As in other industries, the UK referendum to leave Europe has sent shockwaves through the music community. My friends at Das Filter, a superb German-language online magazine about music and culture, wanted to respond. And so they invited a number of us to talk last week.
I’ve found myself awkwardly running my mouth about UK politics, which, quite frankly, is not something I am in any way qualified to do, in the way that I would be able to talk about things on the American side. So, British friends – accept my advance apologies, please, and I’m keen to hear your opinion.
What we are qualified to discuss, though, are two things: one, emotions (which was a clever way to open this discussion), and two, specific issues around immigration, migrant labor, and music.
I don’t want to suggest hegemony on this issue. I imagine there are CDM readers who voted Leave – and I do appreciate that there’s mistrust of the EU and the way it’s run, including some criticism which indeed ought to be aired. I would also caution that the Brexit is fundamentally difficult to discuss because the leave referendum is by design unclear on substance. Leave backers have been fragmented or have sent conflicting messages on what they’re asking for. The issues that matter most to us in the music community – like labor movement inside Europe – are very much undecided, even once the UK may trigger its departure from the EU agreement via article 50.
But some of these issues are supremely relevant to CDM – as we discuss here, the entire electronic music community is interwoven with Europe and its institutions. And it’s even directly relevant to CDM itself – I am personally a (business) immigrant to Germany and live in the European Union, the location in Berlin is made meaningful by a lot of elements of European integration, and we sell hardware products (MeeBlip) in the European market.
The whole audio is here if you’re so inclined. But in this panel and other discussions, some particular themes have come out.
There’s cause for deep concerned about racism, misunderstanding, and fear. This is the most important point. Whatever the merits or demerits of UK membership in the EU, there’s reason to be concerned about the rise of racial fears in Europe – not only the alarming rise of right wing extremism, but also the mainstreaming of racial prejudice. And this is something the music community ought to take personally. I would be nowhere personally without my friends and collaborators from Poland, from Romania, from the Middle East, and the list goes on. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to hear stories of racial bigotry or see some in the UK press and political campaigns target or caricature these groups. Ultimately, this isn’t a “Leave” issue or even a European one – confronting fear and hate, understanding where its origins lie and how to combat it, is a task for all of us.
Immigration, freedom of movement, and labor mobility are essential to music and music tech. Part of what makes Europe a dynamic place to live is the ability for those with European passports to live and work anywhere in the EU. It’s not clear whether or not the Brexit will exact a cost in this area, but in the meantime, it has created some real uncertainty – many Leave campaigners specifically criticized migrant labor from Europe, and those rights are back on the negotiating table.
There’s been a good deal of discussion in the music press about DJs traveling around and so on. But it’s also worth noting that there is a specific value working in music technology. This time last summer, I was on a panel with chief executives from both SoundCloud and Native Instruments as they praised the rich ability to recruit staff here in Berlin. NI had an official statement in support of the Remain vote speaking to this issue, but more than that, I also saw personal testimonies from various individuals, unofficially, talking about this. I’ve also had discussions with UK-based makers.
The talent pool from around Europe is part of the reason that exists in Berlin – and even for those of us who don’t have European passports, it has made it more appealing for us to live and work in Europe.And if you think of technology, specifically, I believe it’s even more important to assemble diverse teams. See the previous point. We all know that diversity and immigration are an investment in the economy. We’re not talking some sort of fevered neo-liberal banking dream – we’re talking about building actual jobs and making real things.
European integration has real benefits for small business – including music manufacturers. Europe is home to brands like Propellerhead, Ableton, Focusrite/Novation, Steinberg… the list goes on. It’s also a place where you can build new, small manufacturers, and rely on a European supply chain. So much has focused on the single currency, and while I know essentially nothing about macroeconomics or how currencies really operate, I do appreciate the criticism there. But I can say that it is meaningful for small gear makers that they can hire from around Europe without worrying about visas, move supplies without working about import tariffs, and rely (to some degree) on integrated regulations. (I say to some degree because I think a lot of us would like more European integration, not less. Entrepreneurs including SoundCloud’s Eric Wahlforss have recently advocated more standardized business regulations – that would have actually made it easier for CDM to incorporate and operate here, bu
This has also helped Europe drive forward recycling takeback programs and remove toxins and lead from electronics components – those are complex regulatory issues, but it means that those of us making music gear can have hopefully a slightly lighter impact on the planet.
European arts funding is significant to many of our projects. Funding from the European Commission is part of a number of projects I and CDM have been involved in, to say nothing of the many artists we cover. In fact, it’s safe to say that there’s a heck of a lot more European-level funding than there is federal public funding for the artist in the USA. This will necessarily be reshaped by a Brexit – though it could also see more EC funds directed to continental Europe. I’m not sure there’s a lot that can be said about the impact of the Brexit itself, but one side effect is that people are suddenly aware of something some of us have known for a while – the European Union as an institution does support the arts, even apart from the rich level of support enjoyed in countries like Germany.
The Brexit could set back shared regulations on copyright and the Internet. We didn’t get to this in the panel, really, but it’s a whole other topic. European cooperation on issues like copyright and the Internet also hold promise. Brexit or no Brexit, a UK that’s going it’s own way makes progress here difficult. (Progress here was, to be fair, difficult with the EU, too, but watch this space.)
But greetings from Germany anyway. Part of the reason I’m in Berlin is that, EU or no, policies here toward immigrants (including me with a non-European passport) have been in my experience moving in a positive direction. There’s a community that’s increasingly diverse, and German locals in the music scene have embraced international influence and cooperation – including those native to Berlin (or East and West Berlin). Those issues are ultimately global ones. But I’m grateful both to the community here and the government (for all the flaws of each) for providing such a terrific environment to work on those global issues. Of course, I know some people are saying that very backdrop – or cities like London – are a bubble, out of touch with growing anti-international sentiment around the world.
And I think far wider reaching than the Brexit itself, we need to find a way to talk about how issues like international cooperation, international law, and immigration impact people’s lives. In music, we already have a “nation” of globally-minded people – I see it everywhere I go. Now the question is whether we can act as effective ambassadors.
The panel includes:
Melissa Taylor: Founder of promotion agency Tailored Communication
Jay Ahern: Founder of Irrupt Audio
Mathew Dryhurst: too many things to list, from artist to thinker – but one topic I didn’t talk about was his Saga platform and decentralization. Mat has plenty to say about online communication and where it might go, and so we’ll definitely need to invite him back on CDM on those topics.