You wake up to find yourself surrounded by ‘The Best of 2019’ in lists and thousand word articles. You scramble out of bed, getting tangled in the sheets, and fall to the ground wishing that you had remembered to lock the back door, which is now likely allowing a flood of choice picks into the kitchen.
In the spirit of not doing that and playing devil’s advocate, I’ve compiled some notable takes and low points of music culture in 2019, internationally and at home in Ireland. Enjoy, and remember to become enraged this holiday season.
Gender Take #1: Geoff Ellis’ comments on women who play guitar
Late this year, TRNSMT Festival Director Geoff Ellis stated that gender balance at festivals could not be achieved, at least not today, because there aren’t enough women playing guitars in bands. He urged women to start “picking up guitars” (BBC, 2019).
“It’s not just about booking more female acts because if there are less of them then there are less of them to go round all the festivals”, says Geoff.
In 2020 TRNSMT intends to create a stage purely for women acts. At the same time, the festival’s head of communications Aarti Joshi says, ” We in no way want to segregate women or put them on a different stage – that is not the intention” (BBC, 2019).
There was a huge response to Geoff’s comments on social media, with many artists proving that women do in fact play guitar, and do play in bands. One thread created by Shura (pictured below) did a great job of highlighting this.
Gender Take #2: XLR8R tackles music journalism and gender diversity
This one really got electronic music Twitter up in arms. There were a few things which readers commented on: an outdated idea of ‘the music critic’ is upheld, using comments out of context (which was addressed by one interviewee – see this tweet), but primarily the author’s comments on gender diversity in electronic music and minority artists who appear on music magazine covers caused a bit of…tension.
What readers were concerned about were comments relating to why minority artists, namely women in electronic music, gain visibility in the music industry. Having quoted a rumour that some women producers have paid their way onto magazine covers, and the interviewee stating that they had no actual proof to support this claim, the author stated, “But it sometimes feels as though magazines are choosing to cover minority artists with little consideration for how good their music is, promoting an image of diversity at the expense of genuine critique” (XLR8R, 2019). Read the full article here.
Low point #1: VICE and The Fader continue to be hotbeds of sexual abuse for women music journalists
An article published by Jezebel late this year underscored the enduring culture of sexual abuse within VICE and The Fader publications which aspiring women music journalists had been trying to bring to the public eye for years. It’s not new knowledge that VICE was built on misogyny, with Eric Sundermann at its helm. Having abandoned the role of editor of Noisey, VICE‘s music vertical, after serious allegations of sexual misconduct led to some employees being fired, Sundermann went straight to The Fader as head of content. He was fired from The Fader after allegations of sexual coercion and assault. Read the full article here.
“According to 11 of Sundermann’s former co-workers, who spoke to Jezebel under condition of anonymity, Sundermann repeatedly groped women coworkers and aspiring music writers at bars and parties, often forcing himself into cabs with women too drunk to protest. According to multiple sources, this pattern dates back to his years as editor of Noisey, Vice’s music vertical, which he joined in 2013. The former co-workers say that Sundermann’s behavior was an open secret in the industry—that many, including young, aspiring music writers and management at Vice and The Fader, knew Sundermann targeted young women writers, gave them free alcohol and pressured them into sexual acts. Several former colleagues allege that writers who turned him down or called him out for this behavior were blacklisted from writing for the site. This behavior with young women went unchecked for years, nearly a dozen of his former colleagues allege, in part because of a work environment that prioritized loose boundaries between coworkers, and provided little recourse for employees” (Jezebel, 2019).
Performer Take #1: Amanda Palmer takes on The Guardian, in 6+ hour Twitter outburst
Late this year (again, what is the deal with November and social media outbursts?) American songwriter Amanda Palmer took to Twitter to express her outrage at the Guardian not covering her UK tour. Palmer specifically took aim at Laura Snapes, Guardian deputy music editor. Over the course of 6+ hours, a narrative emerged which detailed how Snapes had in years gone by been victimised by Palmer and subsequently had to block her on social media. Palmer, now furious, began a tirade of anger, and in some of her tweets weirdly enough included some compliments for the newspaper alongside her targeted lashings. What strange times we live in.
Performer Take #2: DJs charging too much and promoters losing their shit
I believe this one started with an article published by Mixmag which posed the argument that part of the problem of the economy of the music industry is the high cost of booking headline DJs, i.e. the DJs are charging too much. Queue Techno Twitter.
There were some sarcastic takes on this argument, with some local Irish artists tweeting that they wouldn’t play “for less than €10,000”, highlighting their disagreement – an instance of this led to one Irish promoter commenting, saying that artists were now showing their “true colours”, and that they might never play in club X again. I won’t link to this particular comment, but you can do a bit of digging through comments and retweets on the original Mixmag post.
Ireland Low Point #1: The Bernard Shaw closed, moved. So did District 8. And The Turks Head might be next.
2019 followed on from 2018 as another bad year for Ireland’s music venues. The much loved cultural, musical, and artistic icon, The Bernard Shaw announced its closure. The news followed in the wake of noise complaints from local neighbours, and the closure of Eat Yard. Unfortunately, the landlord who owned the building agreed to host a new tenant – a hotel, surprise surprise – and The Bernard Show left it’s long time home, moving to a new spot in Phibsboro.
District 8 had announced its closure in 2018 after its old home in The Liberties was demolished to make way for an apartment-hotel hybrid that nobody asked for. This year they announced their relocation to Swords. A few months prior to District’s 2018 closure, another electronic music venue, Hangar, had also shut down. In the last few weeks is has been announced that The Turks Head, whose basement is a well worn home for music lovers, may be next to close as the Paramount Hotel under which it is based is on the market.
Ireland Low Point #2: Busking and street performance hold a wake – for themselves
The death of street performance, and its funeral, attended by locals. The saddest development in Ireland’s music culture. This year in Galway the new bye laws on street performance reared their ugly head once again, and buskers across the city expressed their opposition to the new restrictions, which would ban amplified performance except from 6pm to 10pm, impose a blanket ban on the use of snare drums, as well as disallowing ‘circle acts’ (read more about this from last year) and seriously affect the livelihoods of local musicians who depend on busking to earn a living and to promote their music. One group, Galway Street Club, stated that the new regulations would make it legally impossible for them to continue playing publicly. The bye laws are due to come into effect in January 2020.
Earlier this month, Galway Buskers Community hosted a wake for street performance at the Spanish Arch. RIP music culture.