Friday 23 February 2018

'We can't keep producing records if you keep not paying for them' - Fight Like Apes spell out music's new reality

Fight Like Apes MayKay and Jamie Fox during the Windmill Lane Sessions
Fight Like Apes MayKay and Jamie Fox during the Windmill Lane Sessions
John Meagher

John Meagher

Last week, the Dublin band Fight Like Apes announced that they were calling time on their career.

Bands split up all the time, but what made the quartet's decision that bit more notable was the accompanying statement that laid much of the blame squarely on a culture where people are happy to pay their 10 quid a month for a music-streaming service, but don't wish to buy physical music or merchandise.

"A lot of people don't seem to understand that we can't keep producing records if you keep not paying for them," the statement reads. "Bands are having to sell beautiful albums for €2.99, labels can't give you as much support since they're losing income too and our alternative radio stations [a reference to the recently departed TXFM] are practically non-existent now, meaning so many wonderful bands will not get a chance to get played on radio as they'll be competing with huge pop acts."

The band, led by MayKay - aka Mary-Kate Geraghty - offered a few pointers that could help such small acts: "Please buy your music in independent record stores or directly from the band. Don't fool yourself in to thinking that your £10 subscription to Deezer and Spotify helps us at all. It does not. Look how many bands are on there and do the maths. Please go to gigs. Please buy merch."

This may be a great time for the music lover, who has a world of choice opened to them cheaply by the streaming services. It was certainly something I dreamt of in the 1990s when the high cost of CDs kept so much music out of reach, but there's been a huge impact. And many musicians who would have been able to make some sort of living from physical music sales 20 years ago, would find it virtually impossible today.

David Kitt, for instance, sold 60,000 copies of his wonderful 2001 debut album, The Big Romance. But by the end of the decade, he was shifting just 2,000 copies of his 2009 album, The Nightsaver. It's not like the quality had dipped - far from it, but the culture of getting to hear music for free, or for very little cost, had become the norm, and Kitt was just one of a legion of Irish acts who were having to work in a very different environment.

Calling time: Dublin band Fight Like Apes has decided to split
Calling time: Dublin band Fight Like Apes has decided to split

At least he got to taste what life was like in the era before music got free, to paraphrase the title of Stephen Witt's absorbing book from earlier this year. But spare a thought for those acts who are having to euthanise their music careers way before they're ready. It really isn't a good time for them.

Pink Floyd's Nick Mason said as much in an interview with me last week: this generation's music talent faces a far sterner time of it than those who went before. Great as it is to have so much music at our fingertips, it's impossible to argue that it hasn't become devalued somehow. And it's not just the digital-native generation that might feel that recorded music should be free - or exceptionally cheap: that particular horse has bolted from fans of all generations.

It's little wonder that bands are doing anything they can to keep their heads above water. Delorentos and Le Galaxie, two of the savvier of the younger crop of Irish musicians, have licensed their music to TV ad campaigns. Previous generations might have thrown the 'sell-out' brickbat at them, but there's a realisation today that such labels don't really stick when many artists have few other legitimate sources of income. And, of course, it's only a handful of names who'll release songs to tickle the fancy of the ad agency creatives anyway.

Others have looked to crowd-sourcing campaigns when it came to making new albums, although Mary-Kate Geraghty told Hot Press she was surprised by the negative reaction from some quarters when Fight Like Apes also hit the Fund It trail for what turned out to be their final album. Crowd-sourcing makes a lot of sense, although five years after it became a thing for bands, there's a real feeling of ennui about it now. Still, Limerick band Windings were glad of the resource when it came to raising the modest sum of €3,500 to help record their new album - and the result, Be Honest and Fear Not, is an impressive piece of work.

Fight Like Apes, incidentally, play their final show in Whelan's, Dublin, on December 9. Appropriately enough, it's the venue where they played their first ever gig a decade ago.

* I attended the Mobo Awards in Glasgow last weekend and the rather humdrum event seemingly built around Craig David's comeback was enlivened when it was announced that WSTRN had been given the best song gong in error.

But time spent in one of the UK's great music cities is never wasted, and anyone who loves the Blue Nile, Orange Juice, Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai and dozens of other products of its fertile music scene, could do an awful lot worse than sign up to the Glasgow Music Tour.

Run by Scotsman music critic Fiona Shepherd, the walking tour takes in the city's wonderfully rich legacy - from the Britannia Panopticon, the world's oldest surviving music hall, to the Barrowland, a much-loved, characterful venue that's celebrated for its Smiths and Oasis concerts (although the Saw Doctors hold the record for most gigs played there).

Shepherd has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Glasgow's music scene and I enjoyed her anecdotes about that hugely influential, if short-lived, indie label Postcard Records, and the artist-run resource, Transmission (a popular stomping ground for Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos, and featuring in a line on that band's single, 'Do You Want To'). The tour offers a reminder about why Glasgow punches so far above its weight musically and why it's a Unesco World City of Music, an honour granted to just one other place in the UK, Liverpool.

Earlier, I got to try out bagpipes at the National Piping Centre, but the less said about my efforts there the better.

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