If hype were reality, we’d be living in a golden age. And every band would be “pathbreaking”, every gig a “rockathon”. Everything you read on the internet would be true. And people like me would be out of business. And we wouldn’t have to worry.
Never has so much been made out of so little.
Once you get past the picture of rosy good-cheer painted by the alt-culture media, and the genuine and heartening fact that the country has thrown up all sorts great records recently, you’ll eventually hit upon this truth: that, for all the bigging up, your favourite cool little group are probably spending Christmas without a gig, or with entirely the wrong sort of gig, and don’t know how they’ll put together the money for their next album. If there is a next album.
The facts, your honour, are these: small-scale, independent acts in this country have systematically been let down by an outmoded framework of venues and promotion, which does not, in any way, provide for their needs or the needs of their audiences. And a well-intentioned, but clueless, media have played along.
Don’t be fooled: almost every venue in this country, no matter how “alternative” it is in its trappings, is the exact same thing we’ve always had. The only available platform for small groups is – savour the paradox – the space the service industries reserve for whatever fad happens to be going around. “Alt-culture” is this year’s model; tomorrow it could be waltzes in fancy-dress, and these groups would be out on their ears for not being able to hold the fickle interest of India’s fine-dining pretty young things.
In the meantime, all manner of “event management” companies have waded in to soak up what there is to soak up. Tomorrow, there will be waltz-and-fancy-dress festivals. Mark my words.
Can half these bands even afford to watch their own gigs? At service industry prices, even the most fervent gig-goer begins to expect service, and music isn’t a service. So when you pay through your nose for a night-out, and the group show up an hour later than billed, you get huffy, because it’s no longer a gig you’ve come to watch, it’s a service you’ve paid for. And this wholly misses the point.
You cannot reasonably expect small groups to thrive in such an environment. By forcing them to play at venues which, through pricing and pretension, automatically exclude their natural audience, we are losing both potential markets and potential talent. We are making these groups live off the surplus from an industry which is stringing them along for as long as it suits the books. We are chucking a great big candlelight-and-cocktail-shaped spanner into any prospects of a sustainable model which would allow musicians to eke out something of a living from doing what they do.
There is only one way to break this dependence on the crumbs thrown by an industry that exists fundamentally to minister to urban high-life tastes. We need low-cost, low-pretension gigs-for-gigs’-sake, fuelled by groups co-operating to make the most of such resources as they can muster. And we need the media to take it upon themselves to seek out the right audience and point them in the right direction, instead of doing up their websites and churning out happy-clappy stories of how everything’s a lark.
What we have here is an unholy union of despair and greed. I demand a divorce.