We thought there was light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve followed the rules, no matter how vaguely or confusingly they’ve been articulated to us. Now we’re simply being told we’re not viable.
The message was made by the Tory government on Monday, October 2: any individual working in the entertainment industry who is still being affected by the crushing COVID-19 restrictions will no longer be supported by any type of furlough or self employed support scheme and should consider retraining.
We’re effectively being told that pursuing a craft that gives people pleasure should no longer something people should aspire to. Even months ago, this seemed unthinkable. And if you have made that sacrifice to pursue that calling, then sorry mate time’s up. You’re better off working a low paid job which could end being for a global company who exploit every tax loophole imaginable and pay less tax than you ever did as a self-employed artist.
Not only that, but the rhetoric being used by certain politicians is even more disrespectful, insinuating that we’ve had it good for too long. Conservative politician and famous egg hater Edwina Currie stated artists and entertainment professionals should consider a ‘less glamorous career’.
Yes, artists and entertainers with high profiles definitely experience elements of glamour, but it usually comes off the back of years and years of discipline, knockbacks, self-doubt, being ripped off and every type of mental health challenge such a pursuit can bring. Not just in bass music. Or dance music full stop. Across the board… Orchestra players, opera singers, magicians, comedians and every member of backline support behind them. Promoters, venue owners, sound techs, lighting techs, security. Most of which have never been deemed glamorous yet are essential for the whole nightlife and entertainment industry to even take place.
Pull the plug and that whole infrastructure will disappear. And when things do become viable again, it won’t be so easy for it to return. This is the sentiment and message of many groups, movements and organisations that have launched since last Monday, including the WeAreViable campaign.
Set up by Rinse broadcaster, author and notoriously fizzy DJ / jungle encyclopaedia Uncle Dugs, he and other passionate industry professions have rallied up troops from across the entertainment board from comedians to classical musicians via festival organisers and of course a great deal of the UK dance music scene. Now working in association with the Nighttime Industries Association (NTIA), WeAreViable’s message is clear: giving up on the arts is not an option. The government needs to work with the industry to find solutions to create safe entertainment spaces so artists and industry professionals can still work and the public – millions of whom have spent their lockdowns and furloughs enjoying a whole host of arts from music to movies – can return to enjoying events safely.
Everyone understands the responsibilities and safety surrounding the dangers of the pandemic. No one is asking for handouts. All we need is clearer communication with the government, willingness to collaborate to find solutions and, fundamentally, some respect for one of the strongest and most powerful UK cultures that has thrived despite all previous economic conditions and always been viable.
WeAreViable launched last week. Find out more on their website and read this interview with Uncle Dugs to understand why support for performers, entertainment and the night time industry is critical if you want to return to raving any time in the near future…
How did you feel when you first heard the government’s announcement?
I wasn’t surprised in a way. In terms of our own scene we’ve never been the most loved, the powers that be tried to shut us down originally. But it did surprise me at how open they were to dismissing the entire industry. It’s not just about raving, it’s entertainment across the board. I felt gutted because the government have said we’re not viable so it makes members of the public start to think that’s true and tell us to go and get a ‘proper job’ themselves.
I’ve seen people arguing about this online saying things like ‘you’ve had it good for so long, maybe you should do a normal job!’ That’s very easy to say but a lot of people have spent their entire lives in entertainment, they’re not 16 and easy to retrain, they’re 30, 40, 50, 60 even 70 years old. They’ve given their lives to entertainment and feed a hell of a lot of mouths with what they do.
To just dismiss us and close it down suggests the government don’t care about arts full-stop. They don’t even care about the revenue it once brought in. They don’t care about the creativity. They don’t care about the nation’s wellbeing and how we all benefit so much from entertainment. Sadly we’re already feeling the effects of this – big touring DJs, proper names in the game – have already quit and got ‘normal’ jobs.
Yeah I’ve spoken to a few, too. Crushing isn’t it.
There’s only so long you can deal with such a negative force in your life and such a lack of confidence from the government and some aspects of the public. You have to quit or it will genuinely make you ill. I’ve had a few wobbles and I’ve never experienced previous mental health issues. When it hit me it was horrific, I couldn’t feel a way out of how I felt at all. I’ve never experienced that before but that’s how bad things have got. Now how about an entertainer who also suffered mental health issues before this kicked off? They’re going to be feeling this even worse now, especially with this culture of fear that we can’t even look each other in the eye in case we somehow magically pass on the virus. And especially now because the government haven’t just cut the support, they’ve turned the whole life support machine off and made out that we never had proper jobs in the first place.
It’s the use of language that really frustrated me. Edwina Currie’s comment on the arts being ‘glamorous’. Like people who’ve dedicated their lives to their craft are privileged, regardless of how hard they’ve worked, how much they’ve sacrificed to pursue a creative lifestyle.
Don’t get me started on that comment! What’s happened here is that entertainers and all the industries and skills involved from promoters to technicians behind the scenes to writers like yourself, all of us have followed a passion that people appreciate. Now if my passion was building kitchens, great, but people don’t queue up around the block to see a kitchen being built. It’s just circumstances of what you love in your life. We – and I mean everyone from Elton John to Dave who plays bass in a local pub band once a month – have followed a passion. It was never about glamour, or money, it’s a calling. Who is anyone to say ‘get a less glamorous job’?
It’s perceived to be glamorous, but people need to realise it’s not just about Tiesto standing behind the decks with his arms in the air. It’s the people who all work on his team, the people who work at the events where he plays, the record label staff and, most importantly, the fans who take something from his music and enjoy their lives more because of his music. It’s all of us across the board, all of us being disrespected. And whether any politician who’s said what they have believe we’re not viable or not, there’s a much nicer way of saying ‘sorry your industry is screwed right now and we’re too stacked in debt because of this situation to help you’.
So what’s the next step for WeAreViable?
So a group of us started this because we felt we were being mistreated. We’re coming from a inclusive, grassroots level and want for us all to stand together with one clear message. Not just dance music, I’m talking about all entertainment and all industries that support it – all of us in one home from the fans to venue owners to actors, magicians, singers, orchestras. Everything.
We’re not asking for miracles. We’re not even asking the government for money here, we’re asking for legitimate parameters to work within. How we can save ourselves? There must be clearer communication and more focus on preventative or safeguarding measures. Already we are discussions with the NTIA who’ve already made leaps and bounds themselves into safe measures for live entertainment – it’s exciting what they’ve found and what they’re proposing to the government, so we’re fully behind them and look forward to helping them push these developments through.
Bottom line, we’re good at getting bums on seats, the government are good at making these rules – let’s work together so we can create a situation where people can go back to their roles and earn a living like they’ve done for years before and for the public to come out and enjoy themselves safely.
Amen. So how can people help?
We want to create an understanding from fans that people who they would pay good money to see entertain are in danger of quitting. Or worse. So people can go to our site, look at our manifesto and understand that no one has the right to stop entertainment. We need to work to create safe outlets for performers and safe outlets for people to enjoy the benefits of what we do both mentally and socially. This isn’t about blowing the doors of a warehouse down and having illegal parties. It’s not the 80s now mate. We need people to back our plea to the government to help us help ourselves.
Sign up on the website for information. If you think you can help, then get in touch. If you’re a designer, a writer, an accountant – if you have time to help then let us know. It’s about saving all forms of entertainment. For the first time ever this is something we can all agree on. If your kid loves the pantomime, you’re affected by this. If your mum loves seeing Michael Buble once a year, you’re affected by this. If you nan loves Phantom Of The Opera, you’re affected by this. And of course, if you love raving and dance music then you are definitely affected by this. This is the common bond between everyone in the UK. We all love entertainment and the arts.
Especially during lockdown!
Exactly. And I have to say that this isn’t political. This isn’t anti-mask or suggesting any conspiracy, it’s purely about elevating the discussion so much that the government has to look at the current rules and have a bit of faith that the industry will be responsible and find a way of surviving within those rules.
From an underground dance music point of view that’s what we’ve always done. But on a wider view, that’s what creative people in this industry do – we find ways. We just need the government to look at safe ways, approve them, adjust the rules and we’ll do the rest. It’s not about handouts, it’s about working out how we can survive over the next one or two years. Because what we’re going through right now isn’t the right solution.
Behind the scenes the infrastructure will crumble. It’s already happening. Artists giving up on careers, venues closing, agencies giving up, technical staff retraining. So if we’re finally viable again in two year’s time, we’ll come back and find there’s no infrastructure because people have left. They’ve retrained, they’ve set-up new businesses faraway from entertainment, they’ve gone bankrupt, they’ve taken on a job at Tescos because they’ve pursued their art and haven’t got any other qualifications and become so disengaged and unconfident they don’t want to return. Or, bottom line, they’ll have committed suicide. That’s the reality of this – if they can’t do what they love, what’s the point? We’re being pushed to the edge. And a lot of people perform because it stops them going over the edge. This can’t happen.
There’s a point of no return, it’s not like turning a tap off and on again. We need to work towards common and achievable goals before we reach that point. And I’ll leave you with this…. Whenever there’s an emergency or a really important cause, it’s the entertainers who spread that message effectively. We have all given up our time in the past to help amazing causes and we’d do it again in a flash. But right now, this is the cause and we need the support of everyone – we can’t fight this one on our own, entertainment involves every single one of us. Please, from the bottom of my heart, if you love any form of entertainment then get involved and get behind us.
Find out more: WeAreViable