Since March 16th no more events were allowed to take place in Austria due to the Corona crisis. The local cultural scene is in a state of emergency. mica – music austria asked how musicians, organizers, agencies, label operators and curators are dealing with the current situation.
JOHANNES MARIA STAUD (COMPOSER)
several times I have tried to write something for you, but I failed again and again. strange.
either i couldn’t grasp my thoughts concisely enough or what i wanted to say would have become much too extensive, frayed, overflowing.
apart from distance teaching with my composition students at the mozarteum in salzburg, taking care of my two little sons, mastering everyday life together with my working wife and of course composing (currently an octet that will be premiered in japan in november), there is not as much time as I had hoped for. for reading, discovering music, writing lyrics etc.
to date, three premieres, including a percussion trio for martin grubinger, an ensemble work for the ensemble phace and a trio for flute, bassoon and piano for silvia careddu, sophie dervaux and eloïse bella kohn, had to be cancelled (or postponed). two key residencies at music festivals have also been cancelled (hopefully they too can be postponed…), as well as some other concerts, lectures and travels (to cologne, dresden, sarajevo and paris, among others). knowing that many colleagues are worse off than me, their professional and financial situation much more precarious, i am very angry about the inactivity (and/or inability) of politics in Austria, a country of culture, to provide adequate social security for the creative scene. without our culture, our artists, musicians, festivals we are not much, not much remains of austria’s identity – even others are better skiers now. between black-turquoise newsspeak and green swirls of convoluted sentences, artists are often left hanging and fobbed off with empty phrases. aid funds are often too bureaucratic and underfunded. being solidary with other financially weak members of society, it would be high time now to tackle an unconditional basic income for all. political will is still missing, but the time is ripe.
ROBIN KLENGEL (FORUM CITY PARK)
Like all other venues, the Forum Stadtpark is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the middle of March, no events have been taking place at the Forum Stadtpark. As most of our music events take place in our rather small basement, and as it is impossible to keep to the distance restrictions in the stairways and toilets, we are not planning any events for the time being. Only our current exhibition will be open to visitors in a few days.
Fortunately, we were able to send some of our employees into short-time work and have good prospects for subsidies from a hardship fund, so that the forum is not in immediate financial need. It is therefore very important to us not to drop the artists and those who are only marginally employed. We are aware that many people in our field are currently plagued by great existential fears and we are making every effort to maintain employment relationships and pay cancellation fees.
We are currently observing a certain “run” on digital substitute formats such as streams, video conferences or entire online festivals, which in the meantime – in addition to the already existing cultural program on the Internet – has led to a real oversupply. To be honest, we are a bit cautious about this. Many events thrive on the fact that they happen live and on location, and that one shares a physical space with other people and thus a sensual experience. It’s clear that a lot of what happens here can’t be transferred into digital space in a truly satisfying way. If so, it’s more like a symbolic act. In other words, although we are already working on such formats and are experimenting with them, we don’t want to force everything into digital space by hook or by crook. If it should be digital, then we really want to use the strengths of digital transmission and try something new.
In addition, we have noticed that at the moment a great deal of the program is being postponed until autumn. We consider this to be enormously dangerous, because the already fierce competition for attention and audiences in the cultural sector, coupled with the simultaneous collective overtaxing of artists, threatens to intensify once again. Here, on the one hand, we are working on networking with the other places – after all, we all have the same problems and can only deal with them collectively. And nobody needs twice as many concerts, exhibitions or readings in autumn – who is supposed to go there?
On the other hand, we are working on cultural policies to relax the situation and take the pressure off. Both politicians and cultural creatives must be aware that at the moment events are simply cancelled and that not everything can take place digitally or be postponed. If the cultural landscape is not to suffer too much damage, the only solution is that the financing of projects and programs must continue to be guaranteed even if they cannot take place. We are trying to communicate this on a political level.
DOMINIK UHL & MICHAEL MARLOVICS (NOISE APPEAL REC.)
Covid 19 has an influence! This virus, about which we all know so little but are (should be) very afraid of, will have it for a long time. On all of us. On our daily life, but also on our bread-and-butter jobs and on the companies we run. And of course “the crisis” also has an influence on Noise Appeal Records, which we only run as a “sideline”, but still.
What does that mean “as a sideline”? Of course we are in the happy position that our livelihood does not depend on the success or failure of the label. Nevertheless we are of course committed to our artists and only want the best for them. And for that we are working for them. Much of this work is just fizzling out into nowhere at the moment, because like all labels of this size and musical orientation, we are dependent on sales and the attention generated by concerts.
First and foremost. Sales via brick-and-mortar outlets or online portals for physical products are available for most of our bands, but some of them are negligible – which is a pity of course. That’s also the reason for the temporary breakdown of this distribution possibility, which has only a limited influence on us now. The question remains, of course, how all this can or should continue, if the possibilities for concerts are gone for an even longer time. And unfortunately it can be assumed to be that way. If you read e.g. statements of Joachim (publisher OX Fanzine), you can assume that there will be no live performance comeback before 2021. At least not for the bigger shows. Maybe we, who are rooted in the DIY-cosmos, are going to be lucky and these structures will be available earlier? But even if smaller clubs and venues open up again it will be very hard for us and our artists. There will be a real storm on the venues – understandably. The top dogs established in our small market in Austria will probably be given a preference, because they will have the one or other act in their rosters that guarantees a sell-out sign. This means that the others will have to line up at the back of the queue.
So we can already consider that the year 2020 is “over and done with”. This also applies to plans we had – such as taking a further step towards turning the label into something more professional, specifically: shifting the time resources towards the label. But it also affects the releases of bands that have to fall back on grown and established club structures, because not every noise appeal band can or wants to play in the DIY segment, the squatted house or the punk shed. Which brings us back to the above mentioned lining up in the queue: Because the clubs that will survive this crisis – and as sad as it is, not all of them will survive – will not be able to save themselves from requests and then, understandably, the classic market law of demand takes effect: the hot, hyped-up shit will be the first in line. The band that has been playing its ass off in the underground for 10, 15 and more years will have to wait. Will the band survive this then?
Of course not everything is as negative as it looks at first glance. We have time to think things over. We can question our approaches to our lives and learn from the past. We also – and we do this with all our heart – can be happy about every piece of music we are allowed to release on Noise Appeal. And there’s a lot coming this year. Some of the things we had planned for 2021 are already coming this year, and other things we had planned for this year are not coming until 2021.
Conclusion: We are taking the situation as it is. We can’t change anything big about it. We can bear it. But why bear it? That’s not true: we can move forward positively, concretize plans, think them anew and then implement them with a delay of a few months or a year. With all the energy we have, support our artists and go the way we think is right. We have been doing this for 17 years and will continue to do so for at least another 17 years. Such a virus will not stop us from carrying on.
THOMAS GRILL (MDW/ELAK, COMPOSER & MUSICIAN)
The collapse of certainties that one has secretly known to be only a kind of surface, is liberating. Ridiculous, so-called obligations – shut down by inanimate particles. Hoping that this would inevitably lead to a more holistic understanding of the embedding of man in the overall organism of the earth is germinating delicately, but is probably too dreamy again. One could grab the little plant by the scruff of the neck and finally, almost unnoticed, remove all and everything from the dictates of growth. It will not be. Rather enjoy the sounds of strolling and the sight of the magnificent, deep azure blue sky.
Don’t even start to hug. A one meter distance is a lot, even in passing. Did I feel the whiff of a breath? Back at home from the contaminated city environment: change clothes, wash your hands, even your face according to the guidelines. But the children do not want to, their hands are already cracked, time is getting long for them. Again these boring school tasks, what, I have to listen to something from Orff? The apocalypse simulation evaluates: the probability of viral illness vs. psychological resilience. The anteroom smells of chlorine.
The familiar faces of the students on the screen, they do not seem unhappy in front of their shelves and walls, rather amazed. We discuss acoustic counterparts of Bob’s quote from “Down by Law”, “to look at the window”, or “out the window”. What is projected onto our screens, onto our windows? One remembers the “Truman Show”, when can one finally get out, escape the staging of the press conferences? After all, the required virtual teaching provides a structure, it doesn’t work badly at all, one will have to come to terms with it for a while. We will then think about how to use the digital streams with adequate concepts. There will also be an afterwards. Maybe we have learned something from it.
Once the children are asleep, the evenings are longer than usual. The privilege of a state-financed income in a niche that is not vital for survival creates a guilty conscience, research is making progress. Unfortunately no music done, again. It’s already late, hopefully I shall not to be woken up by quarrels.
MARLENE ENGEL (HYPERREALITY)
I follow Herbert Föttinger, director of the Theater in der Josefstadt: “The most important thing is… that Vice Chancellor Kogler and Secretary of State Lunacek would call me at last…”
Even before Covid19, it was difficult for aspiring musicians in electronic music to find a place for themselves in the music market. There are hardly any alternatives to platform capitalism. Centralized providers that pay the musicians ridiculously per stream, like Spotify and YouTube, are almost inevitable. For promotion, the data giants Facebook, Intragram and co. have to be provided with free content, and one has to compete against one’s best colleagues, mostly as a lone fighter under the emblems of “independent music” and “collectivity”. The Hyperreality Festival is not exempted from this. Without a solid social media presence, promotion for starting an independent festival would have been difficult for us, too. Esther Straganz, head of propaganda and I, citizen curator, try to use the medium subversively. The proceeds of the face masks which we are producing together with WienerUnart, are sold under the motto #teamlesbos and donated to the refugee camp Moria. This is our commentary on the Team Austria “campaign”, which is also becoming more and more widespread in culture and is ideologically reprehensible and dangerous. Culture does not stop at national borders, nor does solidarity. The masks have been stuck for weeks because of restrictions and customs problems. As soon as it becomes clear how much China and Austria would like to get, financially speaking, from our attempt to achieve sustainable compliance with the Covid-19 regulations, the masks will finally be available for sale.
In any case, the income generated by centralized platforms is not enough to keep musicians alive. Live shows therefore have to provide (roughly) 60 to 90% of the remaining income (if one plans to live without a side job). For the users of e.g. Spotify it can’t be a surprise that something is wrong if you can listen to every album on the planet at 10 USD per month. And for those who are happy about a little money from play-backs of their Spotify playlists: Bot-curated playlists are already available. Whoever produces records knows (as Stefan Juster e.g. tells here) that these are at best cost-covering with the popular edition of 500-1000 pcs.
Unfortunately, all this doesn’t work for the subcultural scene. A fact that turns into a bitter reality right now, since the live-sector as main source of income is completely gone. Personally, I find it problematic that it is precisely the music scene that has moved forward with the emergence of the initial restrictions to complete the scene’s move to the Internet under the motto “rethinking”. The advertising-financed platforms now often get the content for free. It would have been important to deal with the actual status quo. I have the feeling that the previous problems are being shifted 1:1 to the internet.
The current crisis is proof for me that virtual online formats are no substitute for live performances. We already wrote “Online is no substitute for community” in the program booklet of the first edition of Hyperreality 2017. This is one of the reasons why we have moved the festival from the beginning of June to November 19-22, 2020. The team and I are backing this decision, but of course we are thinking about what will happen if the new date is cancelled. A second postponement is out of the question just out of solidarity towards the musicians and participants. If the current restrictions remain, I would probably have to register the festival as an inn and have everyone dance on the chairs or arrange five airplanes star like around a revolving stage:
It is unclear which conditions apply here or internationally (travel regulations) in autumn. This also makes planning difficult or even impossible for the time being.
In any case, participation is at the centre of the music. It is hard to imagine the damage that a long-term negative development will have on the live sector, especially on the subcultural music scene. Donations and crowdfunding campaigns will not be enough. The premise is help from the state. So back to the call from Lunacek and Kogler to get in touch with me – all “high culture” delusions aside: Who will represent the music to the outside world? Where do the calls of the decision makers end up? Which experts will be interviewed? I believe some kind of trade union will be more important than ever. A diverse, small-scale scene has to be represented, consisting of different legal entities and protagonists.
And how am I doing? I can’t wait to be stuck in a dirty cellar hole, sweating in front of a gigantic subwoofer while clinging to my companion, and kicking the branded hearing protection into the ground while dancing.
Translated from the German original by Julian Schoenfeld