Our series on COVID-19's impact on dance music continues with some thoughts from Ed Karney, director of GRADE Management, a UK-based artist management company and music consultancy.
However, in the face of this, for the next period of time, I mean the next year, or until a vaccine is found, I think the way we interact with each other is going to change fundamentally. For me the most powerful images I've seen so far was the rows and rows of makeshift hospital beds three meters apart in an exhibition centre in Madrid, which looks like some kind of dystopian Ikea showroom. The other is the shot of workers at the Honda factory in China, sitting on a grid exactly two meters apart from each other eating their lunch.
This isn't going to go away. This is going to bubble and fester until a vaccine is found. To get a vaccine to market in the time it takes to test it and make it in enough volume, you're looking at 2021 minimum. I can't see it being deployed globally in the numbers we'll need before the end of this year.
The other big problem is that this moment feels like some weird comedy show, the spitting image of the show Spitting Image, where you have these cartoon character leaders, the most extreme cartoon character leaders of the world, all calling the shots in the most idiosyncratic way possible. In 2008, with Obama, America took the lead of the global response to a serious threat. The 2008 crash was existential in the context of global capitalism, we came within about 24 hours of AT&T not being able to make payroll, that would have caused a chain reaction, a run on banks, credit cards not working, riots in the streets, society breaking down as we know it. It took ridiculous amounts of quantitative easing, and America to come in very robust, in cahoots with the UK and Europe to pull us out of a situation that took many years to recover from, and was really actually just kicking the financial can down the road. America right now is a clusterfuck, they are not doing well. There is no coordinated global response to this global threat as there has been in the past.
And this brings it back to electronic music. You have all these different countries that are going through their different corona-related narratives at different times. Italy is where the UK will be in two month's time. UK went on lockdown three days ago, Spain two weeks ago, Italy for longer. Who knows what's going on with countries with strong links to the UK, like Nigeria and India, as there is so little testing. All of them are at different stages with zero coordination between the various shutdowns.
Think of what that means for travel around the world or the foreseeable future, with tit-for-tat travel bans and enforced quarantine from certain countries, and consider that our electronic music world revolves around artists getting on and off planes all the time. Track that forward and the ramifications are significant. As a DJ, promoter or agent, you have to grasp that nettle with both hands. You can't have this fantasy that we'll be back to normal by June, saying, "Oh, it will be two months, three months, we rescheduled our festival to September / October."
Then you've got to think about the economic impact. This virus is destroying livelihoods. I had a friend who had to lay off 1,000 staff last Friday. I know of companies which are on the outside of electronic music—hospitality, events, hotels, pubs, restaurants—these people's livelihoods are on the line, and the economic impact that follows this is going to be so severe.
So, in the short term: events are cancelled, DJs grounded, the whole ecosystem behind that shuts down. People can't go out, promoters can't put on events, DJs can't perform, their agents can't book them, their managers aren't getting paid.
Medium term: people are so heavily affected by this that when the market does open up, they won't have the money in their pocket to do the things they did before. They'll want to put food on their table, save money for rent, for their families. They're not gonna hop on a plane to a festival. And airlines will have gone out of business, so the cost of the flights will be far more expensive because there will be fewer airlines and less demand.
The long term is probably the worst recession we've seen in our lifetimes. Look at RA, look at my company [Grade Management], look at most companies in the electronic sphere. All of our shared success has been been built out of the ashes of the last recession. Everyone can count. If you have a global catastrophe like 2008, you start counting each year. If you get to eight, start thinking. As soon as you get to ten, you're in bonus time. I've been saying forever that with all the travel involved our industry is as fragile as any threats that come at it. I thought it would be a repeat of the volcano in Iceland going off, a spike in oil prices, a terrorist attack, or Brexit, we've been worried about that of course. Who was to know it would actually come from a little viral microbe that you can't see? A little virus that has such a heavy impact.
I'd sensed something like this coming. Had we been planning for it? You can never plan for the bogeyman. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given, was given to me by a dear friend on his deathbed. He said, "Put your faith in the Lord, but don't forget to tie up your camel." It's an old Arab proverb. So in other words, enjoy your life, don't think too much about the bad things that could happen, but have a Plan B, think about the underlying threats. And that's what we're seeing now, the underlying threats.
Some people are putting their heads in the sand, wringing their hands, going, "Oh no this is awful." In contrast I've talked to promoters who've already had their annual festivals cancelled, their only source of revenue gone and these are the people who are in really sticky positions. But the most beautiful thing I've seen come out of this is the positivity and the fact that, as an industry, we're pulling together like never before, we're talking to each other, people are sharing ideas, collaborating. People are trying to make the best of a seemingly impossible situation. There's innovation coming out of this.
There has been talk of everyone moving the whole tour diary from this year to next year, like the Olympics. That is, everything booked for 2020 moves to 2021. At first I thought that was quite radical, but you've got a situation that could arise where, if by some miracle we can gather by end of the summer, you've got all these promoters booking gigs on top of gigs, competing at a time when people have no money in their pockets, a lose-lose-lose, over-saturation, over-competition, and people without the money to go to these events. So there's got to be some coordination. There needs to be serious thought given to this. And I quite like the thought of moving everything to 2021.
The thing is though, the ability to gather in the context of a disease where there's no known cure, where it's just going to snowball and snowball and snowball—for all intents and purposes, 2020 is cancelado, cancelled. I really do hope and pray, I would love, I am manifesting every ounce of my being, that festivals I really care about, like Houghton, can go ahead in August. I don't think Burning Man will happen, I don't think that's safe, all those people coming from all over, even if they all wear dust masks anyway. But I think it's going to be very interesting to see different countries come back online at different times. Maybe they can't travel and people can't travel to them, so DIY cultures come about.
If one thing comes out of this, it's weapons-grade creativity. Without naming names, there are so many artists who have been making average music to sustain their touring careers. They've been making so much money from gigs, and they make music to keep the wheels turning. Suddenly music will be competitive again, the good stuff will bubble to the top, the ones with really good ideas will succeed. The easyJet-set will take a knocking, while DIY music and creativity comes back to the fore. It's already happening online, so much amazing creative stuff, from ridiculous memes to KiNK jamming in his kitchen.
This will be a period where some of the best music is made. The bourgeois elite will get their wings clipped because there won't be the money to pay them. But some artists could really come out of this winning. I could name some names, actually. Someone like… for example Desert Sound Colony. I don't work with him, there's no business agenda here, but someone who's got a great community around his label, active on Bandcamp, has a local, engaged fanbase. People like that are in a strong position coming out the back of this.
This is a hard reset for music. This is a hard reset for mankind. It's an inconvenient truth but we had this coming. We have been taking the piss on every level imaginable with our planet and this is the point that Mother Nature Strikes Back and shows us pesky, greedy, ignorant, and arrogant humans that she is, and always will be, The Boss. If we don't respect this, next time around she will be far less forgiving. This is a moment where people have to think really hard about what their priorities are as an artist, as a promoter, as a manager, as an agent and as human beings. There will be no quick fix. You have to accept this new reality, and the fact that what follows is a new world order.
If you look back at British history, in 1977 you had the winter of discontent, which meant a three-day working week, rubbish men on strike, rubbish piled up in the street, Tube drivers on strike, social unrest, 98 percent income tax on the top tax, so if you earned over 100 grand via dividends, for every 100 pounds, 98 went to the government. The following year, you've got Thatcher. And you've also got the Sex Pistols and punk rock. That was how music reacted to that. On Black Monday, 1987, the end of Thatcherism, the end of all that greed and madness, you get the last really seismic British stock market crash. And the next year in 1988 you've got the birth of acid house, the second summer of love.
2008. What followed that? Not as palatable to us maybe, but you have David Guetta collaborating with Kelly Rowland and kicking off the explosion of EDM, and I'm sorry to say but we've all been living off the collateral proceeds of that ever since. So I'm excited to see what comes out of this. It's easy to be dystopian in a dystopian situation, but you can take a utopian view. Our business is in the same situation as all others in electronic music: paralysis of uncertainty. But we've accepted that this is happening, we're not shying away from it. As an ex-journalist with a degree in economics, as a music manager, as an employer, I'm excited to see what comes from this. It may take a while, it will be painful, the healing process may be long. But it's all on us now. Let creativity do its thing.
One thing that's important to say, I'm here pontificating, gazing into a crystal ball: this thing's changing on a week-by-week basis. So who knows. Who on earth knows. We need to be realistic about when this will all open up again. At the same time, it's impossible to make any kind of judgments, because it's just an ever-changing landscape. What I'm saying now, if you read in two weeks time, everything could be completely different. I'd love to read this in a year and see how it feels given what's come to pass. Maybe I'll sound like an overly pessimistic naysayer. I really, genuinely, from the bottom of my heart, hope that's the case. In the meantime, though, I'm tying up my camel, and planting some veg.
The coronavirus and electronic music /
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