What is the future of music in a post-Brexit Britain?
Musicians voice their opinion on the uncertainty of their development and touring abilities.
The countdown to the Brexit deadline is in full swing, Boris Johnson (or the “greased piglet” as David Cameron called the PM this morning) has managed to ramble his way through Irish Backstop talks and in the next 48-hours we could have a deal if the commons vote it through… or not, does anyone know? If Donald Tusk and the Queen are uncertain then who the hell isn’t.
One truth out of this political rollercoaster is that everyone is uncertain: over industry, their future and livelihood. It’s no secret that the creative industry is going to take one of the biggest hits in Brexit, earlier this month the Government issued formidable guidance for preparing (i.e. get ready to be fucked over) for a no-deal Brexit if you work in the creative industries. One substantial note taken from the document is that touring will become almost impossible for artists.
Reading the legalities involved with how Brexit will massively change how things work can seem tedious, but it’s essential that everyone does to fully understand the extent of what Brexit can do. Musicians who’d want to go touring in Europe would have to check individual EU countries’ immigration rules for requirements regarding documentation, work permits and visas. Tourers would have to contact relevant EU countries’ social security institutions to check whether they need to pay contributions locally in addition to national insurance. Additionally, the guide states that European health insurance cards may not be valid after Brexit, necessitating the purchase of health and travel insurance. By the way, this is just a fragment of new rules and technicalities which would be put in place.
“We have a European tour booked in January and February in 2020 where we’ll be playing a different city each day. It’s already a pretty tight schedule… like driving 300 miles in one day kind of tight… like if we get held up at the border we might miss our soundcheck in Milan kind of tight…” discussed Scott Bowley, bassist of Crushed Beaks, the DIY indie band. Another issue is that the new potential rules will only affect smaller, independent and grassroots musicians, the most successful artists who earn millions will have the revenue and team to pay and organise the different visas, licenses and travel arrangements. The chief executive of UK Music, Michael Dugher, told the Guardian: “Most artists operate on tiny margins and the prospect of extra cost and bureaucracy would kill their ability to tour, develop their talent and build their fanbase.”
Touring artists would also need to purchase carnets, basically a detailed passport for merch, to avoid paying duty on goods brought into EU nations, Scott continues: “I’d usually bring some records and merch along to sell at the gigs, but my music degree didn’t prepare me for navigating the non-preferential tariff rates for imports and exports under World Trade Organisation rules. So at the risk of being arrested at customs for smuggling, I think the merch box will probably remain at home for this tour. Talking of remain…”
In more extreme tactics, Haggard Cat, rock duo, have announced that they are going to lock themselves in a concrete box for 24 hours in protest of Brexit and to reflect on the devastating affects it’s going to have on touring musicians.
“Locking yourself in a box is a stupid idea. As is Brexit,” Matt Reynolds told Kerrang!: “It’s intentionally doing something we know is stupid and not in our best interests and puts us at risk. As touring musicians, we can see that the outlook for playing in mainland Europe post-Brexit is bleak, and potentially not even viable for developing artists. We really wanted to demonstrate our feelings on the matter and put across how isolating Brexit is going to be for everyone in Britain, but from our perspective as musicians in particular, by isolating ourselves physically with bricks and mortar.”
So, how can this musical crisis be adverted? Unfortunately, there is no clear answer, like most of the bs we’ve experienced over the past four years. But there is hope, in a worst-case scenario of a no-deal Brexit or Johnson’s mysterious magical deal we have simply, the internet. While the rise of algorithms and AI are becoming ever more sinister, the use of social media has become an alternative space for artists to develop, experiment and display work to huge exposure; conceptual mask artist Shalva Nikvashvili, who when first started posting his work on Instagram was unable to afford materials, now has over 17,000 followers, shows across Europe, work published in magazines and even collaborated with Marni. For musicians, TikTok has been responsible in under a year for breakthrough artists with stratospheric results; Lil Nas X is the prime example.
What can you do right now? Might be a little too extreme for everyone to cement themselves in a box, but alternatively, the R3 Soundsystem has planned their second protest rave this Saturday during the People’s Vote demonstration.