novel pandemic storm. With this in mind, I wanted to share with you a couple of recent releases from UK based record labels that deserve full props and for you to reach for your moolah!
VA - Amor Satyr/Soreab/Mala Femmina/Cando/Agostino – LCR003
Label: Le Chatroom
Format: Vinyl, 12" (EP)
Released: 09 Oct 2020
Style: Bassline, Techno, Tribal, UK Funky
French by origin London by residence Le Chatroom label boss Kouslin brings us his third self-release LCR003. This time around it is an unfeigned ‘family’ affair as the conscientious track selection consists of four (five - Bandcamp exclusive) tracks from a plethora of good friends, whose music joins the ley lines of carioca infused percussive funk with sketchy UK techno syncopated rhythms.
Kouslin’s first Le Chatroom imprint LCR001 took us to the streets of Notting Hill Carnival, immersing us in a full-body sensory workout to the slinky ambient beat of Galtier - Gyals. Now forever keeping it moving and divergent in thinking LCR003 transcends its listener somewhere between losing inhibitions in the bailes of Rio and desiring access to supersensory realms via hypnotic tribal percussion. Parisian based Amor Satyr kicks off the ritual with the playfully blended post-dubstep instrumental Hohohoi, which would sit at home amidst a 2015 Bandulu cut with its snake-charming Middle-Eastern bass line. Co-founder of the exponential Baroque Sunburst label Soreab maintains the 130bpm flow whilst somehow taking it up a level with the heavily percussive Cave Walk. His known idiosyncratic flair and his potent left-field sound palette are conveyed as he meanders effortlessly between bubbly UK techno grooves and evocative tribal drum beats. Ricocheting into the darker side of the percussive stratosphere DJ Tess steps into her Mala Femmina alias with Ruff plummeting into the depths of reverberating drum kicks and tension fuelled cascading slow-mo techno breakdowns. It’s these details that make Mala Femmina a pinnacle of the new-gen UK Techno scene, with her game-changing eclectic and unorthodox take on bass-weight electronica. Cave Walk gets the rework accolade from Bristolian duo Cando, the atmospheric percussion dismantles us into a heavyweight artillery cerebrum bender. This peak time industrial crescendo will soothe the soul of any stacker shaker worshipper.
At a time when championing diversity is salient and dance music's playability is being questioned, LCR003 is 100% the most relevant electronic EP of 2020 - Cop it here
Artist: Cabbage - Amanita Pantherina
Label: Brassica Records
Format: Heavyweight Paint Splattered Vinyl, CD (LP)
Released: 25 Sept 2020
The self-proclaimed music inclined know that the release of a second album, can be one of malign pressure - record bosses pushing for the release of a ‘hit’ and the demand of three album deals with label execs is enough to make any creative wither. An ode to Cabbage who rather fittingly in this calamity went totally DIY with their subsequent release to chart-topping debut Nihilistic Glamour Shots. Cabbage are back with a self-produced, self-recorded and self-released Brassica Studios Sturm und Drang concoction.
Picking up from where the esotericism undertones of Subhuman 2.0 left off Amanita Pantherina takes us on a kaleidoscope trip of neo-post-punk anarchy fuelling the narrative of a 2020 Brexit Britain gonzo novel. The quintet hailing from both sides of the Roses embark on the muscaria trip with the unmerciful bass line of Leon The Pig Farmer - a memoir to a man about town and Mossley’s finest beat poet Jack Horner. Oh to be asked again mid drunken toilet queue haze “are you Joe Martin’s sister from Settle?” (I’m not btw) That was my introductory line from the maverick himself - the six degrees of separation irony, it’s as though Lee Broadbent’s “who called it? Orwell” bellow was already penned. Amidst the trifle of political pensiveness, provocative punk riffs and psychedelic peregrination it's all aboard the TransPennine express to Teletubby land and into the living room of Coronation Street’s Ken and Deirdre Barlow for the single release You’ve Made An Art Form (From Falling To Pieces). The salvo of tracks Raus! (Leave!) and Medicine lies somewhere between space hopping around Westminster whilst setting fire to an effigy of Boris Johnson and starring in a Cold War espionage picture dressed head to toe in MVD leather. We unwind off this twisted carousel to the bewitching vocals of Lizzie Rigby for the pacifying outro Terminates Here. The multifarious sound wave engulfed in raging guitar licks on the second installment from the lads prove that Cabbage are refreshingly here to stay! Raising a big middle finger up to the totalitarian spin doctor dynasties that may try to keep them at bay.
Amanita Pantherina is out now on Brassica Records. Including the singles ‘You’ve Made An Artform (From Falling To Pieces)’ and ‘Get Outta My Brain’. You can stream / download / buy the album, and get tickets to Cabbage’s UK tour in May 2021, via following this link.
The dance floor may be empty and the PA may be off, but we cannot press the pause button on supporting the live music sector. We must stand together and align with artists right up until we throw our hands around our bezzie mate, as the sun cracks through a derelict warehouse window to the jubilant sound of Sterling Void and Paris Brightledge - It's All Right.
Useful links to campaigns and available COVID-19 resources for Artists and Freelancers