THE UNDERGROUND MUSIC SCENE AFTER COVID

by Ash

Your local music scene is a hive of energy which fuses together networks of people from all walks of life. It’s as much an awkward social battleground as it is an arena where ideas can be shared and explored in confidence and solidarity; it sustains avenues of expression which promote unity and mutual aid and offers sanctuary for people from disadvantaged and marginalised backgrounds to let off some steam. So as we enter a political chapter dominated by censorship and surveillance, we should all be asking ourselves what we can do to keep it alive. 

Pre pandemic, venue doors were closing far and wide, musicians were struggling to afford brekky let alone petrol, and I heard through the grapevine that some metal drummers were struggling to find bands for once. So what’s likely to change in our local music scene as we near the easing of government restrictions after over a year of varying lockdown degrees? Well, even the crusties have turned to hand sanitizer but this time they’re not knocking it back, and we can only speculate and shiver in anticipation for the challenges ahead. In the UK particularly, the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked mass uncertainty and precariousness, so for many little has changed.

The biggest implication these pressing times will have on local music will by far be the economic hardship and social exclusion which individuals, communities and businesses have all experienced, not only due to the direct consequences of the virus itself but also our government’s abysmal self serving approach to tackling (in the best of cases) and exploiting it. If it wasn’t already hard enough to get four people with instruments in a room twice a month, or twenty gig goers in a pub for two hours on a Friday night, now there’s even less room, more regulations and everyone is trying to work around financial and social instability in one way or another, meaning those who already were in the before time, really are today.

So what’s likely to change in our local music scene as we near the easing of government restrictions after over a year of varying lockdown degrees?

There are some obvious hurdles to expect regarding the freedom of movement for touring bands and additional costs being pushed onto manufacturers and distributors of merchandise, as the new border and commerce protocols are rolled out for Brexit. These consequences and costs will split a nice hole in the music lover’s pocket and dramatically stump bands’ ability to get about. The main concern for musos surrounds the hospitality industry where poor communication, biased government funding and shoddy guidelines have compounded the existing financial stress on our pubs, clubs and music venues, in turn leaving them closer to closure and thinning already sparse options for live music. Keeping these venues open is essential.

So whether you’re a die hard crowd surfer, back row tapper or just like skanking to the shouty stuff, there’s no point in venues hosting gigs if nobody comes – you’re the biggest chunk of the taskforce, with more influence than you know. We all go to gigs and we all love ‘em, so here’s a few things to think about or take on board coming out of lockdown, hopefully, in the next few months. 

  • Come, just turn up to gigs, bring a fiver (if you can). 
  • Buy some music, hit bandcamp up, if you like it stick a quid on it and say thanks. 
  • Check out and support the Music Venue Trust, donate if you can 
  • Zines are a great way for anyone to show their appreciation for the scene and express what they love about it, so why not get fiddly with a glue stick and some torn up posters? Similarly if you’re creative and can’t think of anything to draw or paint, get inspired by local musicians and funnel their ideas or lyrics into your artwork to get the word about. 
  • Offer your time. If you’re skilled or qualified in a particular field, post a shout out and offer some help, graphic designers, door staff and sound engineers especially. 
  • Start a band. If you can play an instrument or have a melody stuck in your head, work with it and see what happens, more music means more music!

We all go to gigs and we all love ‘em, so here’s a few things to think about or take on board coming out of lockdown, hopefully, in the next few months.

If you’re planning to organise gigs here’s a few points I’ve mulled over recently which may help us to generate more inclusive and proactive events. 

  • Mix genres. Sticking the same bands on together time and again gets boring and breeds cliquiness. A gig filled with a variety of styles and influence invites a variety of people with different interests, and finding common ground amongst that is our ticket to pooling the resources and skills necessary for us to develop as a scene together.
  • Outdoor spaces. On top of supporting venues we can also take advantage of outdoor spaces like skateparks and public gardens to host community and live music events.
  • Collaborate. You may have an idea which is slightly out of your depth, but what if there were two or three of you? Well there are! Let’s talk more and work together to get some cracking gigs about. 
  • Multi faceted events. A gig is cool, but what about some outreach or light retail on the side? it’s not complicated: next time you have a rough gig plan see if you can integrate a charitable or political angle by propping a stall for a grassroots organisation next to the merch or ticket desk, it gives you someone to chat to and can raise awareness for important issues; likewise, offering a space for local Independent brands, artists or distros at your event can get people chatting and build a nice atmosphere. Usually anyone representing or managing a project of this type is happy to get the word out so they’ll sort themselves out without too much of a bother.
  • Don’t exclude the kids. Let’s try and get some earlier starts in safe environments for everyone to enjoy music, you shouldn’t need a government ID to be included.

Moving on I hope we organise more effectively and if a global pandemic is what was needed to spark that, so be it. A big thank you to all the venues who have trucked on despite everything and I look forward to seeing the rest of you hard at work in the pit soon. Solidarity. 

Featured image CC BY 2.0 VXLA


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