A live is­sue

Ra­dio­head have re­fused to play Glas­ton­bury this sum­mer, claim­ing the fes­ti­val has poor en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tices. The band have de­vel­oped their own rad­i­cal model for eco-friendly rock con­certs, but will other bands sign up to their plan? Richard Bro­phy repo

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

RA­DIO­HEAD’S de­ci­sion to pull out of this year’s Glas­ton­bury is prob­a­bly the first time that a band has re­fused to play a fes­ti­val be­cause the pub­lic trans­port fa­cil­i­ties were lack­ing, but they did not do so on a whim. Cyn­ics will ar­gue that they are just an­other big act with a guilty con­science keen to raise their profile by cham­pi­oning a feel-good cause, but Yorke has a track record in this area.

While oth­ers try to make poverty his­tory yet shel­ter their as­sets in tax-free lo­ca­tions, the Ra­dio­head singer’s work as a spokesman for the Friends of the Earth cam­paign The Big Ask – a role he car­ries out in a more low­pro­file man­ner than that other great rock lob­by­ist, Bono – has yielded re­sults.

Last year, they suc­cess­fully lob­bied the UK gov­ern­ment to in­tro­duce a draft cli­mate change bill, which seeks a rad­i­cal re­duc­tion in car­bon emis­sions by 2020.

Ra­dio­head have also com­mis­sioned a re­port in­ves­ti­gat­ing how they could make their tours more eco-friendly and re­duce their car­bon foot­print (see panel).

One of the re­port’s find­ings – that most fans drive to big shows – caused the band to look at pub­lic trans­port in­fra­struc­ture at big fes­ti­vals. This ul­ti­mately led to their po­ten­tially ca­reer-dam­ag­ing de­ci­sion to turn down an ap­pear­ance at one of the world’s high­est-profile mu­sic events.

For the fes­ti­val or­gan­is­ers, Ra­dio­head’s con­sci­en­tious act is an es­pe­cially cruel blow. Glas­ton­bury orig­i­nated from the in­de­pen­dent UK folk fes­ti­vals of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and would share the same kind of self­suf­fi­cient, sus­tain­able ideals that the band es­pouses. Glas­ton­bury of­fers a “green field” with so­lar-pow­ered fa­cil­i­ties to fans and the fes­ti­val is closely aligned with Green­peace.

Ra­dio­head’s pulling out of Glas­ton­bury could send out the sig­nal to other bands that they need to re­duce their en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact. Ra­dio­head’s re­port in­cludes an ecofriendly tour­ing tem­plate that other bands could eas­ily repli­cate.

To date, the mu­sic in­dus­try hasn’t been par­tic­u­larly en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly or quick to em­brace change – wit­ness its snail’s pace re­sponse to il­le­gal down­load­ing – and deal­ing with cli­mate change will re­quire a fun­da­men­tal be­havioural shift.

With mu­sic sales in freefall, tour­ing has be­come an in­creas­ingly prof­itable part of the busi­ness, but it is also has a detri­men­tal ef­fect on the en­vi­ron­ment. Bands and their size­able en­tourages zig-zag the globe, of­ten in private jets. And a size­able pro­por­tion of the fans who at­tend mu­sic fes­ti­vals and con­certs travel to the events by car. Even Live Earth, last year’s se­ries of high-profile con­certs to raise aware­ness about cli­mate change, was crit­i­cised for the mas­sive car­bon foot­print its per­form­ers cre­ated.

In Ire­land, the live mu­sic sec­tor is in rude health. Last year, there was a record num­ber of out­door mu­sic fes­ti­vals – 70 in all – which, along with a busy con­cert sched­ule, pro­vided a lu­cra­tive rev­enue stream for lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional bands.

How­ever, with oil prices set to in­crease due to grow­ing global de­mand and de­clin­ing sup­ply, the cost of com­mer­cial flights and freight will make it more ex­pen­sive for bands to travel to Ire­land. Faced with this prospect, will bands merely pass on higher costs to fans through in­creased ticket prices – or will they look at Ra­dio­head’s approach?

De­clan Forde, head booker for Pod Con­certs, one of the Repub­lic’s big­gest mu­sic pro­mot­ers, doesn’t see ticket prices ris­ing. “Most bands travel here by ferry and a rise in the price of oil will make de­liv­er­ing equip­ment

and the cost of elec­tric­ity and even the price of food for bands more ex­pen­sive, but I’m not sure that can be passed on to con­sumers. Ticket prices are at their peak and there is such a wide choice of events on of­fer now that the mar­ket just won’t ac­cept more in­creases.”

Not ev­ery­one agrees. Mark Hamil­ton, bass player with the heavy-tour­ing North­ern Ir­ish band Ash, thinks that con­sumers will end up pay­ing for bands’ ris­ing travel costs, even though ticket prices are al­ready higher in Ire­land than in many Euro­pean coun­tries.

“If we were to make our next tour car­bon­neu­tral, there would be some ex­tra cost for peo­ple go­ing to the con­certs, some­where in the re­gion of an ex­tra euro,” he says.

De­spite the pos­si­bil­ity that ticket prices will con­tinue to rise, Oisín Cogh­lan, di­rec­tor of Friends of the Earth Ire­land, be­lieves that live mu­sic has a healthy fu­ture.

“We will have to re­duce global car­bon emis­sions by 50 per cent by 2050 – that’s de­spite the fact that economies like China and In­dia are grow­ing,” he says. “Within that time­frame, we have to look at ev­ery as­pect of so­ci­ety and pri­ori­tise what we want to do. We will see lifestyle changes, but I hope we will choose to fa­cil­i­tate mu­sic events for as long as pos­si­ble. The con­tri­bu­tion to civil­i­sa­tion and

the en­joy­ment we get from live mu­sic are highly val­ued in Ire­land. Peo­ple will have to sac­ri­fice long-haul hol­i­days to go to mu­sic events and art ex­hi­bi­tions, but th­ese are cul­tural high points and we will con­tinue to cher­ish them,” he adds.

Apart from us­ing en­ergy-ef­fi­cient tour buses, Ash have no con­crete plan to re­duce their car­bon foot­print. Hamil­ton off­sets the emis­sions from ev­ery flight he takes and says that “it’s up to in­di­vid­u­als to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their ac­tions”.

He also be­lieves that gov­ern­ments should be more proac­tive about tack­ling cli­mate change, mak­ing it com­pul­sory for pas­sen­gers to off­set car­bon emis­sions from flights – “a no­brainer” – and by im­prov­ing pub­lic trans­port in­fra­struc­ture, which would make live events more sus­tain­able.

How­ever, even if th­ese mea­sures were in­tro­duced, he thinks that travel costs may be­come pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive, es­pe­cially for smaller bands.

If Hamil­ton’s pre­dic­tions sound omi­nous, es­pe­cially for bands that lack the fi­nan­cial clout to snub en­vi­ron­men­tally un­friendly fes­ti­vals, An­gela Dor­gan, di­rec­tor, First Mu­sic Con­tact, a State-funded in­de­pen­dent ad­vice re­source for young bands, of­fers a more pos­i­tive pic­ture. She says that some smaller artists are al­ready tack­ling th­ese is­sues, al­beit on a smaller scale.

“Tour­ing is one of the few ar­eas that is still prof­itable, but our anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests that bands have thought about the chang­ing land­scape,” she says. “They are not do­ing as much fly­ing, are us­ing boats and trains and are on the road for longer pe­ri­ods. We find that more bands are visit­ing Gal­way and Lim­er­ick be­cause once they are in Ire­land, they don't want to miss

any op­por­tu­ni­ties, which ben­e­fits fans and lo­cal bands that sup­port them.” Dor­gan also doesn’t be­lieve it will be­come pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive for a band to come to Ire­land “if a booker wants them badly enough”.

Oisín Cogh­lan be­lieves one so­lu­tion is for big acts to play city-cen­tre venues where trans­port is not such a big is­sue. He cites Croke Park as a large-scale venue that con­cert-go­ers can eas­ily ac­cess by pub­lic trans­port. “It’s an ex­am­ple of Friends of the Earth’s pol­icy of find­ing a way to do some­thing by pol­lut­ing less,” he says.

De­clan Forde says cli­mate change does not af­fect his “day-to-day” gigs in Craw­daddy, but he has no­ticed a grow­ing aware­ness about the is­sue in the in­dus­try. How­ever, he be­lieves that the mu­sic in­dus­try’s busi­ness model will merely adapt, like other in­dus­tries, to the chal­lenges that cli­mate change presents. “The in­dus­try is in a state of flux any­way and it’s an ex­cit­ing time.” One of Pod’s flag­ship events is the an­nual Elec­tric Pic­nic fes­ti­val in Strad­bally, Co Laois. While it has some way to go be­fore it can em­u­late the 225,0000-ca­pac­ity Pa­leo fes­ti­val in Switzer­land, which is pow­ered en­tirely by re­new­able en­ergy, last year’s Elec­tric Pic­nic in­tro­duced a range of eco-friendly ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing re- cy­cling over 7,500kg of rub­bish. Forde agrees that the ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect to the en­vi­ron­ment may have been min­i­mal, but it none­the­less “sent out the right mes­sage to the peo­ple who went to the fes­ti­val”.

Forde says cli­mate change was one of the main top­ics of dis­cus­sion for the first time at this year's In­ter­na­tional Live Mu­sic Con­fer­ence – an an­nualmeet­ing of mu­sic pro­mot­ers, agents and book­ers – while the UK gov­ern­ment and the ma­jor record la­bels have set up Julie’s Bi­cy­cle, a not-for-profit group. Tasked with de­vel­op­ing sus­tain­able, eco-friendly prac­tices for the in­dus­try, it has com­mis­sioned re­search and its rec­om­men­da­tions are to be pub­lished next month.

“There is con­sen­sus that the in­dus­try needs to sort it­self out in an in­tel­li­gent way,” says Alison Tick­ell, di­rec­tor, Julie’s Bi­cy­cle. “Our re­search is about re­spond­ing in the most ef­fec­tive way and com­ing out with long-term, sus­tain­able so­lu­tions. The in­dus­try is in a weird place and there is trep­i­da­tion about the fu­ture, but there is also huge op­por­tu­nity. It faces a num­ber of dilem­mas, but there is also a real de­sire to un­der­stand what is a huge is­sue.”

Let’s just hope that th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions are ac­tu­ally im­ple­mented and don’t end up gath­er­ing dust on a shelf, next to all those re­ports from the 1990s that out­lined the op­por­tu­ni­ties that dig­i­tal down­load­ing pre­sented.

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