As Nadine Shah was beginning, what she jokingly described as her “6Music Festival residency” in Camden Town, SXSW, the massive showcase festival in Austin, Texas – due to reach its musical climax later this week – was cancelled by the sombre-faced local mayor….and so the impact of the coronavirus on the music industry really started in earnet.
SXSW was already rumoured to be teetering on the brink, even before mayor Steve Adler declared a state of emergency in Austin to protect itself from the virus. A number of big name companies and sponsors had pulled out (which is more cataclysmic these days to SX than the absence of any number of artists. Ozzy Osbourne they could live without; Facebook, Twitter and Apple they can’t).
SX has reached the point where – at least partly – it is dependent on the corporate dollar. It has changed the face of Austin, but at a cost. So if nothing else, the fall-out from this year’s cancellation might at least give the city a chance to reflect on how they handle this, once this current horror has passed. .
You can only hope that the venues – who’ve been subject to major rate rises in the past few years and who, in some cases make 40 per cent of their annual revenue in SXSW week – can survive without it.
In comparison, the 6Music Festival is a typically British event; a cosy village fete compared to SX’s World Series style showbiz extravaganza.
It is a tombola on the green, home-made bunting type of affair (brilliantly illustrated by the presence of the Women’s Institute selling tea and cake at the By Day events).
Which isn’t to say that it lacks import or credibility. It prides itself on credibility! It is all about curation for the discerning music fan – which makes it sound worthy and dry, but there were some excellent sets across the weekend, not least a brace of performances from the aforementioned Shah who I saw on the Sunday and the ebullient Sports Team, whose Friday night set in front of a couple of hundred people would have torn apart any youth club.
Both were there setting the scene for new album releases (Shah’s LP due in June is a great piece of work, nicely set up by lead single ‘Ladies For Babies’; while Sports Team have high hopes of a Top 5 debut with ‘Deep Down Happy’).
Yet just a week on, they – like a lot of other artists – have no idea where they are or where they are going next. As the industry has started to come to terms with the Coronavirus, we’ve seen festivals and tours being cancelled left, right and centre. And itineraries and carefully plotted promo campaigns are in utter disarray. This is not a time to be the manager of a band or a live agent. Even Record Store Day has been kicked back from April to June.
Several bands are rumoured to be on the verge of postponing album releases (Sports Team among them if you believe the grapevine, alongside, word on the street has it, The Streets. If true, they surely won’t be the only ones).
And I’m speculating here, but the theory is likely to be: what’s the point putting out a record when you can’t tour to promote it? (or even, we’re only putting out a record so we CAN tour…).
Bands from America had already started cancelling tours before this week’s new flight regulations between the States and the UK were announced at the weekend (which, despite an optimistic tweet from our favourites Bambara the other day, will probably, put paid to their trip in May)
Everything is suddenly up in the air and we probably won’t know how bad the situation is with regards to music, for another week. But I’m preparing for us all to be left in a weird period of stasis: more gigs wiped out; careers on hold; and everybody skint (this is a particular worry for artists who rely on playing live for their wages and their rent and the associated live music industry, whether you’re road crew or a promoter or a venue with limited cash flow options).
COVID-19 will have far more horrible consequences in day to day life, than what it means for the music industry. Who knows how many lives will be lost and how it’ll effect the nation’s psyche; how divisive the government’s reaction will be; and the moral questions to be answered in the country’s response.
So it seems a bit daft talking about pop music in some ways at the moment, even though music will be an enormous help to a lot of us in the coming months.
Yet it’s probably still worth noting that this is going to be one of the toughest and most challenging moments in music history for a very long time.
And that it may turn out that – once the worst of the Coronavirus pandemic abates –the footage of the 6music Festival will feel like a musical world in much simpler, happier times.