- 09 May 21
As part of our special feature on the impact of Covid-19 on the Irish music industry, Mark Graham of King Kong Company and The Irish Music Industry Podcast shares his experiences, and looks to the future...
For the last few months, I’ve been having anxiety dreams with a recurring theme. I’m at the side of a stage, about to go on and play a big gig. The intro music for the show starts. I look over to the drum riser and none of my equipment is set up. I’m not ready to go on.
I run around the stage, trying to get the intro stalled, so I can get set up, but the show runs on. This dream has replaced the one I have about turning up for my Leaving Cert without any preparation. I’m not on my own in this; I’ve talked to other band members and performers who’ve been having similar dreams. Will we be ready to go on when gigs finally come back?
In 2019, we played what is probably one of the best gigs we’ve ever played with King Kong Company, when we closed out the Body & Soul stage at Electric Picnic, having filled the Electric Arena earlier that same day. The Irish Times kindly included that Body & Soul shift among the five best ever gigs at EP.
It’s no accident that we put in some of our best performances during that first weekend in September: we usually spend all summer gigging at festivals at home and abroad, and come September we’re at peak match fitness. Getting a call up, out of the blue, to play in an All-Ireland Final after not training for a year and not having had the preparation of the qualifier games is the stuff of anxiety dreams.
After years of working our way up through the stages and tents of Electric Picnic, in early 2020, King Kong Company finally got the call for a Main Stage slot. We were booked to be on the same evening as Run The Jewels and Rage Against The Machine. We were a little more gutted than most when EP got pulled. Like everyone else, we’ve been getting on with things since, making new music, and hatching plans.
We have a folder full of demos, and we’re currently discussing who we might get to produce an album. We’ve had offers of streamed gigs, and we’re getting offers for shows for the end of this year, but when we come back we want to be ready, match fit, and we want to come back with a bang.
Through the Irish Music Industry Podcast, I’ve been talking to music industry professionals from Ireland and elsewhere about the impact the shutdown of the live sector has had. One of the positives of the situation is the opportunity it provides. When something gets completely broken down, there is a chance to build it back up again even better than before.
A great example of this is the work that the #BrokenRecord campaign has been doing in the UK. It was a real privilege to talk to Tom Gray from Gomez for the podcast about what he’s doing with #BrokenRecord: it’s inspiring.
There are lots of groups working really hard in Ireland too. I’ve interviewed representatives from Live Venue Collective, EPIC Working Group, and the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, among others. They’ve all been working tirelessly for the people they represent, helping inform government opinion and policy.
One of my small concerns is that of all the groups that Minister Catherine Martin has been engaging with recently, there is no group that solely represents the interests of musicians. MEAI is closest to that at the moment, but they also represent other music industry professionals.
Without music, there is no music industry. Without the people who create music, the industry has no raw materials. Last week Minister Martin announced the establishment of a new advisory group for the reopening of the live music sector. This is great news, but there are no musicians on that group. To me, that seems like establishing a body to decide food policy without any food producers on it.
If the history of Irish politics has anything to teach us it’s that when those responsible for making profits from a sector are also tasked with making policies for that sector, it generally doesn’t bode well for sustainability, diversity and fairness. Now would be a good time to tread carefully.
The work that is being done on behalf of the music sector deserves masses of praise. The €50m suite of supports for the live sector is astonishing and ground-breaking. The industry is being recognised by government more than it ever has been before, but if the producers of music, the thing that fuels the industry, aren’t helping formulate policy and approach every step of the way, will there be shortcomings, and whose interests will be primarily represented?
My day job is teaching on the BA Music course in Waterford Institute of Technology, and one of the best parts of that job is watching young performers and bands take their first steps into the world of live performance. All of the packages and supports that I have seen and read about so far are geared towards music industry professionals who have already established some sort of career for themselves.
Without smaller venues, arts centres, rehearsal spaces and places that incubate these fledgling acts and performers, they may come and go before they ever get a chance to reach an audience. There is scope for organisations to apply for funding to create events that include and support novice artists, but under the €50 million support package for the live sector there is no initiative or strand of funding specifically designed for this purpose. Without support to foster a new batch of music creators, we run the risk of having a barren patch of creativity and innovation in the months and years ahead.
We’ll have new releases and gigs from artists who managed to establish themselves and get a foothold before the live sector shut down, but we run the risk of losing new and valuable additions to the sector, and it’s possible things could become a little stale, stagnant and repetitive.
I’d like to thank Minister Martin for the work her department has carried out so far in providing support for the Irish music industry, and thank all those who’ve been engaging with her. I’d like to ask her to consider including those responsible for creating music when it comes to forming committees, opinions and policies that relate to the music industry.
I’d also like to ask Minister Martin to consider developing a range of supports for the young performers and artists who have yet to play their first gig. I wish Minister Martin and the rest of the advisory group for the reopening of the live music sector Godspeed. It’s great to have so many support packages and grants being made available, but I’m done with filling out funding applications. I’m done with live streams. I just want to play a real feckin’ gig. I just want to get back to dreaming about being unprepared for my Leaving Cert. Are we there yet?
• Mark Graham is a member of King Kong Company, producer/presenter of The Irish Music Industry Podcast, and Music Tech lecturer at WIT.
'Music Industry in Ireland: Where To Next?' is a special feature in the current issue of Hot Press, running to over 20 pages, featuring music industry professionals as well as artists including Moya Brennan, Jess Kav, Luka Bloom, Fia Moon, Kneecap, Gavin Glass, Mick Flannery, King Kong Company, Mary Coughlan, Rosie Carney and many more.