Well, England is a strange place to be living right now. I was away camping over last weekend, and so was out of touch with the news, but when I returned to civilisation I was dumbfounded to discover that it was seemingly falling to pieces. A swathe of vicious, mindless riots have swept the country, from London to Manchester to outer London towns just a few miles from my home.
Amidst all of the looting, rampant idiocy, political tight-rope walking and journalistic speculation, the destruction being caused is having a very real effect on people’s live and livelihoods. Prominent for us music fanatics is the calamitous destruction of a warehouse in North London owned jointly by the distributor PIAS and Sony. PIAS is the key distributor for pretty much all of the UK’s indie labels, and when their warehouse went up in smoke over the weekend, so did most of the UK’s physical supply of indie music.
Over 160 labels have been hit, many having their entire inventory wiped out. Big names include Matador, Sub Pop, Rough Trade, 4AD, Angular and Domino (who have confirmed there will be large delays to the physical release of the new Arctic Monkeys single “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala”).
The ramifications of this are truly massive. So many of the labels hit are really, really small, and propped up by people with a lot of passion but not much money – certainly not enough to repress all of their stock and back catalogues. That, in turn, affects small or fledgling bands/artists who have been attempting to make their break. Sean Adams, Editor of UK music site Drowned In Sound, has said that this will in turn affect indie music sites, blogs and magazines:
“My livelihood doesn’t depend on record sales but it does rely on there being a thriving independent music scene, as celebrating those releases is what drives people to DrownedinSound.com”
So, you may ask, what are we to do? I myself am someone who will always plump for a physical release over a digital one, and have gotten into vinyl collecting massively over the past year. I imagine many of this blog’s esteemed readers are the same, but what’s to be done for indie fans in the UK when there’s just nothing to buy or sell?
Well, plans are already in place for some labels to get stock repressed, with CDs expected to arrive sooner than vinyl. But that’s still a good few weeks away, and everyone is in desperate need of money to carry out production. So, if you were planning on ordering anything from one of the many labels affected (check out Pitchfork for a full list), head to the label website (rather than iTunes) and buy stuff digitally from there. I just downloaded The Tallest Man on Earth’s 2010 EP Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Travelling Bird, via Dead Oceans. And if you weren’t planning on ordering anything, then do it anyway! You may think this is a pithy gesture, or that your money won’t go into repressing, but label statements are assuring fans and customers that that will be the case.
Also, follow @_label_love_ on Twitter, as they’re the hub for information on supporting the labels. LabelLove have stated that they will be focusing on putting on live events to raise money, the first of which has already been announced, so keep your eyes peeled for any close to you.
When you’re immersed in the world of indie music, it’s easy to forget how precarious it is, and that indie labels don’t have the big bucks to plough into things that majors do. The indie music scene (whatever that really means these days) prides itself on being a lot more heartfelt and personal than the plastic, corporate world of chart music. This is a real opportunity to show that’s true, and to show some love to your favourite labels. The smallest labels will be hardest hit and, given the magnitude of the disaster and the time it will take to process insurance claims, the danger of them going out of business goes unsaid.
Lives have been lost and homes destroyed in the riots, and it would be vile of me to suggest that this disaster is on the same level as such disgraceful acts, but the tragedy of this situation is summed up well again by Sean Adams, along with some much needed optimism:
“We, as in the independent label family, are hurt by this. Burning music, music that was created by no doubt similarly disaffected and disenfranchised human beings as their way of expressing themselves, seems utterly fucked up and upside down. But our family, our community is a wonderfully generous and selfless one, and I have no doubt that between us, with the Association of Independent Music at the helm to steer us along, we’ll get through it.”
[Editor’s Note: For a list of labels affected, as well as their roster of artists, please visit Nialler9.]