Play This Everywhere

This is really, really crucial viewing for anyone from Glasgow, Scotland or any part of the UK.

This almost moved me to tears.

An incredible speech at a Scottish Parliament Committee made by Dennis Curran from the group Loaves and Fishes.

Any time anyone tells you UKOK you should be showing them this video.

Any time anyone tells you we need the UK to be looking after our welfare system, show them this video.

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The OPEC of Live Music: Ticketmaster, Live Nation and the Need for a New Paramount Case

Last week, one of my favourite bands announced tickets would go on sale for two new shows at The Forum in LA. Tickets were on sale at the end of the week, and I busied myself making plans to attend. After attempting (unsuccessfully) to buy tickets, I have once again been left in the all too familiar state of sadness and rage. Ticketmaster, with their huge influence in the ticket market, are nearly impossible to avoid when trying to see live music. Issues of ambiguous “administration” fees, increasing ticket prices, exclusive ticket availability, oligopolistic behaviour and exposed compliance with professional ticket touts have all contributed to their tarnished image. And I have just about had enough.

From the beginning of the ticketing process, the issues that have come to define the modern live music experience were clear. The now standard two days of pre sale for corporate customers (American Express, Goldenvoice and Ticketmaster to name a few) preempted the wide release of the routinely extortionate ticket prices. Unsurprisingly, after failing to get tickets through the primary seller, I could instantly find plenty on sale for many times their face value in the pirate like world of professional touts that is the secondary market ( e.g Ticketsnow, Getmein, Stubhub, Viagogo, Soundwave).

Initially I was furious with Arcade Fire, the band who the tickets were to see. After seeing them rail against the “VIP room bullshit” at Coachella two weeks ago, it was massively disheartening to face the corporatisation of live music while trying to buy tickets to see their show. But my fury waned after realising that bands are also tied to Ticketmaster. Websites that wont crash, large host servers and access to large arenas are operational issues that are required to allow as many Arcade Fire fans the opportunity of seeing them live. These requirements eliminate every primary ticket seller but Ticketmaster.

I moved on to look for tickets for the Washington night of the tour, the nearest dedicated Arcade Fire concert to me here in Vancouver. The seat plan at the Gorge Amphitheatre points to further exasperation. While the cheap “General Admission” section is furthest from the stage, the standing room only pit area is the most expensive. Traditionally sold at a reduced rate due to the lack of personal space, cleanliness, a seat, and many other basic civilised needs, the pit area is the visible pulse of any live event. Pricing out all but the most affluent of fans from the often-disgusting-but-always-fun pit areas is as absurd as it is dangerous to an energetic and exciting atmosphere.

According to Ticketmaster, this has nothing to do with them:

“Ticketmaster sells tickets on behalf of promoters, teams, artists and venues, which means Ticketmaster does not set the ticket prices or determine seating location except under limited circumstances.” (Source: Ticketmaster)

Considering the merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster in 2010, this position becomes questionable. The $800m (USD) deal was announced in February 2009, but “potential risk to competition” delayed approval for 11 months in the USA and Canada, and led to an initial negative ruling in the UK. The potential risk to competition is so huge, as Live Nation is the largest live events company in the world, and Ticketmaster is one of the largest ticketing firms. The new titanic business, Live Nation Entertainment, now own, control or have influence over every step of the live music process; from recording (Front Line Management Group), promoting (LIve Nation Concerts), ticketing (Ticketmaster) and ownership of venues around the world.

Major Live Nation Venues Pt 1

Major Live Nation Venues Pt 1

Major Live Nation Venues Pt 2

Major Live Nation Venues Pt 2

(Source: Wikipedia)

This almost complete vertical integration achieved by Live Nation Entertainment illustrates that, as is the case for the Arcade Fire Concert at the Gorge Amphitheatre, one firm is arranging the seat locations, setting the prices and selling the tickets on behalf of itself. Furthermore, the only competition visible has been over control of the largest arenas with rival entertainment behemoth AEG (Source: The Guardian). A contest that will have little, if any, effect on the consumer. Such a dearth of competition between a small number of firms, with massive vertical integration is thoroughly reminiscent of the Hollywood Studio System. Ticketmaster, as one of the many faces of Live Nation Entertainment, is part of an inescapable oligopoly that is in total control of the live music industry.

The rising ticket prices this has naturally resulted in have been explained with a very effective top-down narrative, emphasised by the oligarchy and largely accepted by consumers (myself included). This narrative follows that, since the digital music evolution, your favourite bands are making less and less. Widespread piracy is driving them to the poor house, and the only way they are now going to make any money is through charging more for live shows. For an example of the communication of this consumer-blaming narrative, see ex-Executive Chairman of Live Nation Entertainment, and Billboard’s number 1 Most Influential Person in music, Irving Azoff:

As subtle and graceful as this narrative is, there are a few small problems with it.

Firstly, the music industry as a whole has not been negatively affected by the digital media evolution (Source: CBC). Yes, CD manufacturers have suffered badly, along with many other middle men involved in the old school distribution chain. But the opportunity for artists to reach consumers directly has provided a huge new source of value. Furthermore, the businesses that were previously in control of the industry, remain in control. The threat of new media has helped them cement their position at the top of the chain. This is evident with the numerous mergers that created Live Nation Entertainment, and the consolidation of the “Big Six” major labels in 1988 into the “Big Three” that exist today. For the Irving Azoff’s strategising the increase in ticket prices, new media has never negatively affected their profit margins.

See a trend?

See a trend?

(Source: Wikipedia)

Also, increased ticket prices have not resulted in increased earnings for the majority of artists (Source: Alternative Press), and there is a complete lack of transparency surrounding the price setting system. The combination of these factors breeds suspicion over where the money is going, and what costs are needing covered. The OPEC-like control of this pricing mechanism further intrenches the oligopoly held by Live Nation Entertainment and AEG, and present another reason to question the predominant narrative.

Another  serious challenge to this narrative is the dishonest and reprehensible practices exposed in the secondary market of ticket exchanges. In 2012, documentary program Dispatches investigated ticket exchange giants Viagogo and Soundwave. Undercover footage exposed Live Nation Entertainment allocating thousands of tickets directly to ticket exchange companies for resale at a huge markup. From these sales, 90% of the profit was returned to Live Nation Entertainment.

Considering these issues, it is clear that there are serious flaws with the current narrative perpetuating the oligopoly in live music. Firms like Live Nation Entertainment have ruthlessly busied themselves with taking as much profit as possible from the ambiguous prices, leaving artists with no more than before, while facilitating the mechanisation of professional touting through “ticket exchanges”. Supporting live music through the likes of Live Nation Entertainment, is doing little but increasing the profit margins of oligopolies.

———–

So what can be done? While it is abundantly clear that a change is needed, I can not argue for people to stop attending live music. I know I will remain an unwilling, but regular Ticketmaster customer. One could hope for a live music Paramount Case, separating the control of the supply chain. But currently, this is as far as legislation wishes to go.

Thankfully there are companies like Ticketline in the UK that provide a small alternative when purchasing tickets. Ticketline do not take any money from the advertised ticket price, and their main source of revenue is flexible administration fees. But “small” is the key word here. As the market currently operates, Ticketline will never be a sizeable competitor for the likes of Ticketmaster.

I would love to see a more radical alternative based on defending the autonomy of independent venues, fair remuneration for artists and transparent ticket pricing. Organisations like the Association of Independent Music (http://www.musicindie.com/home), and the Association of Independent Festivals (http://aiforg.com/) in the UK would be perfect models for an Association of Independent Venues. This collection of venues could arrange by city, and invest in a local, tailor-made ticketing system that gave fair allocation to physical sellers as well as online channels. Ticket touting of every scale could be more effectively countered through varying the rigour of registration processes. Artists could be contacted directly or through independent record labels to arrange concerts. All of this would be in the pursuit of circumnavigating, and thus deconstructing, the oligopoly of Ticketmaster, Live Nation Entertainment and AEG. Yes this is a utopian dream of mine for the future. But I hope you will join me in reciting the words of Arcade Fire:

“We’ll scream and shout, till we work it out”

 

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Coachella 2014: Music Reigns Supreme

Last weekend the most remarkable thing happened at weekend 1 of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. No, it wasn’t Leonardo “I have never taken drugs” DiCaprio pulling off the crowning glory of white guy dancing. Nor was it the formidable myriad of guest appearances that popped up across the weekend (more on that later), or the decision to cut off Outkast before their final song of their triumphant return. And it wasn’t even Aaron Paul closing the festival with Arcade Fire, wearing a mask of the Pope.

So much yes.

So much yes.

The most remarkable thing of the weekend, was that I got to go along and witness the whole thing.

It has taken a week to recover, the post-festival blues are definitely lingering, and I am still trying to make sense of it all. What I can say with certainty is: the music was absolutely incredible. From the first band of the weekend (Wye Oak) to the Last (Arcade Fire), day and night, no matter the stage, every single act completely exceeded expectations. West coast favourites HAIM exuded confidence and completely converted me from cynic to passionate fan in the space of 40mins. CHVRCHES provided a loud and exciting taste of home, mixing their electronic hits with the best patter of the weekend (including Lauren attempting to translate “goan’yerself” for American ears). Sets that are due special mention:

OUTKAST

I want to state from the outset that I am not a die-hard, know every lyric to every song Outkast fan. I went along knowing their top hits and expecting to recognise a few other songs. Opening with Bombs Over Baghdad and ripping through a further 25 songs in just over 90 minutes, they completely blew me away. I would go so far to say it was the perfect festival headline slot. Andre 3000 and Big Boi owned the stage, taking us through the history of Outkast from rapping around the kitchen table pre Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, to chart topping domination. Yes we could have done without the painfully awkward sales intermission with Future, and I still can’t believe the sound was cut before they could play The Whole World with Killer Mike. But the energy created during songs like Rosa Parks, Roses, GhettoMusick, Hootie Hoo and Ms Jackson was truly special.

Outkast

JAGWAR MA / FLUME

These two were the highlights from a strong contingency sent up from Australia. Jagwar Ma, playing in the baking 38c afternoon heat, performed one of the highest intensity sets all weekend. Jono Ma on the synths, samplers and drum machines drove the show, blending each song effortlessly into the next. The continuous wall of noise and psychedelic visuals gave me hope for a new acid house revival, and made me wish Jagwar Ma were playing a longer set later in the day.

I wandered over to see Flume after abandoning the obnoxious and infernal repetition of beats that constituted Martin Garrix’s set. What I found was easily the biggest crowd jam of the weekend. Flume’s expansive deep house translated perfectly live. From smash hits Holdin On and You and Me, to the Balearic minimalism of Insane, and a debut remix of Lorde thrown in to boot, he is in a class of his own. What was especially pleasing was how genuine the affection between performer and crowd seemed. Humbly ending with “I had no idea I had so many fans, thank you.”, Flume owned the Gobi.

FATBOY SLIM

Father of big beat dance music, Fatboy gave a masterclass in crowd pleasing electronica that many of the Sahara DJs would do well to study. He beautifully weaved his eclectic mix of 90s rave, Motown and house together with monster hit Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat for 60 fleeting minutes. The most outrageous use of Dean Martin’s Let It Snow I will ever bear witness to topped off the performance, snow included. I feel like that sums up Fatboy best of all. Who else could make it snow in the desert?

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE V PHARRELL WILLIAMS (and co)

I have been waiting to see QOTSA for quite some time. They were definitely the band I was most amped for when the line up was announced back in January. And they did not disappoint. Opening with No One Knows and Feel Good Hit Of The Summer, introduced as a Coachella survival kit, they surpassed all of my expectations in the most powerful performance of the weekend. Josh Homme’s combination of physicality and persona creates a massive presence on stage that demands your attention. So much so that, if it were not for several amps tipping over midway through My God Is The Sun, it was easy to forget they were playing in the middle of a sandstorm that was doing its best to ruin most other artists that night.

One such artist that did not fare so well in the abrasive conditions was Pharrell. Drawing one of the biggest audiences to the Outdoor stage, the wind and sand forced the stage to be partially dismantled, the speakers and screens to be lowered and seriously affected Pharrell’s ability to perform. Yet, the set was fantastically entertaining. With his recent collaboration with Daft Punk, and smash single Happy from No 1 album G I R L, it is almost impossible to miss that Pharrell as a solo artist  is dominating at the moment. What it is easier to forget is how many songs he is responsible for as a producer. During his hour-long set, Nelly, Busta Rhymes, P Diddy, Tyler the Creator, Snoop Dogg, Diplo and Gwen Stefani all joined Pharrell on stage for versions of Hot In Here, Lapdance, Drop It Like Its Hot, Aerosol Can, and (my personal favourite) Hollaback Girl. The man is very seriously the Nile Rogers of our generation.

Hollaback Girl

Hollaback Girl

In conversation the next day with my fellow festival goers, the overwhelming nature of Pharrell’s set lead to two interesting conclusions. The first is that the people who can regularly attend Coachella are completely spoiled. I have been going to festivals since I was a teenager, and have been fortunate enough to see live music in Scotland, England, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the States. For me, to attend a gig where guest stars perform has always been the pinnacle of live music, something that you hear about happening elsewhere and can only experience through youtube. But seeing so many cameos over the weekend was not as fulfilling as I had expected. The contrast between how routine the guest appearances seemed at Coachella versus how unique I expected those moments would be remains problematic for me. I think this stems from appreciating how infrequently such moments happen outside of the states, and how it does not stop every single person who loves live music holding on to the dream that maybe tonight is the night. Ultimately, I wish the guest-love could be spread around a bit more.

The second conclusion is less of a criticism of Pharrell but more of a defence of QOTSA. As I said earlier, Pharrell’s set was incredibly entertaining. But the number of cameos and covers served to further elevate my adoration for QOTSA. Not only did they manage to master the weather and give one of the best performances of the weekend. But they did so with no guest stars, no excessive light shows and no staged executions of bankers (I’m looking at you Muse). It was no fuss Rock’n’Roll that has managed to rekindle my passion for, and restore some of my faith in, guitar based music.

 

Queen's of the desert

Queen’s of the desert

While the music was easily the best part of the weekend, there were a few small things that niggled me. I had heard a number of stories about the type of people who now frequent Coachella year in, year out. I am not even going to try and describe such people as it has already been covered by Vice last week. Unfortunately, I have to say that I did not see much in the crowd to prove Vice wrong. I was surprised at almost every act* how chill (almost to the point of indifference) the crowds were. During my beloved QOTSA set, there was no mosh pits and no jumping, it was the same at Glitch Mob and Disclosure and Julian Casablancas. All in all the crowd were almost too respectful, seemingly unwilling to really let go.

*There were some exceptions. Rudimental managed to ratchet the crowd close to the frenzy I would expect. And by the time Nas finally made it on stage at quarter past midnight on Saturday night, it was only a loyal, committed, and older crowd that was left to enjoy his glorious 20th anniversary celebration of Illmatic. Sadly, however they were but the exceptions that proved the rule.

The final criticism I have to posit is that in trying to discover what the festival is at its most basic, you find a “Jekyll and Hyde”-like set up. On the one hand, there is the alternative, community and arts based image the festival presents so avidly to the media. This image is not entirely constructed as a marketing tool, but it was hard to find. The art around the campsite and the installations in the arena were pretty (I loved the spaceman), but it felt forced. My favourite location in the whole festival, which I sadly only discovered on Sunday afternoon, was the area wedged in the back of “The Terrace”. This area hosted The Do Lab (heaps of fun), and the majority of the much heralded craft food stalls. Wandering around here, talking to strangers, being offered free cookies from the lovely people at Fancy Boyz, and eating the most delicious Ice Cream I have ever tasted from Salt and Straw, convinced me that the spirit of Coachella remains.

The Do Lab

This almost hippy like vibe (said with not a hint of negative connotations), however, clashes loudly with the corporate like, wankery that is the VIP sections. Fenced areas at the front of each stage are reserved for celebrities, and people who can afford the outrageously expensive VIP tickets. There are even separate walkways around the arena so that they need not rub shoulders with the (probably equally wealthy, but quite smelly) riff raff from the campgrounds. This business like approach to live music is entirely unsurprising seeing as Coachella operates under Goldenvoice, itself part of AEG, one of the Oligarchs of live music. With Coachella being such a profitable venture, it becomes pretty transparent that Outkast were never going to be allowed to play over the curfew.

Thankfully, however, the issues of the “Hyde” mentality of the festival did not go unnoticed. Win butler of Arcade Fire, was quick to criticise the VIP set up of the festival.

I just want to say that there’s a lot of fake VIP room bullshit happening at this festival, and sometimes people dream of being there – but it super sucks in there, so don’t worry about it.” (Source: NME)

Following on from this, Arcade Fire cemented their place as one of my favourite acts by playing through the curfew, with acoustic instruments and megaphones, while walking through the crowd. It was the perfect way to end the festival. The music should always reign supreme. And with the ahhh-ahhhhhhhhh’s of Wake Up gently lapping through the crowd, it certainly did at Coachella 2014. It is a weekend I will never forget.

Taking the music to the crowd

Taking the music to the crowd

 

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Hello, Is There Anyone Out There?

Hello and welcome.

My name is Mark. I am 23 years old. I love music, movies, books and travel. Originally from Scotland, I have just started living in the beautiful city of Vancouver.

I am going to use this blog to track my thoughts and rambles.

If you like what you see, or even if you don’t, please leave a comment.

Much love x

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