General, Interviews / 08 June 2020

The impact of Corona on electronic music artists: Interview.

Jan Vercauteren - Picture by Lori Verpaelst

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting our beloved electronic music scene at a massive scale. Of all the layers of the industry in jeopardy, artists are heavily affected by the cancellation of their gigs, which threatens their financial stability. How are they coping with this unprecedented crisis?

On the occasion of the release of Voltage’s Transistor Compilation, our fundraising compilation project which compiles tracks from more than 25 Belgian artists, we have interviewed some of those who are at the core of our dance music culture. Get to know the impact of coronavirus on Jacidorex, Jan Vercauteren, and X&trick’s musical career as well as their stance on the future of the electronic music scene.

Creating amidst the uncertainties of a pandemic

For the sake of health security amid the coronavirus outbreak, artists have witnessed their bookings being canceled worldwide. The numbers are quite impressive: for Jacidorex, “at least 30 gigs, maybe more” were called off at the time this interview was conducted.

Aside from the financial impact of these cancellations, that will be explored further later in the article, the direct consequence of not being able to perform their shows is for artists to have “more free time during the week-end for producing instead of playing”, says Jacidorex.

Jacidorex - Picture by Gecniv

With the addition of social isolation and confinement measures, the pandemic can thus be an opportunity for DJs and producers to focus on their projects, new or old. This is what X&trick stresses: “as we are in lockdown”, he says, “I have substantially more time to spend in the studio, which triggers more creativity. I have a few other musical projects which were [on hold] for a while, which I have been [able to work] on recently”.

X&trick has been busy during lockdown, releasing new tracks and mixtapes:

But if the crisis can be a positive creativity trigger for artists, the opposite is also true. According to psychologists and psychiatrists, the impact of the crisis on mental health is expected to be “profound”. The current situation has its negative psychological effects, and artists are no exception to it.

X&trick expressed himself on the subject: “It is a bit hard to balance between being happy to be in the studio, and the fear of what is happening right now. Not only from a personal perspective, this situation is basically affecting everyone. Next to the concerns I have for myself and all other music-related colleagues, I am also concerned about the weaker people in our society. I sincerely feel for all those who are sick, or alone, or have lost their dear ones…” In these alarming times, creating can hence also become a challenge.

The direct contact with the public being cut, there might additionally be pressure for artists to release content. For the sake of being “present” on social media, the trap would be to feel forced to produce even when the inspiration is not here – or is harmed by the stress of the circumstances.

But as Jan Vercauteren highlights, “creativity only works […] if [you] take [your] time”. “If I work creatively blind on a track”, he adds, “I just end up changing things that don’t need to be changed, […] making it harder to finish it.”

Keeping the scene alive through other means

Rather than being pressured to create, it actually seems like producing is a way through which artists cope with these uncertain times. After all, isn’t creating the way they express themselves the best?

As X&trick puts it, “many creative people are stuck at home and they need an outlet for their creativity”. These outlets can take the form of live streams or podcasts, which have multiplied over these past months of lockdown. Various actors of the electronic music scene such as Kompass, C12, or Paradise City but also Boiler Room, Possession and many other labels, collectives and individual artists have decided to launch their series of content, for the pleasure of their audience.

Mall Grab playing live at home for Boiler Room

These are indeed a great way for artists to keep in touch with their public: Jan Vercauteren stresses that “if it wasn’t for the live streams, there wouldn’t be any interaction between the artists and their fans for a big period”. Besides, this new type of content enables us, electronic music enthusiasts, to experience raving differently in these unprecedented times. Being “home” and “sober” could make us “listen to the music more carefully than at a rave” according to Jacidorex.

Jacidorex on the podcast launched by Possession:

However, the multiplication of live streams and podcasts can make it hard for artists to have their content being seen – especially those with a smaller network. With quantity sometimes prevailing over quality, some can also show less interest in these mediums of creativity and prefer to focus on their productions.

It must also be emphasized that live streams are not only musical but also visual performances, a different field of skills that DJs and producers are not compelled to have. Some artists have hence decided not to live stream until they would be able to deliver a qualitative show with a setup encompassing both fields, as Jan Vercauteren explained to Voltage.

Jan Vercauteren on the podcast launched by Possession:

Furthermore, these alternatives cannot fully replace physical raves - it’s not as if the energy of a crowd of ravers in communion with the beat could simply be replaced with electronic devices. And for DJs, “playing alone in your own house [can be] kind of weird”, stresses Jacidorex with humor.

But most importantly, few of these alternatives bring money to those who are currently deprived of it.

Artists are suffering economically

Even though keeping the music playing is important, it must not be forgotten that the whole music industry is currently in times of economic strain. The cancellation of summer festivals is to represent a loss of more than €1 billion for the Belgian live music industry, which calls for the government to extend support measures.

Voltage Festival - cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis.

To X&trick, what is worrisome is that the music industry “will be the last to recover from the whole lockdown, as [he] suspects the last things to be normalized again are events.” Even though complete lockdown measures are progressively abandoned in several countries, the cancellation of public events and gatherings is often still in place, and for an undetermined time.

That is putting artists in a state of jeopardy. Even though not all of them are in a precarious economic situation due to the crisis, “a lot of those who don’t have enough fee to have a company or an independent status are in really serious situations”, stresses Jacidorex. And even if for some the situation is fine by now, there is still an urge to play shows again as soon as possible to keep it this way.

Amid this economic hardship, many artists hence try to adapt their sources of income by focusing on the online selling of merchandising and musical productions. But it is not necessarily working: “[merchandising and musical productions] sales stay pretty much the same”, say X&trick.

Streaming platforms – Spotify, Youtube, Soundcloud – are sources of revenue for artists as well. One could think that social distancing is making their rates rise, but it would actually seem that people are doing less music streaming: according to analysis, the use of music-streaming apps such as Spotify would have dipped by about 8% during the crisis. It means that, despite lacking the income of their shows, artist are not even benefiting from an increase in their streaming revenues to slightly compensate their losses.

That is why initiatives have been put in place to support them.

Initiatives are helping artists to get through the crisis

Actors of the music industry have decided to launch initiatives to support artists.

Here at Voltage, we have put in place a project of compilation for 25 Belgian artists affected by cancellations due to COVID- 19. We are donating 75% of the profits of the compilation directly to the artists, hopefully allowing them to keep on doing what they do best: making music and entertaining people. Head over to bandcamp to support the initiative.

Speaking about Bandcamp, the streaming platform has decided to waive its revenue shares on album and merchandising purchases on specific days - next one being the 3rd of July. Others have decided to launch special merchandising, such as Kiosk Radio, Crevette Records and C12 who have launched a “support your local scene” t-shirt designed by Guillaume Kohn.

These initiatives are helpful: “I believe it does make a change”, says X&trick, “and not only financially: it will help the exposure of all artists involved”. A point of view shared by Jan Vercauteren, who is happy to see “how the community ‘comes together’ and supports each other”. Besides, he stresses that such projects are “not only about the money but also about the music. Giving people what they want: good music.”

X&trick at Rave Alert - Picture by Wim Van Wambeke

What further initiatives could be implemented and how can we, as fans, help the artists of our scene? The answer is simple: “Buy our music!”, X&trick tells us, “Support the [smaller] organizations, artists or labels…”. That goes both for now, during of the crisis, and for its aftermath.

But how will this post-coronavirus electronic music scene look like, according to artists?

The future of the scene is local

The impacts of the pandemic are quite hard to predict. “After the lockdown, there will be an economic crisis”, reminds Jacidorex. “We don’t know how the global economy will be affected. I think a lot of clubs might be shutting down”.

The ones that can afford to survive the current and upcoming hard times could be the biggest clubs and labels, when “smaller” actors’ survival would be threatened. Could the crisis result in less musical diversity, because of the struggles underground actors will have to face?

This is not what artists believe.

Here are X&trick thoughts on the issue: “This struggle [between mainstream and underground actors] was already there with the commercialisation of techno, so in a way the current events will just speed up those dynamics. I believe the result will be less dramatic than people might think. There will always be big raves and ‘mega’ artists, as there will always be people who prefer to go to a smaller party and see their mates play. Besides, music evolves continuously and new sub-genres grow out of current genres, as for example the current Neorave movement. This is a continuous process which always forms some kind of underground scene. Underground is built on passion for good music, and it will take much more than a virus to take that from the people. I don’t think anything can kill something as strong as an underground movement which comes from the heart, and grows on passion and not financial or any other capitalist motivations.”

A point of view defended by Jacidorex as well, who believes that even though “a lot of clubs might be shutting down”, “there will always be nice places to make a rave.” The musical diversity will not, according to him, be threatened by the crisis: “Of course the biggest mainstream clubs will survive, but I don’t think it will affect the musical diversity. I think it’s the demand of the public for one style of music or one artist who determines the musical diversity”.

Jacidorex playing - Picture by Wim Houben

The artists we interviewed are thus mostly positive about the future of the scene. According to Jan Vercauteren, “it will be a difficult time for some, but most will recover.” An optimism shared by Jacidorex, who believes that “we’ll be able to rave soon.”

The way we rave will however be impacted: as Jacidorex further explains, “it will be difficult to bring international artists in the next few month because of the borders and the expenses, the events might be more interested in local and cheaper artists”. A more local rave, with “lower artist fees and lower prices at the entrance”, could thus be the future of our scene in the aftermath of the crisis.

Besides the electronic music scene, artists hope that the crisis can bring a structural change in society. X&trick expressed his hopes that this crisis would raise awareness about the “unsustainable” behaviors that we currently have, this “grab as much as you can-mentality” with which “the planet simply can’t cope”. Jacidorex also “really hope[s] this crisis will bring the structural reforms we need in economy, transport, globalisation and ecology, even though [he doesn’t] really believe it”.

Overall, this crisis might be the opportunity to realize what matters. Speaking about his artistic career, Jan Vercauteren stresses how he “now realise[s] how much [he] love[s] to do all this and how much [he] need[s] this.” The same is true for us, the public. Being deprived from the core expression of our dear electronic music culture, its parties, has certainly made us realize more intensely than ever how significant it is to us.

That is why we need to continue to support our scene. Because if the crisis has shown us that we should never take anything for granted, it has also proved us that every good action is valuable. More than ever, let’s show some love to our community by buying our artists’ music and sharing their work! We’ll be reunited to lose ourselves to dance soon.

- Article written by Jeanne Briatte