‘Bri­tish mu­sic will be si­lenced in a self-built cul­tural jail’

Fears grow for the creative in­dus­tries

The Observer - - Front Page - Band­ing to­gether Nosheen Iqbal & Vanessa Thorpe

Last year, the Bri­tish mu­sic in­dus­try posted record-break­ing sales not seen since the com­mer­cially bloated days of Brit­pop. Rev­enues rose by 10.6%, the £92bn creative sec­tor grew at twice the rate of the na­tional econ­omy, and the for­mer rough-sleep­ing, street busker Ed Sheeran be­came the world’s big­gest-sell­ing pop star.

And yet the in­dus­try is gripped by

the fear that Brexit will shat­ter that suc­cess and cause ir­repara­ble dam­age to the UK’s cul­tural in­flu­ence and out­put. In an open let­ter to the prime min­is­ter to­day, or­gan­ised by Bob Geldof and backed by dozens of pop, rock and classical heavy­weights in­clud­ing Sheeran, Rita Ora, Da­mon Al­barn, Jarvis Cocker, Si­mon Rat­tle, and Brian Eno, the sec­tor makes an ur­gent call for a re­think on Brexit.

“We are about to make a very se­ri­ous mis­take re­gard­ing our gi­ant in­dus­try and the vast pool of yet undis­cov­ered ge­nius that lives on this lit­tle is­land,” the let­ter warns. It pre­dicts that the “vast voice” and reach of Bri­tish mu­sic will be si­lenced in a “self-built cul­tural jail”.

One of the sig­na­to­ries, the broad­caster and award-win­ning com­poser of choral mu­sic Howard Goodall, said he be­lieved the time had come to put diplo­matic re­serve to one side.

“Bob’s let­ter is pas­sion­ate and very emo­tional and that is one of the things miss­ing from the wider de­bate,” he told the Ob­server this week­end. “A lot of mu­si­cians will have be­lieved that there would be some sort of mu­si­cians’ pass­port ar­range­ment. Peo­ple are go­ing to lose their jobs if there’s no deal, and even if there is a Che­quersstyle deal, there will be no pro­vi­sion for this kind of pro­fes­sional travel. Ev­ery­thing is go­ing to change.”

On Wed­nes­day, the prime min­is­ter pledged to abol­ish ar­ti­cle 45 of the EU char­ter of fun­da­men­tal rights, which grants free­dom of move­ment to EU cit­i­zens, and “bring in a new im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that ends free­dom of move­ment once and for all”. The let­ter de­scribes this as “a se­ri­ous mad­ness”.

Geldof said that ev­ery­one he had asked to add their sup­port to the cam­paign said yes.

The fall­out for the in­dus­try and its stars is stark – and ex­pen­sive. Last month, Lily Allen joked that had she won the Mer­cury mu­sic prize, the £25,000 prize money would have been spent on “visa ap­pli­ca­tions af­ter Brexit”.

Alex Sushon, a pro­ducer and DJ bet­ter known as Bok Bok, told the

Ob­server: “I am def­i­nitely liv­ing in fear of hav­ing to se­cure weekly visas to Euro­pean des­ti­na­tions in or­der to keep work­ing. It is a daunt­ing prospect.” Sushon, who runs Night Slugs – one of the UK’s most in­flu­en­tial mu­sic la­bels – said that curbs to free­dom of move­ment within Europe would be “pretty dev­as­tat­ing” for him, and for many more DJs and pro­duc­ers: “Prob­a­bly 50% of my in­come de­pends on it.”

For Mas­sive At­tack, who have sold more than 11m al­bums world­wide, Brexit poses more than a fi­nan­cial prob­lem. “I will never com­plain about pay­ing taxes or ex­tra costs,” said band mem­ber Robert del Naja. “But I find it morally re­pug­nant that Bri­tain ex­pects the rules should be dif­fer­ent for us.”

Del Naja is clear that “with­out Europe, we would not be the band we are now. When we played in France, Italy, Spain, the Nether­lands, the au­di­ence there de­fined what we be­came.”

Speak­ing to the Ob­server, Al Doyle, a mem­ber of Hot Chip and LCD Soundsys­tem, felt that there was lit­tle chance of his bands hav­ing the same suc­cess if they were start­ing out now. “With Hot Chip, we didn’t wait to get big in the UK and then match that in Europe – we were al­ways go­ing out there. It is com­pletely plain and unar­guable that Bri­tish mu­sic will suf­fer – it just de­pends on how much you care about that.”

For small venue own­ers and record la­bels, the prob­lems are manifold. Stephen Bass, co-owner of Moshi Moshi Records, the in­de­pen­dent that first signed Bloc Party, Kate Nash and Florence + the Ma­chine, pre­dicted that “any change to travel rules” would have “a dra­matic ef­fect on the for­tunes of the [bands] I look af­ter and the crew of peo­ple in­volved in live shows”.

“Coun­tries like Amer­ica make it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to tour, and ef­fec­tively cut them­selves off from be­ing a ter­ri­tory in which Moshi Moshi acts can per­form and gen­er­ate in­come. To have our near neigh­bours iso­lat­ing us in a sim­i­lar way would be a dis­as­ter for us and even worse for bands start­ing out in their ca­reers,” he said.

Auro Fox­trot, who owns Lon­don gig and club venues Vil­lage Un­der­ground and Evo­lu­tion­ary Arts Hack­ney, said dif­fi­cul­ties had been build­ing since the ref­er­en­dum. “The ex­change rate is a mas­sive is­sue and when the pound crashed, artist fees went through the roof and lots of shows got can­celled [across the UK].” To him, the im­pact on thriv­ing club cul­ture is im­mense. “Those things de­velop through ex­po­sure of new ideas, dif­fer­ent ways of view­ing the world, other takes on so­ci­ety. If you close it and slim it down, you cut off col­lab­o­ra­tion, un­der­stand­ing and tol­er­ance.”

Bri­tish mu­si­cians, in­clud­ing, from left, Jarvis Cocker, Johnny Marr, Rita Ora, Ed Sheeran, Robert Del Naja and Bob Geldof, fear EU de­par­ture will dam­age the in­dus­try.

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