The UK is preparing to leave the European Union. Emotions run high. The economic freedom and prosperity that we were promised fail to materialise. The tabloid press ramps up the jingoistic bullshittery, leading swathes of our country into blind submission. But what are our musicians thinking?
Unlike many professions, musicians are practically unanimous in our dismay over the prospect of leaving the EU. The Musicians’ Union has campaigned strongly against Brexit since before the referendum. Their call for a Reciprocal Musicians’ Passport to protect the rights of touring musicians offers some hope (however sceptical I am personally about how successful it can be). Freedom of movement is essential for us to make our living, to share our art with our fellow human beings across the world. Revoking this right and charging large amounts of money for visas could make touring prohibitively expensive for many of us. This is not mere speculation. Much-loved French duo The Noise and the Naïve, who had long been based in Newcastle, have recently moved to Canada – a country which “manifestly needs us more”, according to their Facebook page.
I don’t believe the government will do anything to help us – any faith I had in them was shattered long ago. Their overlooking of musicians is just another example of their disrespect for the creative sector. In Tory eyes, we are just lazy scroungers who should have chosen a more lucrative career path. They don’t care how many of us are skint. They don’t care that our music brings joy to so many people who would otherwise be overwhelmed by the monotony of life under this wretched capitalist system. They don’t care how depressing life would be, even for them, without us. Anything outside their own pockets doesn’t concern them.
What positivity can we possibly find in this mess? A small source of hope is music’s tenacity in the face of social division. Political turmoil has often been accompanied by unexpected developments in grassroots popular music. Music is tightly interwoven with social reality and acts as a means of expression for those who are otherwise excluded from political discourse. It is fair to predict that we are in for an upheaval of dominant forms of music, particularly at the grassroots and DIY level. The question here is this: how will the music industry react? How long will it take to pick up on these developments? How will it mediate them, how will it turn them into profit? Because let’s face it, the people at the top of this industry are businesspeople just like any other. Of course, the large corporations at the top of the music industry will always find ways around the barriers created by Brexit; it is the small, independent artists and labels who will suffer. The British musicians who will now have to think twice about touring in Europe. The small community music venues who will find it more difficult to book acts from the EU, preventing the cultural exchange on which music thrives.
Last modified: 10th March 2020