Could the cost of living crisis crush new music?
Although much of the best music has an anti-establishment edge, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the arts thrive in stable economies. write for DO in 2009, Simon Reynolds pointed out that the cultural explosion of the 1960s was caused by prosperity and job security after years of post-war austerity.
“Teenagers and young adults had money in their pockets to buy clothes, music, and other forms of self-expression through consumption,” Reynolds wrote. “The resulting epidemic of a life for now based on pleasure was the basis of the Swinging Sixties boom in pop, fashion and countercultural bullshit of all kinds. Abundant employment – in those days you could quit one job and take another on the same day – bred a spirit of recklessness and insubordination in young people.
“I think in general it’s completely silly to say that hard times produce good art,” Alex Niven, a Newcastle-based author and scholar, tells me over the phone. Niven says the ‘The 70s, often seen as the depressing chapter that sparked punk’s explosive anger, is a particularly bad example, arguing that it was actually “the most equal time for Britain in human history” thanks to a well-funded public sector, free higher education and government grants.
Education, Niven argues, was key to the structural basis of the counterculture during the 20e century, as well as the guarantee of full-time employment. Take Britpop, for example. With the notable exception of Oasis, many of the big bands have met in college, with members of Suede, Elastica and Blur mingling while studying at Goldsmiths and University College London. Higher education brings young people together to exchange ideas, and the confidence that they will probably be able to land a job at some point allows them to take risks on music.
“[There was] this kind of post-war economic incentive, this security of thought ‘I can mess around for two or three years in art school. And then, if it doesn’t work out, I can get a job,” says Niven. “Since Thatcher, our economic system has abandoned the idea that most people should have full employment. (Although Niven cautions against oversimplifying eras. Thatcher restructured the way Britain worked, but it took a long time for his vision to fully materialize. Remember it’s New Labor , not the Conservatives, who finally introduced tuition fees in 1998.)
Right now, universities fear higher dropout rates are on the horizon, with the value of a student loan falling to its lowest level in seven years.
As far as the UK music industry is concerned today, it doesn’t look good. Venues and recording studios are expected to close due to unaffordable energy bills. Spotify subscriptions are down, especially among those under 35. It looks like the independent radio boom is collapsing and concert ticket sales – the price of which has jumped – are set to plummet.