- Report by Faye Coulman
THE SILENT LAND: Coronavirus and the tragic demise of live music
If you’ve ever wondered what human civilisation teetering on the brink of inevitable collapse might look like, our present state of affairs should give you a pretty frighteningly accurate impression. A concept that was once the preserve of wildly imaginative flights of fancy, of sci-fi horror flicks and post-apocalyptic comic books has, in the year 2020, now become a disquietingly concrete and tangible reality. And, here in the UK at least, it’s only going to get worse.
Prior to this juncture in a thus far thoroughly catastrophic year we could, at least, have once sought a puny modicum of solace in the visceral and violently energised catharsis of live music. Indeed, less than a fortnight ago, our beloved capital was utterly awash with a rich, international plethora of talented performers. But as steadily mounting fear and paranoia reached a terrifying fever pitch earlier this month as news of a nationwide pandemic officially broke, this once vibrantly creative scene was silenced with a violent abruptness that sent shockwaves of terror through every disease-ravaged corner of our broken nation. For Team Dark Matter, this horrifying realisation officially hit home on the eve of Necrophobic’s hotly anticipated London show when an entire line-up of bands - bar local black metal talents, Fen - were abruptly scrapped from the bill. Precipitating catastrophic losses at all levels, the aforementioned remaining act valiantly did their utmost to mitigate the irrevocable damage incurred, easing fractured nerves and raising spirits with an extended set of savagely enthralling extreme metal. But theirs is but one of countless troubled narratives in a nationwide crisis that’s showing little sign of abating any time soon. From once-thriving venues forced to shut their doors indefinitely to bitterly disappointed fans and bands who’ve travelled hundreds of miles only to be turned away from their scheduled gig slots, Dark Matter webzine explores the full extent of this thoroughly ruinous recent fallout, and what’s being done to salvage some hope in these uncommonly bleak and uncertain times…
Joakim Sterner of Necrophobic
With the Swedish black metallers' European tour having been brought to a sudden and shockingly abrupt halt earlier this month, founder Joakim Sterner explains how the band managed to rescue this potentially ruinous situation with a live performance stream that saw thousands of listeners tuning in from all corners of the globe...
DM: Following on from the extremely unfortunate cancellation of your remaining European tour dates, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to tune in and watch the live stream of your recent online performance. What can you tell us about the whole process and experience?
JS: From the idea to the actual broadcast, it took one week. We brainstormed on how and where we could do it, what people could help us and so on. The local venue we found, that had internet, is a rock club, but they said that if we accepted being there, we had to be finished by 12 noon. We said yes, of course, because we didn’t find another suitable place. Our rehearsal studio, for instance, has very, very poor internet.
When Saturday came, all things had checked and worked as it should. The limited shirt was available in the shop, we had made a soundcheck and camera check (we had two cameras) and the link was put up on our Facebook page.
It felt a bit weird, since it was no audience there. And then, at 10.53 or so…a few minutes 'til broadcasting live, a bearing equipment died. Panic!
We said that we give 10 minutes maximum to try to fix it and then go with our backup plan, which was to live stream it through my iPhone directly to Facebook. We said that this is better than not doing it at all, to not let waiting fans, from all corners of the world, sitting in very different time zones, and let them down. So we went through with the promised event and seeing all the great words and great feedback afterwards made us all feel we did the right choice.
I just want to thank each and everyone that saw the live stream and special thanks to all those who also bought our ultra limited t-shirt/girlie shirt. Our fans are the best!
Stay up to date on all the latest from Necrophobic over at www.facebook.com/necrophobic.official
Claudio Alcara of Frostmoon Eclipse
Founded by frontman Claudio Alcara in 1994, Frostmoon Eclipse are an Italian black metal band. Recently booked to support Necrophobic in London, the band were forced to abandon their tour and return home following news of a nationwide outbreak here in the UK...
DM: First off, we were very sorry to hear of the recent tour cancellations and not to have the opportunity to see you in London last Friday. Can you tell us a bit more about exactly what happened and the resulting impact of that?
CA: Well, that was hard for us too. Basically, we heard that Italy was on a lockdown right after we passed the border. We thought to go on as planned anyway: we owed it to Immortal Frost and had to show up in Belgium, at least. After a 15 hour drive, we got the news that Italians couldn’t enter Austria (and, a few hours later, Switzerland too) so those gigs were gone for us. Naïve as we are, we thought we could at least play the UK dates, but when we heard that any Italian trying to reach your country would have been quarantined no matter what, we had no other option than sleep a few hours and drive back, hoping to cross every border. We eventually made it home, never knowing what worse luck our bad luck had saved us from.
DM: The metal scene both here in the UK and abroad has long been described as a close-knit and highly supportive community at every level – from industry professionals and musicians to avid fans. What steps, if any, can we take to mitigate the damaging effects of this recent catastrophe?
CA: I know you may have heard this a thousand times before, but given the current situation, buying some merch from Bandcamp (or the likes) could be the best way. Our page is https://frostmooneclipse.bandcamp.com/ for anyone interested. There’s not much else left to say or to do, things are changing every day and no one knows how all of this would affect the world, like it’s 9/11 again. Just keep on following our website www.frostmooneclipse.com or our Facebook or Instagram accounts. Thanks for this space.
THE BAND MANAGER
Patricia Thomas - Band management & PR specialist
From Taake and Shining to Skitliv, London-based industry professional Patricia Thomas handles management and promotion duties for some of the finest names in extreme metal.
DM: As a music professional who works closely with bands from all over the world, what can you tell us about the impact of Covid-19 on what was, until very recently, a thriving and vibrant global live music scene?
PT: As with other performing arts, the live scene is on a temporary hiatus, as it should be until this is all over. But you also have to put things into perspective, because whether it's bands, or classical concerts etc, the actual "live" part is an "extra" that the majority of fans have never been a part of. There are vastly more people who just listen to music, as opposed to actually going to see it performed live, and it is their enthusiasm for bands, and their listening to music, either through purchase or streaming, that helps the live scene to flourish. And they too are impacted. I'm sure the live scene will recover and be as vibrant and thriving as it was, but when it does, I suspect that many things will no longer be as they were. There will be venues (and promoters) that were barely making enough to get by, along with those who have no financial reserves to see them through the crisis - and they will not re-open again. And there will be many, not just musicians, but all the behind the scenes staff who will be re-evaluating their future in the business, especially if they have mortgages or rent to pay and families to feed. This scene is a great scene to be a part of - until it isn't any more.
But for all the closures etc., new ones will spring up. Unlike classical orchestras, bands operate on a much smaller basis (I'm excluding the big stadium performers), and many of the venues they play in are also small with the people putting on bands because they are also into the music. This can also be said of many of the local promoters who do this on top of their day job. Love for the music, an endless amount of enthusiasm, and, it has to be said, optimism, will, hopefully, win the day.
DM: Speaking from your own experiences thus far, what have been some of the worst complications and setbacks arising from the Covid-19 outbreak? I imagine the cancellation of the Northern Alliance Tour featuring Taake and Kampfar must rank pretty highly in that regard.
PT: We were lucky that the tour was able to be rebooked. Booking a tour is in itself a logistical nightmare - imagine having to do it all again, and in the shortest time possible. Hellish. For many this has not been possible.
I don't think anyone should underestimate the financial consequences that tour and festival cancellations can cause. Depending of course on the size and popularity of a band, and the type of agreement they have in place, they, as well as the promoters and labels, face huge financial losses, which, to some, will be catastrophic. Loss of earnings (if they actually are earning anything, many bands don't) is only the tip of the iceberg.
Large quantities of specially printed merchandise, including additional stock of releases, all has to be paid for, and is now not going to get sold. Loss of monies paid out in advance for flights - gone. And, for support bands who have had to buy onto a tour, it's even worse, imagine also the tour is re-scheduled, and they can't do the new dates. All the money spent on promotion and advertising (not just by the bands and promoters, but also by labels and individual venues) is, of course, a total loss.
And please don't let's forget the massive impact it has on "support" staff. The tour managers, sound engineers, lighting engineers, roadies, merch sellers, nightliner/transport companies. They all lose their incomes, and in many cases, it is their only income.
Let me just say how very angry it makes me to see so-called "fans" accusing bands of being cowards. No band wants to cancel anything. They were FORCED by circumstances and government restrictions. And if, after seeing the results of this pandemic, some "fans" still feel that way then they don't deserve to be part of any music community.
DM: What steps, if any, can we take to mitigate the damaging effects of this recent catastrophe?
PT: First and foremost it is essential to keep fans engaged. There are so many ways to do it thanks to social media. Post videos, photos, tracks, band anecdotes, tell fans what other bands or music you're listening to, what inspires you, how your days are going, what are you planning for the future. Ask fans what they would like to see, hear, know. Run quizzes or surveys. You need to make sure fans feel you have not forgotten them, or they will forget you.
If you can, post new material, even if it's not mixed or mastered, even if it's just on an acoustic guitar. And keep trying to sell existing merch. Offer special deals, onetime only offers, limited edition packages. Remember too that a lot of fans will be on reduced income or out of work, so you should also try to include them. Offer a new track, or an existing one, and let fans download it for free.
And of course, it's still possible to share "live" performances. Classical orchestras, opera and ballet companies got a head start on this, streaming past performances and rehearsals through YouTube and Facebook. I know many bands won't have footage anywhere near the quality that the classical scene can come up with, but you know, who cares. Your fans are a lot more forgiving, especially when the chips are down. And if you can still rehearse together, let's see some footage!
And fans, you can support the bands and labels, by buying merch and releases, by sharing posts, and just by telling your friends how good a band is. And please bear in mind that musicians and artists are human too. Everyone is feeling lost and frightened, whoever they are, for themselves, their families and their friends. Let's support each other as best we can, even if it is just with cat memes!
Laetitia Abbenes of Season of Mist
DM: As a label that works with a variety of talented artists from all over the world, what can you tell us about the impact of Covid-19?
LA: The effects of the pandemic on the live music scene are without a doubt huge. All agencies had to cancel countless tours, shows postponed, all live events up to a certain amount of people cancelled. For us, an example Abbath, who was supposed to start the US Decibel tour with Mayhem and they were in the States already when the Norwegian government asked all Norwegian citizens to return home. They’ve lost so much investment on this alone. I think the scope of this is something we cannot even really imagine yet, this will resonate in the months ahead and more tours, shows and fests will get cancelled. Venue staff, tour managers, band managers, merch staff, drivers, a lot of people are stuck at home too, without much of an income.
DM: Speaking from your own experiences thus far, what have been some of the worst complications and setbacks arising from the Covid-19 outbreak?
The toughest thing to deal with for us as a label is currently that some of the companies that produce our records are working less or none at all. Distribution is coming to a halt, which means that albums are no longer distributed in several countries and sold via various partners. It’s definitely a blow for us, but for the moment we can still send products from our own e-shop in France and the United States.
Finally, what steps can we take to mitigate the damaging effects of this recent catastrophe?
I believe we can and should do a number of things. Keep buying and/or streaming from your favourite artists, it might make the difference whether they will be around at the end of the year or not. When a show or fest is rescheduled, keep your ticket and visit next year/next edition, festivals and agents are losing loads of money too and holding on to your ticket instead of asking for a refund might soften the blow a little bit. Support creative initiatives: watch live streams, support local venues and record shops, or initiate something yourself: I’ve seen various creative ideas regarding merch, vouchers, playlists, streaming platforms waiving fees and more. In the end, it’s not going to be an easy blow to overcome, but we should try and support each other.
For more on Season of Mist, visit www.season-of-mist.com
Rodge and Amanda of Cursed Monk Records
DM: As a label who works closely with a variety of talented underground artists, what can you tell us about the impact of Covid-19 on what was, until very recently, a thriving and vibrant global live music scene?
Rodge: It has gutted the live aspect of the music scene, bannings on live gatherings for fear of contagion has made going to see a show impossible. Bands, promoters and labels stand to lose a staggering amount of money over the next while. However, even though the time frame is uncertain, it won’t be forever, so we all need to come together to help each other through this. This will strengthen our already strong community bond in underground music, and as an artist myself, I can tell you that this time we spend confined to our homes will result in an avalanche of creativity. It will make our scene stronger than ever when we come out the other side of this.
Speaking from your own experiences thus far, what have been some of the worst complications and setbacks arising from the Covid-19 outbreak?
Rodge: Personally, Amanda and I probably having to cancel our wedding, and getting laid off from my job has sucked, but this is a minor inconvenience compared to what some people are going through: losing loved ones, and not being able to even attend/have a funeral. Things are hard, but can get so much worse very fast, so we all have to do our best.
From a label point of view we have been lucky. We do have a new release (Chasmdweller's 'Invoking the Wrath of the Seventh Circle') out on Friday the 20th of March, but we are advising fans of the label to buy it directly from the band. We have a post pinned to the top of our Facebook page with links to our artists' bandcamp pages so you can buy merch directly from them. Because as I said, the label has been lucky enough so far, but there are bands and promoters who have had their income completely destroyed.
None of us make a living off music, so to have spent a huge amount of money on merch for a tour, booked a tour, took a huge financial gamble putting on a festival or a gig, whatever it may be, then all of a sudden, not only is that gone, but so is your day job? That is crippling. This is why we need to pull together and make sure the people who are taking the financial risks to bring us live music, both band and promoter can bounce back when we are past this.
Amanda: I agree. Aside from the costs of pressing physical releases and a very modest advertising budget, our ongoing overheads for the label are fairly low, unlike people putting on live shows. The main resource it consumes is time, and Rodge is going to have a lot more of that on his hands for a while. So we’re hopeful that we can use this time to grow the label’s online presence and support artists in the scene whether they’re on the label or not, by getting the Cursed Cast up and running, spreading the word, and keeping the music alive.
What steps, if any, can we take to mitigate the damaging effects of this recent catastrophe?
Rodge: Stay away from each other and wash your hands! Other than that, if you have tickets to a cancelled show, consider not asking for a refund. This small financial hit for you will prevent promoters going bankrupt. If you were going to see a band, then spend the money you would have spent at the show on merch from their online stores, this will help keep them afloat, and recoup the money they have already spent getting the merch made for the tour you would have been at anyway.
If you are an artist, use this time in isolation to create, and consider doing live online performances of your work. Odds are we are all going to be stuck inside for quite a while, so do what you can to help alleviate the boredom both for yourself and others. You get to play, fans get to listen, everyone stays connected, happy days.
We will be trying to help by launching a podcast (The Cursed Cast) where on each show we will be promoting one of our own artists, plus other DIY labels and musicians we like. Whatever you can do to help people, do it.
Amanda: Live streaming is an awesome option, and it does make a big impact. A very strange St. Patrick’s day was saved for us by being able to watch other artists far away playing their socks off just to lift our spirits. YouTube lets you livestream and watchers/listeners can donate money in real time with “SuperChats” which I think could be a great option. I’m also seeking out Patreon accounts from creators I love: if you’re an artist, consider offering a low tier for people who want to help even when money is tight...fans might not be able to support everyone at a 20, 10, or even 5 euro Patreon tier, but enough people putting a “dollar in the hat” as it were will add up.
Personally, I find a lot of comfort in sharing silly memes. And also, just reach out to each other. Check on your friends. Even us introverts are going to need a little extra human contact as we move through this.
Speaking of which, I notice Cursed Monk have recently very kindly made all their digital releases free to download. Genre/style-wise, what’s currently available on your label at the moment?
Rodge: Thank you. Our friends Dan (Trepanation Records) and David (Astral Noize Records) have done the same, as I’m sure many others have. Definitely check out the above if you like your music heavy and experimental, excellent labels run by excellent people.
Genre/style-wise, we put out all kinds of dark musical esoterica. We favour heavy music, but heavy as in weighty rather than just distorted, for example our next release (Embertides - 'Between Trees and Starlike') may be Folk but it is some of the heaviest stuff I’ve ever heard. So really we are open to any genre, if we like what we hear, and can afford to press it, it’ll have a home on Cursed Monk Records. At the moment we have put out Doom, Sludge, Stoner, Psych, Noise, Black Metal, Ritual Ambient, Folk, Drone, Dark Ambient, Industrial, Dark Electronic, and Sloth Hammer.
Thanks for taking the time to ask us these questions. I just want to say again, please everyone do your best with Covid-19. Hygiene, social distancing, and remaining calm. Covid-19 surely is a bastard, but we’ll get through it.
Check out Cursed Monk Records over at https://cursedmonk.bandcamp.com/
From all of us at the Dark Matter webzine team, keep safe, take care and stay metal!