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What’s next? Artists and agents look beyond the lockdown


Looking beyond the lockdown

Taken from Peckham Rye Park at GALA 2018 - Photo Credit: Steve Stills Taken from Peckham Rye Park at GALA 2018 - Photo Credit: Steve Stills

Words by Isobel Trott.

We’ve all been coming to terms with the craziness that is 2020 – but dwelling on the negative is not in the GALA spirit. So, during lockdown, we’ve taken the opportunity to reflect and consider what positives might be taken from this strange turn of events. We reached out to some of our favourite artists and extended GALA family – Caroline Hayes from Spun Out, Naomi Palmer of Earth Agency, Worldwide FM’s Thristian (aka Global Roots), and Mafalda Daniel, and had a little chat about their predictions for the London scene after lockdown. What will things look like when we’re all allowed back into clubs, behind the decks, and in the festival fields?

Right now we’re still in relatively early days of easing lockdown and much of the ‘exit strategy’ in regards to live music is not clear. Going forward, many of us will be adapting, and we may need to rely on creative solutions in the interim. But this could be a chance for some exciting, positive changes in the culture of the scene too.

Mafalda is in the same boat as every DJ and artist right now, gigs cancelled for the foreseeable and projects on pause. But mostly she’s concerned about our local scene and venues. “I’ve always thought that we have such a lively music culture – whether it’s small bands, big bands, rappers, producers, labels – there is such a vibrant scene, but we don’t have as many venues as we deserve.”

“We’ve lost so many amazing venues in the last four or five years, and now with this happening I’m really concerned that we’re going to lose a lot more,” she says.

Mafalda at GALA 2019 - Photo Credit: Jake Davis Mafalda at GALA 2019 - Photo Credit: Jake Davis

Elsewhere, venues are experimenting with new ways of partying. Resident Advisor reported that smaller events with social distancing have resumed in Spain, Italy and Germany, with a socially distanced art, music and fine dining festival scheduled in Amsterdam in June. Last month Gerd Janson played a socially distanced open-air gig in Germany. Tickets were sold at a bumper 70euro and the venue held a limited capacity of 100. Despite a hefty price it sold out within 15 minutes according to Resident Advisor. Is this really the ‘new normal’?

Many are skeptical of the quality of these experiences and if events like this could work financially. Naomi Palmer, Managing Director at Earth Agency, says many of her artists have moved their shows out of 2020 altogether. “They’re thinking if I’m in, for example a 500 capacity venue and 200 people are allowed in, how is that really going to be a good vibe?” she says.

“It could be completely amazing, you might be in a situation where you’re watching an arena or a stadium act with like a couple of hundred people, but how is that going to work financially? All of the overheads have to be covered before the artist gets paid.”

It might be ‘back to basics’ for some. As we’ve already seen, free parties might return in the capital, thinks Worldwide FM co-founder and London favourite Thristian: “I think people are genuinely scared of the virus so I think people are gonna be [cautious]” he says, “but I think there’s gonna be a couple of block parties man, people putting speakers out the windows and all that stuff.”

“We’re not really getting that much information from the government, so naturally people will start making their own minds up about how they do things.”

Photo taken at the socially distanced party at Coconut Beach venue in Münster. Photo taken at the socially distanced party at Coconut Beach venue in Münster.

It is likely that smaller spaces will see pop-up parties begin to happen there soon too. “As soon as pubs are open, as soon as there’s a little glint of light, people will be making parties in those spaces” says Caroline Hayes, founder of Spun Out agency, whose roster includes the likes of Ruf Dug, Optimo, Manfredas and until his recent passing, the great Andrew Weatherall.

Since travel is limited at the moment, artists could stick to their country or neighbouring countries after lockdown when borders ease. But on the flip side, this could give way to new flourishing local scenes in the capital and other UK cities, which is really exciting to consider.

Dynamic local scenes could pave the way for a proliferation of microcosms of culture, and new talent and emerging artists might have easier access to these spaces. “Your big calling card is how big-a name of international talent can you sell your tickets off” Palmer says, “maybe this will force us to focus a bit more on acts coming out of home and domestic acts.”

Mafalda is also hopeful of this; “When gatherings are permitted again, I hope that we see that it is a really positive impact, in communities and people will be looking more towards local talent, local spaces and even finding new talent.”

“We should all really try and focus and think of ways of improving the music industry and the music scene in our communities. Hopefully, people will support their communities more, at least in the beginning, but I hope also that it doesn’t stop once gigging, touring and travelling is permitted again.”

Global Roots hosting the Worldwide FM stage at GALA 2019 - Photo Credit: Jake Davis Global Roots hosting the Worldwide FM stage at GALA 2019 - Photo Credit: Jake Davis

Headliner culture could also take a hit; “I don’t know if you could do things like massive parties where the DJ is charging like million dollars,” Thristian says. “I don’t know if people will want that.”

“There was a lot of talk [about it] last year at the IFF (International Festival Forum)” Palmer says, “there was someone from a huge promotion company who was like, ‘I would happily spend the festivals entire budget on the headliners, they’re what sell the tickets, it’s the mid-level acts who need to drop their fees’. I found that really depressing, because it’s the mid-level acts who need the funding in order to get their show on the road, and really how many millions can one headline act possibly need?”

Aside from lineup politics, this moment might offer a chance to move forward in regards to universal issues like the environment, “I think we’ve been extremely flippant and I think as much as the music industry is aware, I think we’re still just as guilty,” considers Thristian.

“You look at festivals and the plastic consumption, if you’re looking at the music industry directly, certain disruption routes like records and vinyl aren’t particularly great, the production of vinyl isn’t particularly great, maybe that needs to be looked at. It’s thrown everything up in the air.”

“I think we were already heading that way, zero waste festivals and things, so it’s only going to spur on that movement” says Hayes, “I think there are some amazing things to come out of this experience – appreciating the natural world, focusing on what really matters.”

Two different era’s?

People have really come together at this strange time, and it’s so wonderful to see. There’s a real sense that things have been seriously shaken up and how we look at the world might shift after all of this. That, along with the resurgence of the hugely vital Black Lives Matter movement, and people calling out big business and corporations, organisations, and festivals on diversity left, right and centre, we can be hopeful that some real change is coming.

Taken at the Black Lives Matter peaceful protest in Parliament Square, London on 6th June - Photo Credit: Ella Yarnton Taken at the Black Lives Matter peaceful protest in Parliament Square, London on 6th June - Photo Credit: Ella Yarnton

“[I hope] it will return more to the core values that spawned the dance music industry and scene in the first place,” considers Hayes.

“[Lockdown has] been two months now, and now the Black Lives Matter movement has begun again. I think these will forever be connected, not directly but it will always be an important part of remembering this lockdown,” says Mafalda. “Especially in music – we had the ‘Black Out Tuesday’ and everyone in the music industry is almost being forced to act, but it is important because music really wouldn’t be here without black people and it’s really important that the music industry is taking a stand.”

It seems that many of us are considering creative ways to move forward, but skeptical about social distancing as a long-term solution. Clubland, live music, and young people will likely find a progressive ways forward without sacrificing the communal and ritual tradition of music culture. We remain hopeful that the spirit of the scene might just be stronger, and even more forward thinking, on the other side.

It’s a chance to build on the things that make the scene work and take check on those that don’t. Pushing homegrown talent, sustainability, and being conscious of the diversity of talent on our lineups is hugely important, and after a pretty tumultuous year, we’re actually feeling pretty hopeful about what the next chapter has in store.

As Thristian says, “so much has changed, in the world and the scene and the industry. I think it’s going to be pre and post covid isn’t it – it’s two different eras.”

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