Earlier this week Rishi Sunak used an appearance on ITV News to suggest that those working in industries that have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic – including the arts and nightlife – find a new job.
"I can't pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis,” the Chancellor of the Exchequer said.
Sunak's comments came just a week after government minister Gillian Keegan told Sky News that "it's hard to see how nightclubs will open" any time soon.
The government is currently encouraging people to "reskill, upskill [and] take different routes in life" and has given little sign that it will support arts and nightlife through the pandemic aside from a £1.57 billion emergency grants package. The UK music industry is worth £5.2 billion a year and the country's night time economy is worth £66 billion.
The Chancellor's comments and the government's disregard for the arts and nightlife has sent a fresh set of shockwaves through the UK's culture sector, leading the Night Czar to call on parliament to pump money into nightclubs and for the dance music community to question such a shortsighted approach.
We spoke to six DJs at different stages of their careers to get their reactions to being told to get a new job and their thoughts on the future of nightlife.
The government has told DJs to retrain and get a new job. What’s your reaction to that?
Goldie: It’s the biggest load of bollocks ever. You’re talking about Rishi Sunak – a former hedge fund manager, a very privileged young man. He has no sense of what the arts are all about.
Telling people to retrain is a pretty staunch comment. It’s the arts. Shall we get rid of the Tate while we’re at it? Shall we erase the Barbican while we’re there? Shall we destroy the Southbank and get rid of all of the performing arts? There’s no sense in it all.
SHERELLE: I think it’s disgusting and very embarrassing for the government. The UK music industry is worth £5.2 billion a year and if it’s earning that much for the economy, I’d expect Rishi Sunak to save that part of the economy because clearly it’s a very viable one.
There are a lot of artists struggling at the moment, suffering major losses with the cancellation of tours, shows and things they’ve invested in. If you go down the scale to someone like myself who is an emerging act and my peers who are emerging, but perhaps not in the lucky situation that I’m in where I’m picked up by the media, a lot of us a struggling. I’m on the self-employment scheme which was paying 80 per cent of my earnings, then 70 per cent and the next payment is going to be 20 per cent of what I earned last year. And that’s supposed to last for the next three months, which doesn’t really cut it. I know other artists who are on universal credit and they’ve done the assessment and it's come back and they’re not even able to pay for food, basic amenities and their bills. How are they able to survive? A lot of people are going to have to go into their overdrafts or take out loans. A lot of people are going to go into debt, there will be a welfare bill that is growing and growing, so what does that do for the economy?
Fatboy Slim: When the bankers went down, they weren’t told to retrain. They were bailed out because they were considered vital to our country’s economy. But it seems when it comes to culture and arts – from ballet to DJing, we’re all part of it – it contributes a huge amount to our economy and to the reputation of our country, so to just sweep us under the carpet and say “go and do something else” is glib at best and uncaring at worst.
Jyoty: As if people haven’t already risked their livelihoods and secure plans to follow their dreams to become a DJ. It’s made me think of the start of lockdown, when everything started going downhill and it was so scary, it was the creative industry that really got people through it.
DJs are needed for clubs and clubs provide a lot of jobs – not only for the people who own and run them, and the bar staff, but the security guards, bathroom attendants, cleaners, cab drivers. What are cab drivers going to do after 10pm?! It doesn’t make any sense.
I don’t care if I’m not behind the decks anymore, but I need to go to a dancefloor: It’s where I found all my friends, all my lovers and when you can’t afford a holiday, that is your holiday. The government thinks from its own bubble: MPs can afford to take their families away when things get too much but for a lot of people, a week off to relax is four hours on a Friday or Saturday night.
HAAi: I was instantly furious that someone like Rishi Sunak wants to dictate people’s vocational choices. It’s affected me but there’s a huge industry of people who make my job happen and without that, there’s no me. The blatant disregard for what we do as an industry for ourselves and the people who come to rave is incredibly ignorant.
The Blessed Madonna: We’ve all already had new jobs! The thing is that most DJs are already working two jobs. Few DJs can afford to and those of us who can have been out of the job market for so long that pivoting is not only insulting but impossible for some people. You go into an office and they ask “what were you doing between 2012 and 2020” and you say “being a global DJ”, it doesn’t really lend itself to a bullet point on a resume. People outside of this world don’t understand that it is a real job. For most of us it’s not a big party, it’s a seven-day-a-week thing that requires being highly organised. Where do you put ‘being a raver’ on a resume? It’s just not something that works for most people and in the places where it would work, those sectors are under duress as well. If I was going to leave my job, which I’m not, I’d want to go back to being booker at a club or something like that which I’ve done before but those jobs are gone too. I haven’t had a job that wasn’t in electronic music since 2008.
Why should the government save nightlife?
Goldie: The economic contribution and all of the jobs [that nightlife supports]. And it gives people a pick-me-up to go to the theatre on a Friday night or to go and see Hype or Andy C play or to go to the Royal Albert Hall to see a concert.
Ravers have created an infrastructure in the UK for all these above-board companies to invest – including hedge funds – in rave culture. All these big corporations are tied into [dance music culture]. We came a long way, us ravers, and now you want to abandon us? Cheers for that one mate. I think it’s a travesty.
SHERELLE: Our nightlife scene is internationally renowned. We have people doing music tourism to come to our nightclubs and our events. We have a rich and steeped UK history of creating cultures and music genres, especially those created by the Black diaspora. We as Black people started everything from Lovers Rock to garage, drum ‘n’ bass to grime and dubstep. The UK has a large musical history that we need to be proud of.
Fatboy Slim: It’s part of our culture. It’s a breeding ground for ideas. It’s a £66 billion-a-year economy. So it makes financial sense and artists are part of the fabric of the UK, pop music and dance music and club culture is one of our great exports and make us the country we are. Because it’s not high on the government’s radar because these public school boys don’t agree with what we do, it doesn’t mean that we can be thrown under the bus.
Jyoty: I came to London for the nightlife. I used to tell my mum I was sleeping at a friend’s house in Amsterdam but I was actually clubbing in Tottenham at Twice As Nice. I’ve travelled around the world and all I hear is people saying “We love your club scene. We love your radio scene. We love your live events and all the different genres and everything you have to offer.” It’s the epitome of what every other country’s club scene wants to be like. And think about the money it pumps into the economy as well.
HAAi: There’s a lot of talk about generating money for the economy but as people we need an outlet. Music and the industry in general has put the UK on the map for years, it’s the main reason why I moved here. Without any of that you’re taking away the chance to have future stars and international stars.
The Blessed Madonna: It’s an enormously valuable business. Saving it will put more money into the country than it will cost to save it. That value is long running and it continues long after you’ve written the cheque to save the industry because techno tourism and music tourism is an incredibly huge industry and there are so many countries that have been bailed out of crisis by people who come to shows like mine. I know what those shows are worth. The government have said that they will not show up for us when we’ve been the people who hang in there when the going gets tough to the benefit of those around us, not just culturally but financially. We are very, very valuable from a monetary standpoint. Anyone who is focused on the money will look at this industry and realise that snuffing it out is very bad for the bottom line.
If the government don’t save nightlife, what’s the future of the industry?
Goldie: The industry is going to be doomed. What are you going to retrain me to do? Because you can’t paint my canvas or make my sculptures. This isn’t about a few ravers going out and listening to fruity tunes, it’s about art supporting the economy but the government doesn’t take it seriously. But I take it very seriously.
SHERELLE: If the government don’t save nightlife the future of the industry is obviously a very bleak one. There will be a lost generation of artists who, if they don’t get the support they need, will struggle to release projects. I do believe the government needs to step in and give out care packages, like has been done in Germany. This would stop people from falling through the cracks.
Fatboy Slim: Nightlife will be one of the last things to be switched back on. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more venues, companies and individuals will not be able to operate. We’ll lose venues so when we do have a chance to come back, they’ll all have been turned into blocks of flats or be derelict.
Jyoty: We know that the government hates the underground. So, go ahead, put these curfews on, close these venues down. Dude, your worst nightmare is going to come true. The underground will thrive; the kids need to rage. What the government is doing now is perfect for underground scenes to thrive. Fine, you can’t tax us, the money will stay here where it belongs.
Coronavirus is very convenient. It fits the government’s agenda very well. They wanted to get us out for so long, venues have been closing down for so long. High rise spaces, office spaces, cocktail bars have been popping up everywhere and this is just better for this process and it’s become very transparent.
HAAi: As an industry we’ll always get together and fight as much as we can. People in music have proved to be pretty resilient over the years. As much as I feel like we’ve taken this lying down so far, I think we’ll always find a way to be innovative and resourceful. There’s always an uprising, but it’s a shame that it’s got to these kinds of depths for it to happen.
The Blessed Madonna: It’s not going away. It’ll change, it’ll go underground. There will be illegal raves, there will be unlicensed events that are unsafe and that are not paying tax money back to the government. That money will go into a black market system where there is no shared revenue, where the people who come to these events will be unsafe. And people will go elsewhere. The money making events will go somewhere else. Two things will happen and they won’t benefit the country.