Music and Covid-19: Reasons for optimism

Mass social isolation prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the music world – from the economic peril faced by artists cut-off from significant touring income to clubbers and live music lovers suddenly deprived of their greatest source of pleasure. Yet it’s not all doom and gloom – here the Music Factory rounds up some (of the few) reasons to be slightly cheerful…

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Support for the artists
These are clearly desperately difficult times for those who make their living through selling any form of creative output, so it’s been invigorating to see the ways fans and platforms have sought to offer their support. I was really struck by Bandcamp‘s No Fee Friday, which saw the site wave for one whole day their regular commission and instead offer up profits in their entirety directly to the artists, many of whom responded in kind by offering up previous rarities with proceeds going to in-need charities. I bought Pangaea’s Radiohead remix of ‘Lotus Flower’ with proceeds going to the Trussell Trust and the for-so-long-unreleased university days classic ‘GR Etiquette’ by Joy Orbison, with proceeds going to the Southwark Foodbank. Apparently over 800,000 items were sold and profits totaled $4.3 million, with all money going to artists at the most uncertain moment of their careers. Awesome.

At the same time, musicians have continued to provide new music to listeners in their time of need, clearly all the more admirable and brave given the unfavorable circumstances that make physical purchasing and tried and tested promotional methods far harder to deliver in the current unprecedented circumstances. Let’s hope fans have been inspired to reward this courage with their cash. For what it’s worth, my picks have been DJ Python’s stunning Mas Amable, more brilliant breakbeat techno from the Ilian Tape stable in the shape of Andrea’s debut LP Ritorno, and a record apparently custom-built for isolation introspection in the shape of Illusion of Time, Daniel Avery’s ambient collaboration with Nine Inch Nails’ Alessandro Cortini.

And what about the future? The Big Issue‘s Malcolm Jack wrote a great article, which I can’t find online, on how the public will remember the reaction of music providers to this terrible crisis. In particular, he muses how Spotify‘s weak nod to the current crisis (NHS tribute playlists, anyone?) will be seen to stack up against the honourable sacrifices made by the likes of Bandcamp, and what impact will they have on how fans chose to consume music in the future. Let’s hope for some positive change.

Community
It’s easy to be cynical about the sudden isolation-induced wave of DJ home streams – a take Pitchfork writer Shaun Reynaldo certainly achieves in this particularly excoriating piece – but at such a grim time it feels preferable to view things in a positive spirit. Streams like DJ EZ’s ridiculous 24 garage-athon raised thousands for charity, and perhaps even more importantly, bought a lot of frankly quite lonely people together through the power of shared musical experience. I know for a fact that Four Tet’s surprise isolation Boiler Room set had a tangible impact on the mood of friends at the peak of isolation despondency, while Manchester project United We Stream‘s Hacienda-themed Saturday certainly boosted mine.

Elsewhere, #timstwitterlisteningparty, a brainchild of The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess, has seen Twitter collectively reminisce over some classic indie full-lengths, bringing together shy shoegazers and aging Britpoppers through memories of specific dog-eared LPs, with the platform recently building such a following that the musicians themselves have become fully involved. New Order‘s Gillian and Stephen Morris’ insightful commentary on the making of the masterful Power, Corruption and Lies was a personal highlight.

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Retrospection
There are certainly some non-terrible aspects of this enforced isolation. A pause to the endless Premier League hype machine, for example, has permitted a moment to draw breath and get lost in memories of nostalgic moments that have gone before. As with football, so has been the case for music, where a need to identify the next key trend or share something new and unheard sometimes means nobody ever has a chance to emerge themselves in what is already out there. Music media has shown signs, most obviously in the shape of radio features such as Classic Radio 1 Essential Mixes (including Daft Punk‘s 1997 triumph – recorded in Busy P’s house, no less), that there is huge value in pausing to revel in moments of genius that have gone before.

Less tangibly, isolation has meant more time to spend with our collections, revisiting previous purchases and exploring further untapped crevices of back catalogues. Personally, Cooly G’s Playin’ Me and Slowdive’s Just for A Day fall into the former category, with The Kills’ Keep on Your Mean Side and Plastikman’s Closer are among the latter. With music as with everything else, there huge value in taking a moment to appreciate what you already have.

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Community
Time spent listening to live radio is never a bad thing, and there’s a lot in Kieran Yates’ argument in a lovely Guardian piece that the medium has been a true unifier in these strange times, providing familiarity and community for people otherwise starved of human interaction and a welcome counterpoint to “an avalanche of crisis reporting”. Artists have stepped up to the plate too, responding to the opportunities presented by a necessarily captive audience by unveiling some other previously hidden gems – Radiohead’s concert film archive and the seven new live albums released by Autechre spring to mind. Elsewhere, new playlists abound: whether in the form of Felix White’s tongue-in-cheek hoovering playlist  or Laurel Halo’s lockdown listening selections, through which I’ve discovered Rhythm & Sound’s With the Artists album.

Making playlists has long been a personal mental health coping mechanism, and this enforced lockdown period has proved no different. Whether as a collaborative process with friends or individual collections, categorising tunes has helped while away the hours. Here are two of my personal playlists that attempt to capture both my reflective and more hopeful lockdown moments. 

Keep buying and listening to music in these tough times – both for your sake and those of the artists you love.

Follow the Music Factory on Twitter @MusicFactoryNo1.

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