Cate Le Bon - Portland House, Cardiff Bay, 29/08/2019 2
Cate Le Bon (photo credit Emma Lou)

New genre or new normal? How independent musicians adapt to the shutdown of the live circuit

Last month a BBC article boasted about how high concept streaming shows were now a “new genre” but rather than showing the way for innovative use of digital streams and new technology much of the article came off as tone deaf, exposing the sheer inequality of music once again.

While The Weeknd, Billie Eilish and Liam Gallagher have the financial backing to stage such high concept sets most independent artists struggle, and dozens of venue are either closing or threatened with being put out of business. The treble threats of Covid lockdown, inequality of streaming and Brexit very much a toxic combination.

A study by the Musicians Union last year suggested that a 1/3 of musicians are considering giving up and moving onto other careers, it’s a list that starkly highlights inequality and the dominance of the 1% of name major label artists.

116837848 covidlivemusichs82 1

Also mentioned was DJ Hot Since 82 playing his records on a hot air balloon like the smiling Richard Branson of music. His manager James Drummond told the BBC:

“Our mindset’s always been that way, so we saw it as a challenge,”
he said in the article. “We thought, well if everyone’s at home and can’t go to a venue – what’s the best experience we can give them? The natural environment was our answer.”

Sadly despite his intentions, it came off as crass and smugly inappropriate as the time. As did David Guetta giving a shout out to George Floyd whilst playing a DJ set on an exclusive roof top location in New York.

This is the reality for nearly a year now, live venues have been silent, a global pandemic put pay to touring schedules, shows and festivals hastily pushed back and back throughout last year until many were cancelled or rearranged for 2021.

With an uncertain future for many venues and the financial impact on musicians, artists and touring crew and despite promises of a ‘return to freedom’ by June, given the Westminster governments failure to deliver throughout the last year with U-turn and incompetence at the heart of everything they do, and seemingly an attack on the arts separating support for what they consider viable and unviable professions, their promises are worth about as much as a sad unused crumpled up ticket from one of last years shows.

I have an existential dread about the venues and festivals that will be left when we truly exit lockdown and come blinking into the light. Still we have to praise the NHS who have successfully been rolling out millions of vaccines that gives us hope of at least some social gatherings this year and maybe some shows and festivals, the Music Venue Trust seem hopeful but who can say? It will all be determined by infection levels.

So to offer a contrast of what can be done, I am looking at how artists have been diversifying over the last year. Whilst the glut of live streamed sets from seemingly every artist you know who set up a webcam in their bedroom may have calmed down, due perhaps to over exposure, many artists have been exploring more innovative ways to promote their music, perform for their fans and get their work out there during this pandemic. Art , television and music have been the main sources of stimulation and entertain minds of those struggling to survive lockdown.

PRS for Music climbed down on their recent livestream license fee after an understandable backlash from artists already struggling, PRS now says that events generating less that £500 will now be covered by a free licence, providing artists are exclusively performing their own works.

Whilst this is good, it also stated: “We are committed to agreeing a discounted rate for larger concerts as soon as possible to make these licences available to the market,” suggesting that their original proposal of a tariff of 8% to 17% would be revised down. But for some venues this license alone will mean they won’t see profits from ticketed live streamed shows.

Last year ticketed online shows from Laura Marling and Nick Cave proved popular while on twitter and social media, artists found new ways to promote their music with Tim’s Listening Parties a heartening communal listening experience of long players on twitter, while Sophie Ellis Bextor‘s Kitchen Disco, streamed from her own home with her kids delighted onlookers or just those who fancied a bop along whilst cooking a stir fry.

At grassroots levels Balcony Festival, a monthly streaming festival in aid of charities, that we along with platforms like Joyzine, Loud Women, Rocklands were involved in featured sets by the likes of Katie Malco, Chemtrails, Clwb Fuzz, Rosehip Teahouse and many more.
We at God Is In The TV even hosted some of our own lockdown sets.

Working Men’s Club performed numerous live streamed sets throughout the year, including a big one pre the release of their debut album at YES in Manchester in July.

Roisin Murphy produced a unique homemade video for many of the songs on her fantastic album Roisin Machine, last year. Splicing live footage with unique visuals and fashion statements.

Haiku Salut took on a different kind of musical challenge in lockdown, the Derbyshire Dales trio were enlisted to write a new score to two short archive films from the BFI National Archive.

The first song ‘Pattern Thinker’ provided the soundtrack for the 1940 black and white short, “4 And 20 Fit Girls”. Haiku Salut’s new score, meanwhile, marries intricate electronica with emotive post rock to create what the band describe as “an eleven minute electronica mini-epic with impossible piano arpeggios.”

The song was originally premiered at an online watch party on July 19, with funds raised in the event going to three independent cinemas local to the trio – Nottingham Broadway, Derby Quad and the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield.

The second song, ‘Portrait In Dust’ provided the soundtrack for the 1920 short film, “Nude Woman By Waterfall”, shot by pioneering British filmographer Claude Friese-Greene.

“We were thinking: dust motes in sunshine, the smell of distant wood-smoke, Derwent valley fog, the inevitable deterioration of everything. Nothing. Everything. Being. A meditative arrangement for the mind and body after an aerobic workout,” explains the band’s Sophie Barkerwood.

The song was originally premiered at an online watch party on Aug 2, with funds raised going to two more independent cinemas local to the band – The Northern Light in Wirksworth and the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds.

Cate Le Bon played a show at Clwb Ifor Bach, the Welsh Club round these parts, in October as part of a Twitch special.

There have also been experiments in Europe with socially distanced gigs and festivals that have trialed passports for entry to certain events with the requirement of vaccination or a negative test before entry.

In this country Future Yard, a brand new venue in Wirral road tested a socially distanced gig with local band She Drew The Gun last September for their opening night.

Louisa Roach the group’s singer and songwriter. enjoyed the experience on different levels.

The atmosphere for the gig was brilliant so I think we really got something from that, and it was really great to be the first to play at our new hometown venue, it also means we haven’t gone a whole year without a gig as well so it was a really positive thing to do, we proper celebrated after that gig, the dressing room was bouncing so I think we all needed it.”

She explains how performing at the event made her even more hungry to return to playing live.

“I think the socially distanced gig especially made me realise how much I miss the whole thing, even just arriving at the venue, getting shown to the dressing room, to seeing the crew all working behind the scenes, then seeing the crowd and everyone being up for it, I suppose its a bit of a two way thing when you do a gig, you really get something from the audience in the moment that you don’t really get from any other way of putting your work out, that’s what has really been missing.”

Louisa tells us how live streams from home worked for them.

“I think the difficulty with a live streamed set where you have a live audience as well is that you are making your sound for a live audience and it doesn’t necessarily translate on the live stream, the ones that I’ve seen that work best are focused on the live stream. We did some recorded bedroom sessions which came across like a livestream, I enjoyed having control over the sound. I think the good thing about it is you are doing a live performance but you are not restricted by the physics of a venue, you can turn the drums down, you can put the vocals up without feeding back, that kind of thing, and you can get the feed back live on your socials too, but you do miss that two way in the moment experience that stays in your memory, its a feeling that I’m not sure you could get from a live stream.”

Leo Bargery of the band Mt.Doubt has been playing streamed sets throughout lockdown.

“Overall it’s definitely been a very positive option in terms of being able to ‘perform’, try out and hone new songs and also just to feel some semblance of social interaction and ‘community’ amidst the isolation!”

“It’s also a positive punctuation in the otherwise formless week; I’ve been jobless for almost a year now. Financially, it doesn’t fill that gap obviously, but people have been wonderfully generous with their tips which is also massively appreciated!”

Bristol band Hamburger performed a heartwarming set at The Exchange in Bristol last month. The Exchange are raising funds to continue as a venue they say: “100% of donations allow us to continue supporting great new bands, you can donate here”:

Unable to perform it live, Mogwai debuted songs from their tenth studio album, As The Love Continues, at a live stream performed and recorded at Tramway in their hometown of Glasgow. Broadcast worldwide in early April it was directed by the band’s long term collaborator Antony Crook, the broadcast was the first opportunity to hear the new album in full alongside highlights from the band’s back catalogue.

Podcasts saw an even greater growth as those cut off from the outside world in lockdown looked for comforting and humorous conversations to keep them company. I know they helped me at particularly times of anxiety and depression this past twelve months.

Bugeye host a particularly irreverent brand of chat and debate, while Edit Radio pick out some excellent new music.

Chart Music a podcast featuring former Melody Maker and NME staffers dissecting a new episode of Top of the pops every month, this delve back into the great and trash of music and nostalgia is hilarious, sarcastic, enlighten and irreverent. Not least for Taylor Parkes grumpy flights of mockery. Andy Von Pip always has an ear for great new artists and a way with sarcastic delivery, his podcast is very recommended too.

Hidden Notes is a label, record shop and an events arm they have been putting on sessions throughout the pandemic:
So far we have featured pianist/composer and producer Daniel Inzani (Spindle Ensemble/Tezeta/Yola/Abaster dePlume) and violinist Flora Curzon (Frand and Flora). We have more sessions lined up over the next few months including cellist Simon McCorry and more…It is our hope that the record shop sessions will continue, and once restrictions are lifted somewhat we can also invite artists from further afield to a tiny record shop in Stroud…”

They feel its been important to continue to engage with their artists and audience while their festival is on hold.

“We feel that in the current climate it’s important for us to add that all of the artists are paid for their performances and also the filmmaker for their work. For ourselves we simply want to continue to provide a platform for artists to promote their music, perform new works and take the genre out of its traditional setting. It’s also a way for us to continue to engage with the HN audience and put out some great content whilst the festival hopefully returns in September 2021 for the rescheduled vol.2…Not to mention promoting our favourite record store and our ongoing working relationship with them!”

Finally, this upcoming weekend the people behind Four of Wales’ best-loved festivals – Festival of Voice, FOCUS Wales, Other Voices Cardigan and Aberystwyth Comedy Festival – have joined forces in lockdown to create Gŵyl 2021; a free, online festival packed with music and comedy, embracing diversity and dialogue.

Filmed over recent months in Wales and internationally within Coronavirus guidelines, Gŵyl 2021 will be available across the UK at on the weekend of 6-7 March 2021.

Andy Jones one of the organisers of Focus Wales and  Gŵyl 2021 told us: ‘With Gŵyl, the aim from the outset was to collaborate on a new project in Wales that could generate work for artists, venues, production companies, film companies, and the army of freelancers that make our events happen, to deliver something that could kick us all into 2021 with some hope for the future.’

The line-up includes contributions from Cate Le Bon in collaboration with Gruff RhysArlo Parks and Dani Rain, the drumming force behind Neck Deep. Other highlights include Charlotte Adigéry,  Welsh Music Prize winners Adwaith, their Libertino label mates Bandicoot, Irish poet and art rock pioneer Sinead O’Brien and Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Jordan Brookes; Welsh Language Album of the Year winner Ani Glass.

Dance company Jukebox Collective have also curated performances from reggae artist Aleighcia Scott, RnB/soul artist Faith, rapper King Khan, singer and rapper Reuel Elijah, spoken word artist Jaffrin Khan and more.

With uncertainty surrounding most festivals and the touring circuit still on hold this summer we could be in for more streamed festival sets and more unique ways of artists reaching our lives.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.