Cultural Isolation Pt. 2: The Industry Speaks

Following on from our piece on Brexit and how it could affect UK metal, we spoke to a handful of people from the scene to find out their thoughts on how leaving the EU could affect them going forward.


What’s your personal opinion on Brexit and the debates around it? How could the UK leaving the EU affect you as an individual?

Leigh Jones (Riff Rock Records): I’ve always been in favour of remaining in the EU, but that’s informed as much by my day job working in the music industry as it is by my own personal politics, which quite easily fit into the mould of your typical lefty.

Dawn Ray’d: Before we start I want to make it clear that we approach this debate from an anarchist, anti-borders, anti-state position.

I wholeheartedly oppose the hardening of borders, the further restriction of people’s movement and right to live where ever they need to. I also fully oppose the increase of nationalism, racism and right-wing sentiment that this issue has brought about.

At the same time, I also oppose the EU itself – the brutal crimes of Frontex and the heartbreaking number of people they cause to die in the oceans trying to get to Europe; the economic sanctions imposed on the Greek people and the damage that causes; the informal EU-funded border patrols in sub-Saharan Africa; the brutality we saw during the Catalonian bid for independence; the violence against the Jilets Gaunes; the way liberalism quickly becomes draconian when attacked; the razor-wire fences and prison camps on the Eastern borders… there’s no doubt about it, the EU is a horrendous, undemocratic, capitalist institution.

People have been dying at the UK border trying to get in for years, just look at the camps in Calais. The tightening of the borders is really just an issue for EU passport holders, I wonder if people from Africa or the Middle East would even see a difference.

The problem with this debate is it is being sold as a binary choice, will you side with either the far-right leavers or the pro-EU remainers? As anarchists we will not tolerate any government, and don’t care who tries to rule us.

This whole debate has also been a huge distraction from the poverty, austerity and ecological destruction of the last few years.

It a choice between something terrible, and something else possibly slightly more terrible. Ultimately it is the power games of the ruling class, and was intended only as a way to consolidate power.

Alex (Truthseeker Music): In Roald Dahl’s The Twits, Mr and Mrs Twit live in a house with no windows. They believe that windows exist so that passers by can look into their house, and not so that they themselves can look outside and get fresh air. 

A significant number of people who have voted to leave the European Union have done so because they think it’s an easy way for foreigners to exploit the United Kingdom and our resources, rather than looking at the opportunity that it affords them, to freely travel and work in a number of beautiful countries that surround us.

Joe Allen (Holy Spider Promotions/Kurokuma): I just roll my eyes. I’m not a political guy but of course this has the potential to affect me more than most things that have happened lately.

PetrichorWe have mixed feelings about Brexit. We don’t think it’s universally good or universally bad, and we think that it’s problematic to view the European Union with some kind of dogma. It is not benevolent, it is a federalist union of nations that trends towards neoliberalism. It does a lot of good, but rarely is that good morally motivated. Instead it’s profit motivated, with the intention of turning the Eurozone into the largest and most powerful trading bloc in the world. Whilst that bodes well when you consider the UK’s position towards other large trading blocs like North America and China, it also means that the problems caused by capitalism and neoliberalism, compounded with free market ideology, make larger scale socialist projects difficult or impossible. It would, for example, be quite difficult to re-nationalise the UK energy or communications sectors with the EU in its current form.

That said, we believe that the greatest harm and the greatest potential for harm is caused by our own government and that Brexit or no Brexit under a Tory government is going to be a miserable experience for most UK citizens. After all, ten years of crippling austerity has led to the deaths of many 1000s of vulnerable people, long before the question of leaving the European Union was put to the nation. Until we as a nation accept that phenomenal private wealth is not a right, but a privilege borne of great infrastructure, the labour of workers and social services that are accessible and valuable, and that if you have been privileged to make that fortune then it too is your responsibility to support the foundations that make that accumulation of wealth possible.

It can be very easy to be caught in the debates surrounding Brexit, because it has a different meaning to different people. For some it represented the return of a vague legislative control they believed themselves to have lost, to others a sort of xenophobic escape door that would mean fewer brown people on the bus, to others a way to get more powerful vacuum cleaners, to others a way of funding the NHS through austerity. We don’t subscribe to any of those viewpoints, but we can acknowledge that you can’t serve all of those masters.

How it will affect us as individuals remains to be seen. If, as predicted by the Bank of England, it causes a recession then it’s likely that we will struggle as all working class Brits will struggle.

South London Scum CollectiveAs a collective we do not really have a “personal” opinion. As individuals, our views are probably quite similar. Most of us in the collective are immigrants, mostly from Europe. Since we do not know exactly how Brexit is going to pan out, it is still difficult to judge the situation. However, some of us think Brexit is a general populist swing to the right and we think it’s based on reactionary ideologies influenced by right and far-right politics of which we do not adhere.


How could Brexit affect your band/label and the scene culturally? Are there things that will be more difficult or impossible after leaving the EU? Also do you think that Brexit has changed perceptions of bands and music from the UK in Europe?

Leigh: Here’s the thing that I want everybody who claims to be a fan of music, whether that’s at a grassroots or casual level, to know: Supporting Brexit and being a fan of music are completely incompatible with each other. You cannot claim to do one while doing the other at any level or in any genre. Leaving the EU negatively affects all parts of the music industry at all levels, from majors all the way down to one-man bedroom labels; from huge touring arena shows to four guys in a van.

Bands in our underground scene will find it difficult to tour outside of the UK if visas are required, not just due to the expense but because of the administration involved. Anybody who’s ever tried to get a band to sign up to PRS will know exactly what I mean. You probably know how difficult getting a band to do anything admin-related is when you have to chase for answers to interview questions!

On a larger scale, bands with touring crews will probably avoid the UK because of the expense and time it takes to get visas for all tour staff. In the immediate wake of leaving the EU it might be that larger bands try it and see that it’s not profitable enough for a return visit.

Generally, I don’t think the perception of UK artists in the EU will suffer at all. By and large musicians tend to be left-leaning Remain-supporters. And even if they’re not, our European friends know that our artists being unable to tour, or finding it difficult to tour on the level they did previously, is nothing to do with them, and that they’re victims of political circumstance.

Dawn Ray’d: I assume worst case scenario we would have to get work visas, but we already have to do that for US! I guess it will also negatively affect our economy which will bring fresh problems.

We get asked about it in Europe constantly, and in the left-wing circles we exist in, people find it tragically hilarious that the UK thinks it will survive after it isolates itself. Nevertheless, people are resilient, and music and culture has never respected borders anyway! I hope that most people see that it is just another farce of democracy and capitalism, and further example of how inadequate the idea of a government actually is.

Alex: I imagine that it will cause additional issues for bands travelling from abroad when they want to tour the UK. Will American bands now have to get a UK visa, as well as a EU visa to tour around Europe? The extra cost of that may make bands decide that there’s more cities to play in mainland Europe than in the UK, and we could start seeing tours miss us out entirely. 

I don’t think it’s affected how people from overseas view the UK. In much the same way I feel that Trump does not represent the views of all Americans; I think the rest of the world is aware that the majority of Leave voters were curmudgeonly old people thinking that their lives were better 40 years ago before we joined the EU.

Joe: Of course, if Kurokuma need visas to tour Europe that will be a hassle. Saying that, we have been to Japan and Iceland – both outside the EU – and just went on a standard tourist visa, even walking through customs with our instruments. It would be tricky if we’re driving round Europe with obvious musical gear in a van though. I’m glad we did a European tour last year while things were still simple.

With Holy Spider it could potentially mean having to sort visas for European bands we’re putting on or booking tours for. We work with bands from all over the world, and I’ve found most we put on can get through customs without visas currently.

Petrichor: A few of us are members of the Musicians Union and the analysis of the MU is that the low-wealth entertainment sector (which encompasses the majority of performers) will suffer greatly from the increased risk and expense of having to obtain visas in order to work in Europe. Unfortunately, the government have done an exceptionally poor job of alleviating these worries, for us or for other sectors, and we are already seeing the impact of this uncertainty. International bands are opting to avoid the UK on their European tours due to the possibility of incurring additional cost or expense caused by Brexit which may or may not happen halfway through their tour. Simply put, it’s not worth it for one or two dates and you’d be better off doing a few more shows in Germany or France, where you have the fans, but also the political stability.

For bands like us without tour bookers and label support, it will become nearly impossible to play Europe as we’re now going to have to ask promoters for more money to cover visa costs, as well as any additional stipulations that impact us. Leaving EU regulation may mean airline fees increase, mobile phone roaming costs increase. In lots of small and difficult to quantify ways things will become more difficult, but one thing we know for sure – it won’t be cheaper or easier.

There’s mixed support for leaving the EU across Europe, but perhaps the embarrassing clusterfuck the government are making of it has changed those opinions.

South London Scum: One of our focuses is to bring bands from out of town or out of the country to play in London. Brexit would affect us adversely. If Brexit happens with no deal it is very likely that we will be lacking cultural influence from Europe as Europe will not come to us!

After leaving the EU, it will be indeed more difficult to book bands from Europe and in the case of visas and such things. After leaving, it is very likely there will be less of us involved in the collective as some of us may have to leave the country.


How could Brexit affect your band/label economically? On a business level, how difficult would it be for you to operate after the UK leaves the EU?

Leigh Jones: Brexit is a total catastrophe for all record labels in the UK regardless of size.

There are a few exceptions, but a large proportion, and I mean over 90%, of all physical music sold in the UK is manufactured in the EU. Even if we wanted to manufacture it all in the UK, the factories that exist here simply don’t have the capacity to do so.

On top of this, at least 80% of stock on shelves in stores in the UK is shipped there directly from warehouses in either France or Germany.

The majors are large international corporations who can cut jobs in the UK and re-hire people in France or Germany where they already have offices. In fact, Universal just made a third of their physical supply chain in the UK redundant after Christmas. Smaller labels, even bigger indies can’t afford to do this.

All of these factors will cause price increases on physical products that labels of all sizes simply cannot swallow. It’s music fans who will pay the price. And if the economy goes into a recession after leaving the EU, as many predict will be the case, labels will find that fewer people from the UK will be able to afford to buy their music as it will be seen as a luxury by a lot of people.

Obviously, we’ll still be able to sell by mail order to the EU, but postage costs will increase and we’ll have to fill in a customs form on each and every single item we send out of the UK. In my experience, probably about half of all pre-orders and mail order products in the world of stoner and doom go to European countries outside the UK. Leaving the EU will make the tedious and long job of packing pre-orders even more tedious and lengthy.

Dawn Ray’d: It will be no doubt more bureaucratic, more expensive and more invasive. Although, and I don’t mean to be glib, the business level of this band is hardly much of a consideration in all of this mess.

Alex: The cost of pressing vinyl will rise. In the four years that we’ve been a label, the cost of pressing has raised by about 15%, this is despite a huge investment from major labels who have begun using vinyl pressing plants far more heavily. In addition to this, I imagine that paying to import 300-500 records from a pressing plant in the Czech Republic will face extra taxes once we have left the EU.

Joe: We break even on every Holy Spider show, on average. It’s impossible to say until firm systems are in place but if we’re having to pay for visas it would create more costs. Maybe tickets would have to go up slightly to cover something like that. But like I say, we’ve worked with plenty of bands from the US, Japan etc. and it’s never been an insurmountable task.

With Kurokuma we do okay on tours usually and put it back into the band. Sorting visas would obviously eat into anything we make. It would also require more planning and paperwork to make the tour work, probably.

Petrichor: Most of our live business is still in the UK, so we’ll still be physically able to play shows. We’re also reasonably insulated in terms of studio costs because we’ve got that knowledge and equipment within the band itself. What we do know for sure is that live music suffers when people suffer. The entertainment industry, particularly lots of small and independent entertainers, is an industry that lives and dies by disposable income. When disposable income dies, so does the entertainment industry. People drink at home in front of the telly. They might still go to the big festivals, who have the financial clout to either absorb or get special dispensation for the problems we’re going to face, but smaller-scale and independent metal shows will die, along with the independent pubs and clubs that support them.

We will continue regardless. We just need to keep our costs down.

South London Scum: We are a not-for-profit DIY collective, and any band from outside of the UK will be less likely to be booked as it will cost us more money and more hassle.


Is there anything else you’d like to say on Brexit?

Leigh Jones: I heard one of the guys from Mumford And Sons is opening a vinyl factory in the UK, which is great news. But cutting lacquers (from which vinyl is pressed) is a highly skilled job – one that we lack real expertise in in the UK. It’s going to take a long time for this new vinyl plant to be a feasible option for UK labels in terms of capacity and expertise – I just hope that the people bankrolling it are prepared to make a loss for an extended amount of time for the sake of UK labels.

It’s absolutely astonishing that we’re having to rely on philanthropy to boost the UK music industry when the UK government were screaming and shouting about how amazing the industry was after the referendum in 2016 when talking up their “Global Britain” strategy. If the music industry was so important to the UK’s reputation abroad, why aren’t the government bending over backwards to support it?

Dawn Ray’d: The former glory that people want us to return to, the wealth of the 1950s-1980s or even before that, is all wealth that Britain stole from its colonies; wealth from India, Ireland, Africa, the Americas, colonies we no longer control. There is a longing to return to a false memory of the past. Paul Gilroy called it the “melancholy of empire”.

I understand how others would gladly see the final death rattle of the British Empire, but ultimately it will be working people who suffer the hardest.

I also hate the governments of the EU, and the violence of the border walls, and I think the amount of pro-EU sentiment we are seeing is distasteful and also worrying.

Destroying capitalism, abolishing borders and deposing all governments is realistically the only thing that will solve our problems. It’s not who governs us that is the problem, it’s that we are governed at all.

Alex: When your main campaign pledge was written on the side of a bus, and you announce that it was a lie on national television before they’ve even finished counting the last vote, maybe it’s worthwhile having another referendum.

Joe: It’s a pile of shit, but the underground music scene thrives despite things being difficult and costly, almost because of that. That’s pretty much the way I see what we do with Holy Spider; it’s a big time and money sink but it’s fucking worth it. We will find ways to work around whatever ends up in place. If you wanted to look at whether we operate ‘legally’ with most of our shows, there’d be a plethora of laws we’re probably not following and we’ve been fine until now. If you’re willing to throw in the towel because of something like this, that’s fine, but that’s not what I’m/we’re about.

Petrichor: Brexit has been an enormously toxic experience for the UK and for political discourse generally. Much of this is due to the pervasive spread of far-right ideas in popular media. Popular media rarely represents left-wing views and typically the spectrum varies between neoliberalism (which is socially liberal, but protects and endorses inequality through misrepresentation of how wealth is created) and hardline conspiratorial nationalism on the right. The things these views have in common is they both protect wealth and power from criticism, and seek to further inequality by moving ordinary people further from power.

Any Brexit under a Tory government will be harmful, but Brexit also serves the Tories regardless of outcome. When we’re playing the hokey-cokey with Europe in our political discourse and leaving no room for any other topics, we’re overlooking areas that neoliberal governments like the Tories fail on.

Housing, welfare, jobs, prison reform, social services, healthcare, education, workers rights, human rights, transport, international diplomacy – they all go under the bus when we only want to talk about Brexit, and that’s how the right win.

South London Scum: Fuck British nationalism! Fuck borders! Fuck Brexit!


Words: Andrew Day

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