In his excellent recent article for The Quietus, Ed Gillett argues very coherently that underground dance music in the UK is increasingly being taken over by a wealthy elite. By a privileged class with access to money and influence, diametrically opposed to the queer, black, working class roots of disco, house and techno.
In certain aspects this is not dissimilar to the traditional trajectory of bands towards the end of the last century when corporate records companies held full sway over a band's career. Four or five (usually working class) mates form a band at school; tour in a Transit van; get signed by the corporate record label; release great first album; take loads of drugs paid for by their advance; release a decent second album; move to a house in the country; stop being mates; stop making great records. And the record company don't care because they have made their money and can move onto the next band of mates from school. Rinse and repeat.
The problem highlighted by Ed is egregious and shocking for someone who experienced the rave culture of the 90s. However it seems a peculiarly English problem of a stubbornly enduring and elitist class system; and over-privileged, over-wealthy white males with too much time on their hands. As to the record label paradigm, good riddance to it. The digital democracy which has forever changed that model of the music business paradoxically, while removing big financial rewards for some bands, seems to have led to an explosion in homegrown Irish talent doing it for themselves. And with a spread of talent across race, class and sexuality.
In a reductive remodelling of the punk fanzine Sideburn's original call to arms – this is a chord, this is another, this is a third, now go form a band - Irish young 'uns are just forming bands. Loads of them.
In a previous post I discussed how the laptopocracy of music is potentially a positive game changer for young bands - if they can work out how to make some money. Not mega bucks maybe, just enough to make a living. Gigs, sustainable merch and some income from Spotify and/or Bandcamp.
As with any disruption, there is no point getting stressed by it. You have to learn to embrace it and make it work for you. However I firmly believe bands should be focusing on creativity not spending all their time on social media and promotion. That was the original idea behind Blowtorch Records and now Leanne Coyle from Cavan has raised the bar; trumped everyone!
Cruelly denied by COVID-19 of her splendid charity festival Smile For Me, Leanne rolled up her sleeves and in the space of a few short weeks created Polaroiid Records. With a manifesto! (Love a manifesto, wish I’d thought of that).
Polaroiid is a community supporter of Irish unsigned bands, with a great website ('a small snapshot of big talent') which gives bands their own page and links to their Spotify tracks. They are going to put on gigs around the country for independent bands with €1 from each ticket going to homeless charities.
She has cleverly set up the artists/bands (there's alot!) into genres such as rap, techno, punk etc so you can easily go with your preferred listening or dip an ear into something new. The gigs and reviews sections will fill up as live music returns. Not only that, it also gives a platform to other independent services for musicians such as photographers, video producers and graphic designers. It's a self-sustaining ecosystem of independent music-lovers and musicians, free to develop in their own time and way but with a helping promotional hand if they want it. It's a treasure trove of unsigned Irish talent, to be nurtured and loved.
Leanne and all at Polaroiid Records we salute you and wish you every success.