A Modern Tragedy: How the affluent music scene stole the artist’s dream

Cover Image Credit: Save Our Scene

The situation is dire. I could say this in almost any context and unfortunately be correct, whether it be environmentally, politically, or even just universally. However, one situation that is often overlooked is musically, and for seemingly good reason. The only constant in many people’s lives is music, and it truly feels like playlists are the only part of our days we have complete control over. However, the situation of music is by no means keeping a steady altitude, rather it is straight nose-diving to the ground. Don’t just take my analogy at face value either, the statistics are even more damning: 


These statistics tell us a tragic story, music on a local and grassroots level is in its death throes, being prompted by a cocktail of short-term donations and funds that by no means deal with the systematic issues music venues face. 16% may seem like a poultry statistic, but it has come out of seemingly nowhere, and experts on the matter speculate it will increase even quicker in the coming years. Meanwhile, those at the top of the music food chain, huge companies such as Ticketmaster and musicians such as Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran couldn’t be living in a more profitable time. So why should we care? I imagine most people, me included, would prefer to listen to the most talented artists anyway, as opposed to the band of teens performing in the backrooms of some pub.

The answer is pretty clear. You don’t get the likes of Oasis and The Killers headlining at Wembley and Glastonbury without first headlining at Moles (RIP). You don’t get the Beatles without The Cavern Club. You don’t get the world-famous music venues without the grassroots music venues. You don’t get music without the small venue.  Without the ability to cut their teeth and hone their craft in places like Moles, musicians are deprived of the ability to become the artists we all admire and spend our days, and indeed lives, listening to. I hope I’ve made a partially convincing case for the importance of why Grassroot UK music is so important because I now want to talk about an organisation that has dedicated itself to saving it.

Save Our Scene (SOS) is the self-declared protector and mouthpiece of UK culture, founded in lockdown as a campaign with the single goal of supporting musicians, venues, and the live music industry. George Fleming is the main driving force behind the campaign and also the founder of SOS. I am a strong believer in the idea that everyone has got their thing. And George’s thing is music, a thing I soon discovered after having a conversation with him.

“You can’t stop a party, it’s just a matter of where it goes” – George Fleming

I got the opportunity to talk to George due to an event he was promoting in Bristol, which was a SOS event in collaboration with Nia Archives, a Bradford-born musician who has taken the British rave scene by storm. The event was spectacular for many reasons, not least because all £10,500 worth of profits generated by it directly went to supporting Bristol grassroots venues. Talking to George about what drove his passion to the level that such an event was even possible, it was pretty clear why he valued music so much, and why we should too.

George recently campaigning. Image credit: Save Our Scene

Outside of playing a crucial role in the creation and proliferation of musicians who go on to become international sensations, grassroots music venues also provide a social good that is a lot closer to home, community and connection. A returning theme during my talk with George was that of human connection and community, and to put it lightly, we don’t have much of it left. One does not have to be a revolutionary nor a cynic to accept the fact that community, a word so abstract it’s hard to define yet nonetheless we all understand it because it is us, is wavering. Long-standing businesses across the country that exist within and for their community are being replaced by mega-conglomerates such as Amazon. The social media ‘attention-economy’ has lulled humans into the belief that time spent on their phones is far better than spent with friends and family. So, with this sense of connection and community in such a decline, it has never been more important to protect these venues that bring people together and help them connect over a shared passion, music. 

Moles ‘permanently lost’  as council rejects bid to save iconic Bath Venue

Writing all of this is making me profoundly glum, partly because just as I realise how sacred music venues are for our well-being, I also realise how terrible it truly is that Moles, arguably one of the most profound and pioneering grassroots venues in the UK, was lost permanently after the Lib-Dem majority council rejected a bid that would have recognised the venue as an “asset of community value”, a bid which would have likely saved the venue for the time being. Other than the fact that Moles was an asset to the community, what is even more heinous is this verdict seems to completely undermine the Lib-Dem’s own self-proclaimed beliefs, which is grassroots music is vital and they would wholeheartedly support it if elected.

George has got one more thing other than music, and that is a justified distrust of political parties and the promises they make, and for good reason too. George did not seem phased by this decision by the Lib-Dem council, and it is this knowledge of politicians’ inability to do what is necessary that has galvanized his efforts to save the music scene and a result produce some spectacular events, such as this night in Bristol. SOS is not just some pressure group or lobbying firm that intends to pressure the government to care about music, rather is it a movement that says whether you choose to help or not, we will always celebrate human connection and music, so better to be with us than against us.

Grassroots music venues may be in decline, and as a result, so is the human connection and sense of community, but that night in Bristol it simply did not feel true. The energy felt so natural during that underground Nia Archives set, it became clear to me that irrespective of what the government or local council chooses what is or is not an asset, the music will go on because there is just something inherently human about it. On a positive note, MPs have just recently released a report following a Parliament hearing that recommended several actions that should be immediately and voluntarily taken by the big earners within the music scene that would help out the grassroots venues, including a levy that would see much-needed funding reach the pockets of venues such Moles if it came just a little earlier. If this voluntary levy is not being applied or is just not generating enough income, the report also advised the government should make the levy mandatory by September. This is a pretty big deal, and as it was a cross-party report whatever party is elected this July will likely keep to their word. However, let us not forget that Moles was partly lost due to a political party going back on a belief they were publicly espousing.

We must take a page out of George’s book, which is to take what the government says with a pinch of salt and rather take some initiative when it matters most. I truly hope the newly elected government in September listens to its report, however, if they don’t, it is more important than ever to follow and support organisations such as Save Our Scene.

Editor’s note: If you would like to know more about Save Our Scene, you can check out their website or Instagram.

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