Song, by Toad

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Music Warehouse Burns, and NOW it’s Bad?

[Warning: long rant which, if you are just here for the music, you may not want to bother reading.]

It seems an awful lot of music people are suddenly really quite horrified by the rioting in London now that the Sony warehouse has burned to the ground and suddenly most of the best indie labels in the country are facing a serious, and in some cases potentially fatal, financial injury.

Some of the people running the labels affected are my friends, I am really concerned for them, and you know (or you should) by now how highly I value independent music.  A lot of the larger indies will have the buffer, both financial and in terms of having access to spare stock in other places, that this will not be ruinous to them.  Smaller labels, on the other hand may well not be so lucky.

Not all labels are insured against these things, and the smaller, less-organised and less financially established ones will generally be the ones who are not.  And lots of distribution deals have clauses in there which state that the loss of damaged stock, even when in the hands of the distributor, is the responsibility of the label.  If the label’s lawyers don’t catch that clause before anyone signs anything, then they might be really quite fucked.

Secondly, there’s the cost of replacing stock.  Most record labels only make money through the act of selling records (seems obvious, doesn’t it).  But that burned stock will have represented their capital investment (excuse me if I get my technical terms wrong, I am not an economist). The vast majority of the money we have ever spent as a label, and therefore the vast majority of the value represented by our business, is sitting in boxes with our distributors in London (not, not PIAS, fortunately) and in our spare bedroom around me as I type this.

To continue to function as a business you have to have records to sell, meaning the affected labels will have to make more immediately, but with their capital tied up in the ones which burned to cinders, then simply finding the money to do so might well be the kind of challenge which will be too much for some of them and they will fold. Simple as that.

But in all honesty no matter what was in that warehouse, this whole story is absolutely not about records, record labels, or anything like that.  And I am kind of annoyed to see how many people have suddenly decided that after all that’s happened, now they’ve burned down a warehouse full of music, well that was a step too far.  Oh right, so now it’s bad, is it?

I suppose there’s an element whereby people don’t really feel they have the authority to comment on what turns social and economic deprivation into the kind of violence we’ve seen recently, whereas a lot of the press I read and the people I know do know what could happen to labels affected by the warehouse fire, so fair enough, maybe. I still don’t buy it though.

Basically, yes, some people might lose their businesses.  This is not something I am taking lightly, believe me, but come on, some businesses – equally unprotected by insurance – have been burned to ash.  People have lost their homes, some almost their entire neighbourhoods, and what the fuck does this kind of violence do to the sort of social cohesion and mutual trust most of us take for granted?

And also, much of the tone of criticism of the riots has struck me as prissy, self-righteous and downright fucking reminiscent of the Daily fucking Mail.  Even from my generally quite liberal friends.  There’s been a lot of talk about this being mindless violence and it all being pointless, and the rioters doing themselves more damage than anyone else and goodness gracious why can’t they see that?

Apart from the fact that the rioting in Tottenham was triggered by yet more excessive violence from a police force who seem to have developed a habit in recent years of acting as if they have absolutely no accountability for their actions (largely, of course, because they actually do not seem to have any accountability for their actions), to suggest that this current outbreak of violence is apolitical seems breathtakingly stupid to me.

Yes, a lot of the violence is being committed by people with no more in their heads than an explosion of suppressed rage, but this kind of pent-up fury doesn’t just materialise out of nowhere. This seems like a pretty clear and actually downright inevitable consequence of the increasingly out of control spiral of social inequality given its first serious encouragement by Thatcher, given full reign by free-market fundamentalist Tony Blair and being cravenly encouraged by Cameron, who seems to be using his premiership as little more than an opportunity to enrich anyone who treats him to a nice meal and some cocktails.

The disparity in wealth between the richest and the poorest in Britain increased so sharply under Tony Blair that it made an absolute mockery of his claim to be a Labour politician.  This kind of wealth gap creates its own barriers, and a lack of self-determination and ability to influence your own circumstances will surely, faster than anything else, lead to the kind of outburst of frustration we’ve seen in London.

When you look at the handling of the debt crisis over the last few years, I am not sure if we should even be surprised that these riots are happening at all.  Effectively, the richest people in society failed to control their greed to the extent that it caused a bubble, which eventually burst.  Then, through the medium of government bailouts and a short-circuiting of the free market economy, they managed to engineer a response to the crisis they created which required the people they had fucked in the first place to pay for it, whilst somehow, almost unimaginably, they themselves became richer and suffered pretty much no consequences at all.  What a lovely precedent to set, when it comes to the principle of being answerable for your crimes.

So after the City classes fucked things up for everyone, and we used tax money to make sure they didn’t have to suffer, and indeed in many cases were able to become richer still, it turned out that this shit had to be paid for in the end.  Yes siree, it’s belt-tightening time, because we need to raise some money.  Shall we do so by increasing corporation tax – or even applying it at all in the first place – or shall we perhaps do so by taxing the people who caused the fucking problem in the first place and who benefitted in spectacular amounts from helping themselves to our bailouts?

No, of course we fucking shan’t, we’ll fuck the poor instead.  The Big fucking Society was always a code for ‘raping grass-roots social services in the arse’.  Yes, ‘we could all do more’, and in fact I agree, we should all do more. But the Big Society is not about that, it is simply the false moustache applied to destructive reduction of investment in the institutions and workers who do their best to keep society held together, at actual street level, not in boardrooms or tax offices where rich people decide how best to avoid paying their fucking way in life.

Now, this probably comes across as the rantings of a bleeding heart champagne socialist, but there are some very simple points at the heart of this state of affairs.

We are creating a society were a tiny überclass of extremely wealthy people keep all the money and power to themselves, and everyone else has a fragment of their quality of life, and a fragment of their opportunity.

Things like the massive hikes in student fees and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance create enormous barriers to social mobility, such that people are effectively prevented by accident of birth from having access to the life that they can clearly see others enjoying.  Reducing the levels of policing in these areas and cutting foot patrols tells all the decent folk who live there: simply because of where you live, fuck you, you’re on your own, sorry.  Eradicate youth community programs and young people in difficult areas have one and only one place left to turn.  Isn’t this all really obvious?

This is basically a Third World model. Social equality and social mobility are pretty much the cornerstones of civillisation, are they not?  The extraordinary concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority is, or should be seen as, the exact fucking opposite.

When you annihilate the support for people at the bottom of any ladder of status, you are destroying their ability to improve their lives by acknowledging that ladder. Recently society – and by that I mean the actions of government and the complicity of the people – has been making the poor pay for the comfort of the rich to the extent that society as it is currently managed has nothing to offer people at the bottom of the ladder, and is openly and clearly telling them so.

When people no longer have a vested interest in a system – nothing to lose by maintaining its existence – they are inevitably going to turn elsewhere when they can.  Human beings need to feel some sort of ability to control their own lives, too, so when these things are taken away and your social status is determined by birth and geography, with no way to change it, then you couldn’t create a more potent brew of simmering, impotent rage if you tried.

And before you get your knickers in a twist, it should be obvious that trying to look at causation is by no means supposed to be a justification for the actions of many, or indeed most of the people involved in the riots.  A lot of the looters are simply acting like dickheads, a lot really are just getting in on the act and enjoying smashing things up, and since everything first kicked off the kind of opportunism which has been piggy-backing on the initial outburst has been pretty damn sickening.

I am not encouraging it, nor making light of it, and I applaud and admire the efforts of the cleanup teams which have spontaneously spring into being. I particularly admire the people helping shop owners protect their businesses, and people like this amazing lady in Hackney giving people a pretty sharp bollocking directly to their faces.

However, to say that these disturbance aren’t political is just wrong.  Many individual motivations maybe be fuzzy to say they very least, and some may be downright despicable, but this kind of explosion of undirected rage seems pretty obviously a direct consequence of creating a society in which vast numbers of people feel they have no stake whatsoever.

You cannot get to the cartoonish levels of wealth inequality and the audaciously evil ways in which it has been nurtured, particularly since the credit crisis, and not expect that level of insult to vast swathes of society not to have some sort of consequence at some point.  If no-one gives a fuck about them, why should they give a fuck about anyone else?

25 witty ripostes to Music Warehouse Burns, and NOW it’s Bad?

  1. avatar
    rampant chutney consumerism

    The criminal behaviour from Sunday and last night were born of any direct political belief. They were purely opportunistic and more along the lines of ‘oh see what they did up Tottenham, i reckon we could get away with that!’

    Saturday was a total screw up by the police, if they couldn’t see that coming then they should be shot with shite, we all saw that coming from thursday.

    Yes the inequality of money and lack of life opportunities for some (and this is a quickly growing population) in this country are shocking. But sitting in my living room last night watching the helicopters getting closer to my neighborhood and hearing the sirens getting louder, i couldn’t give a shite for any political argument (mainly cos there wasn’t one for these people). These cretins only wanted to create havoc and mayhem and it worked, fuckers!

  2. avatar

    I am not saying, as you presumably know, that what they did was acceptable or right, or actually trying to imply that they were secretly engaged in political protest – except for those riots directly related to the Tottenham shooting of course, which is a related but slightly separate debate.

    However, we’ve been heading in a particular political direction for a long time now, and this kind of thing is, as far as I am concerned anyway, a pretty inevitable social consequence of those political decisions.

    The dramatic increase in the wealth gap since the credit crunch will only have served to accelerate the likelihood of this happening. And frankly I am amazed there hasn’t been more of it in the States, where things are even worse.

    So as you say, a lot – quite probably most – of this is just criminal opportunism. But honestly, it has seemed almost inevitable to me since the full scale of the bailout/Big Society swindle became apparent.

  3. avatar

    I feel a sadness and amazement at the unimaginable number of people doing these terrible things, and I think that scale prompts ‘political’ consideration as to why and how things have come to this.

    However, I don’t feel a shred of sympathy for any of the looters on an individual level. Many people from very underprivileged backgrounds have made personal decisions to lead inspirational or aspirational lives, and every person we’re seeing on the telly is actively exercising a choice to get involved in the destruction of lives and livelihoods.

  4. avatar

    In terms of the warehouse – I think it’s made something impossibly distant and unreal feel very real and immediate to some people who were maybe 400 miles away. I suppose the important thing is they get it – that this means people lose things – careers, businesses, homes or whatever. I’m old enough to remember the last couple of times things have followed this path, and I remember how scared I was in 1981 – but how numb I was to the images last night. Frightening how thick my skin has become. So, sometimes it takes a connection with the event – however tenuous – to make it feel part of real life.

    In terms of causes – I think there are two distinct things at work here – yes, a genuine cry of anguish at social injustice is there somewhere. A desperation after twenty years or more of a growing gap and an increasing indifference to the most disadvantaged. But there’s also a disgusting opportunism at work, leaping on what was I agree a total policing fuck-up on Saturday to create this current sorry state of affairs. The great fear is that we now create a huge generational gulf now, which could take a generation to fix, and leave a huge number of young people on the margins of society.

    I’m no bleeding heart liberal, and I think as I get older I become more despondent at democracy and certainly more curmudgeonly – but it was reading mindnotmadeup’s twitter feed last night which woke me up to things from a younger perspective.

  5. avatar

    This is a good analysis, and the last sentence rings particularly true. I think an especial low point that threw the polarisation of the British class system into relief was when both Clegg and Cameron freely admitted that internships, vacancies and getting a leg-up in highly paid City jobs is hugely down to nepotism, and that both of them had enjoyed the fruits of that system. From a personal point of view, I found this shocking, and a huge backwards step in attempting to build a meritocratic, fair society.

    Now, the worst kept secret in the UK, that the system is a tight, safe, narrow gang, looking out for their own and not certainly not reflecting the people they govern, is all the more clear. This will be another huge step backward, cementing the problems that have been brewing. It’s heartbreaking to see. Even if the fighters and looters don’t think beyond how many boxes of trainers they can carry – and clearly, they don’t – I do think it reflects the wider state of things. They are the mercury telling us what temperature we’re living in, as the summer suns shines on.

    A complex and nasty situation, and one that I won’t pretend to even understand in its entirety at this stage. All I know is, I see no impassioned manifestos of political fervour, just text messages of snide, graceless consumerism. Chaos reigns easily, apparently. I’ve lived my entire life in a broadly upwards trajectory enjoyed by society – gentrification of what used to be no-go areas, mutual trust, references to ‘bad old days’ that now seemed to have moved beyond the black and white of the past and into a colourful and open minded present (still with their problems, of course, but moving in the right direction). I don’t want to see this reversed, but for the first time in my own experience, I fear it might.

    There is hope, of course – that white butterfly, now that Pandora’s box has been smashed open and looted. People with smiles and brooms in the streets of the capital. Uplifting sentiments. I could make a comment about sweeping society clean again… but I won’t. Cos it won’t.

  6. avatar

    “However, I don’t feel a shred of sympathy for any of the looters on an individual level. Many people from very underprivileged backgrounds have made personal decisions to lead inspirational or aspirational lives, and every person we’re seeing on the telly is actively exercising a choice to get involved in the destruction of lives and livelihoods.”

    I agree entirely with this… but I do want to add some caveats though. I do strongly believe that a person might make very different decisions depending on circumstances in which they find themselves. Invest more in the poorer communities, give the support to people looking to provide alternatives to gangs and crime, and show the good people there that the police care about protecting them too, and I think a lot of people might be less likely to join in.

    I think that for all there are plenty of people who are just twats, and always will be twats, there are also a lot of people who are capable of being either, depending on the situation in which they find themselves – and by that I don’t mean ‘one random evening when people are burning and nicking stuff’ I mean the life situation through which they live over a number of years.

  7. I have nothing to add, other than a sincere and frank “thank fuck”.

  8. avatar

    Thank fuck what exactly? That it ain’t happening in this neck of the woods?

  9. avatar

    The Sony warehouse incident was the first full article I read on the whole matter, so obviously my initial thought was that it was out of control and , yeah, out of ignorance “too far”. But in retrospect it seems pretty small compared to all the damage and trauma people are going through.

    “In terms of the warehouse – I think it’s made something impossibly distant and unreal feel very real and immediate to some people who were maybe 400 miles away.” – agreed.

  10. avatar

    “In terms of the warehouse – I think it’s made something impossibly distant and unreal feel very real and immediate to some people who were maybe 400 miles away.” – agreed.

    Me too, good point.

  11. Thank fuck for you, good sir, for analysing what’s trotted out in the press and drawing your own conclusions.

  12. avatar

    Second (third?) the point about the warehouse fire making it feel more real to those of us that are physically distant – one of many horrific subplots of this week, but clearly indie record labels are among dozens (or even hundreds, if not thousands) of businesses under threat from all this.

    Would dearly love to comment further on the broader situation but would prefer to avoid unemployment for the time being – my inability to keep my yap shut on the internet has earned me a slapped wrist in the past.

  13. avatar

    All of the actions of the weeknd passed me by as I was still in holiday mode not even bothering to read the paper on Sunday.

    I was in London yesterday as I had an appointment at the Royal Brompton in Chelsea. At lunch time I decided to go for a walk outside the hospital as the weather was fine. Not having visited the city very often, in fact trying to avoid it as much as posssible I was struck by the oppulance of the area, you could practically smell the money in the air.

    In the car back to city airport, I noticed that the Cafe bars and the shops on the Kings Road were doing a roaring trade. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of “we’re all in it together” going on round those parts. And as I thought about it I came to the conclusion that if my nose was being rubbed in that on a daily basis I would probably be pretty haked off.

    I’m not condoning the looting and rioting but just what I thought yesterday.

    I don’t understand the action of shitting on your own doorstep, tho.

    I’m in Belfast today and when I told the nurse I had been in London yesterday she said “it’s mental they’re putting us to shame”.

  14. avatar

    I’m FROM Belfast. The quip I made about the boys from the Short Strand teaching these guys a thing or two about rioting now rather jars somewhat.

  15. Funny, I was just thinking about how much time it will take for this to spread to the US. Because it probably will, and it’ll be a giant powder keg filled with faulty fireworks and things that are known to spontaneously combust.

  16. avatar

    Having grown up in London, and having many friends who still live there (in a variety of areas and from a variety of backgrounds) what has been going on is just frightening.

    I feel the lady from Hackney hits it on the head when she says ‘If we’re fighting for a cause let’s fight for a cause.’ I’ve been amazed at just how angry I feel at the looters, who have hijacked the protest. There are problems in the cities and whole of the UK -and if the protests were directed more squarely at the government, then I could understand. There are undoubtedly corrupt police offcers; just as there are corrupt folk in all walks of life.

    There are a number of questions that need answering: Why do people feel it is okay to (frankly) shit on their own doorstep? Why is stop and search still being used? How have we allowed people to become so disenfranchised? Can we move forward?

    Thank god for the viralo clean-up campaigns because they’ve restored my faith in human nature, just a little bit.

  17. Mr Toad is right-on here. What’s been going on in London, Brimingham, Manchester and Liverpool over the past few days is bad. Its awful that people have lost their homes, jobs, businesses and now people are dying.
    It should be no surprise that after 30 years of right wing governments (don’t for a minuet kid your self New Labour were a socialist party) with ultra capitalist policies and a contempt for the underprivileged in society that this is happening.

    I like Ed’s thoughts on this too. We need to take a long hard look at our self as a society and think about the future.

  18. avatar

    Ed/HP, I am not sure if social unrest is often all that specific, is it? The kind of disenfranchisement and inequality we’re talking about is a multi-faceted beast, and it tends to result less in specific grievances, and more in simply a generalised anger at being left behind and shut out.

    I remember being unemployed in the past, and I was just angry – not at anything in particular, just simmering with a sort of wounded rage at being treated like shit, feeling like shit and being unable to solve my own problems.

  19. avatar

    i was about to post essentially what HP has just said. this is what happens when 30 years of free market economics come back to bite you on the arse. it’s just a shame that these kids can’t articulate their anger in a more constructive way. their desperation manifests itself in a desire to steal booze and trainers, and when questioned on their motives they have nothing to say.

    i’ve got friends in hackney who were chased along the street by groups of guys with baseball bats last night, and i was terrified for them; but understanding some of the reasons that this has happened doesn’t mean you’re condoning it, which some elements of the media seem intent on suggesting (see the BBC interview with darcus howe, there’s a clip on youtube).

  20. avatar

    It has been a terrible year for news.

    Possibly the worst I can remember. Tsunami, famine, wars, market slumps, the US struggling with debt, record unemployment, terrible disasters left and right.

    The difference with this disaster is that its on our doorstep.

    And its easy to be outraged, but not so easy to try and understand the cause.

    So I appreciate what youre saying here, considered argument.

    Its also scary that I find myself agreeing with you.

  21. I firmly believe no one yet knows anything about the whys here. Nor the solutions. I also firmly believe most people think they do.

  22. Well stated rant. I rant about the same stuff all the time, but my husband is generally the only one who hears my complaints. It is sad that things end up getting expressed this way (rioting, violence), but what else ever seems to shake up the cushy comfort of those who just don’t care because they’ve made a killing while the rest of the population is struggling more and more. And I’ll say again how it frustrates me that so much of the problem perpetuates because the regular folks support the very political system that’s screwing them over. Why? Because they hate taxes? Because the other party doesn’t seem religious enough? So you’d rather continue paying your share while the ultra rich and corporations are getting away with paying nothing. Add to that the insult of huge paychecks and bonuses to the very people who have largely created many of the problems.

    Grrrrrr, that’s pretty much all I have left to say. Grrrrrr.

  23. avatar

    i live in another country, so i can’t actually have a complete opinion about the politics under which all these riots happened.
    see, at first, i thought they had their reasons for rioting(and i am sure a lot of them did), but then it just seemed like a certain amount of people just wanted to steal, break, take everything down from stores to houses. a scary form of despair.
    and because of the fact that we, around here, also live similar situations, it is hard not to think that there was a political direction from the people looting and destroying. otherwise, it is difiicult to believe that there is just so much lack of dignity. in my country the differences may not be so obvious due to small population, but in UK, it makes sense that the difference between the rich and the poor is huge.
    overall, thinking outside the box, i still am confused about all this.

  24. avatar

    ‘getting back our taxes’
    ‘the police think they can do what they want, but tonight we can do what we want’
    ‘I’ve got no future… nothing. And no one listens’

    And several adults talking about extensive stop and search based on skin colour and age in certain areas. A little bit of causation slipped through the wall of outrage on TV.

    The idea that there isn’t a wider meaning to this is preposterous.

    The sight of the Clapham Mob cheering Boris The Broom is just one of the many political consequences, as were the hundreds of handsome men and women on the streets of Eltham yelling ‘Engerland!’ and ‘EDL!’ last night.

  25. avatar

    Well quite. People don’t just smash up their own place for shits and giggles.

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