Today, the Bella Union artist Hilang Child (real name is Ed Riman) tells us how the Covid-19 crisis has affected him, his work and his family. He also has some thoughts on how we could begin to see the light at the end of a dark tunnel.
“The Covid-19 crisis has obviously been a very strange and sad time for everyone, regardless of which walk of life you’re in. Peoples’ lives are on the line, health workers are being stretched to breaking point and there are families facing extreme financial hardship, so I want to preface by saying I’m only here to speak for my own experiences working as a musician through the pandemic. I’ve lost most of my income and upcoming plans, but it almost feels crass to write about it knowing that I’m just one of millions in that position. Many are worse off than me and I’ve still got my health and a roof over my head – I’m certainly one of the lucky ones. So I’m hoping this comes across simply as a snapshot of uncertainty that some others in a similar position can relate to.
I’m not sure what the artistic and musical landscape will look like when we finally pull through this, or what it’ll mean for hundreds of artists like myself moving forward. For context, my professional fingers are in a few pies – I write, record and perform as Hilang Child and on the side I play as a session drummer for a few artists, teach drums to young people in London and write about live shows for a website.
As soon as this crisis started to escalate I realised it might put a stop to everything I do for work and put any creative plans in jeopardy, but I don’t think it hit home properly until it happened. I’ve now lost nearly all of my work from all 4 income streams. They’re all freelance and, at the time of writing, the government seems to still be completely ignoring the millions of self-employed people who are out on a limb if they cannot work.
The first inkling of my personal disruption came when I was due to play some tour dates in the US earlier this month as the drummer for my labelmate Dog In The Snow. The chief show was SXSW so the festival’s cancellation meant our visas were completely voided and, like many other artists and industry professionals, we had to make the devastating decision to cancel the entire trip one night before we were going to fly. That was the first blow – to me for losing a couple of weeks of session work, but way more brutally to Helen (Dog In The Snow) who had put a lot of her own money into the trip and was unable to claim the lost expenditure on insurance due to the nature of how things accelerated.
Our label also spent so much time and money organising a stage at the festival and helped towards funding their artists heading over, so they too took a massive hit from the cancellation.
After that it became clear it would snowball – before the current lockdown began all of my Hilang Child tour dates and festival bookings had already been either postponed or cancelled, the place where I teach drums had closed and my work writing about live shows had been cut. I’m known to be a catastrophiser and went into a black hole of anxiety last week realising that I’d lost my income for the foreseeable future without any government protection to plug the gap, plus the pursuits I’ve worked on for years are now at a crossroads and, on top of it all, I have family members in Covid’s ‘at-risk’ category for whom this pandemic has more grave connotations than just a lack of earnings or bog roll.
The lockdown has now also thrown doubt on creative plans that have been in motion for over a year. Myself and a number of collaborators have been working on my new album since the start of last year, slaving away whenever we could find time between other commitments. Whether on the music side of things or whether planning the expressive visuals to go with it, the processes had been very time-intensive for everyone working on them. We hoped to begin releasing to coincide with tour dates we had, but that’s now out the window. On the recording side myself and my co-producer JMAC now can’t get into the studio any time soon to finish mixing the music we’ve worked on all this time, so sticking to release plans is going to be difficult. I recently took on a new booking agent too but obviously the uncertainty means adequately planning ahead for future shows will be a challenge.
Luckily, we’re in an industry that many people care about and is blessed to have folks looking out for each other. My label Bella Union and platforms like Bandcamp have been amazing with recent endeavours to waive cuts they’d usually take from artists’ merch. Fans have been so supportive too – last week I put some old demo CDs up for sale on a ‘pay what you want’ basis and a lot of people were extremely generous.
Many people are also starting ventures to help the creative industries get through this difficult period – my friend recently created a platform called This Art Will Go On specifically for that purpose. So I have hope that we’ll pull together and get through.
For now all we can do is keep going whilst throwing all of our support and gratitude behind our NHS and healthcare workers who are putting themselves in the firing line to drag society out of this mess.
Altruism is the key word to remember; this is a situation bigger than any one of us so protecting and being considerate towards one another has to be a priority if we’re to see real light at the end of the tunnel. My hope is that we’ll re-evaluate the self-prioritising mindset the modern age puts many of us in, because the social and economic danger of this crisis means the ‘greater good’ is the only thing that will benefit the individual.”