The Uncertain Future of Gigs

Image Credit: Piabay Licence: Activedia

Isabella Ambrosio and Simon Dobey examine the supports, or lack thereof, for the live music scene as pandemic related restrictions begin to ease.

It’s hard to imagine a world without COVID restrictions now, just as two years ago, it was hard to believe life would come to a screeching halt. The little things in life, like having coffee in a café, meeting more than one friend at once, museums, concerts and gigs were taken from us in the interest of public safety. One obviously would understand the importance of protecting others, but now, it feels as if the little things will never be the same. Will we always have to wear masks in cafés and limit the number of people we see? What will concerts look like? The Taoiseach asked for people to “embrace this cultural change”, but is this forever?

All remaining Covid-19 restrictions are expected to be scrapped from the 22nd of October, however, this will depend on the stability of the Covid-19 virus nationally and a target of 90% of citizens fully vaccinated being met. The decision comes after the Taoiseach, Tanaisté and Minister for Arts, Culture, Tourism and Sport, Cathereine Martin, met with various representatives from the events, culture and tourism industries in the past few weeks.

From the 6th of September for those who are vaccinated, can enjoy live music and events in  indoor theatres. Music and live events will be capped at 60% capacity for indoor, and 75% for outdoor live events. The 20th of September is earmarked as the next date for a further relaxing of the remaining restrictions.

Speaking at government buildings during a national address, Taoiseach Michéal Martin stated that he “was under no illusions at how personally difficult it was for people to have to curtail their artistic, cultural and sporting lives for so long.” Martin added that he hoped to be in a position to remove legal requirements to access indoor hospitality, all remaining restrictions on indoor and outdoor events, and the legal requirements for mask wearing in private indoor and outdoor settings. However, after the 22nd of October date there will still be a statutory requirement to wear masks in healthcare settings, on public transport and in indoor retail environments.

The question then becomes, with all of these requirements and restrictions, will a concert ever feel the same again?

Many events scheduled for the coming weeks are now sold out, many at 100% capacity. In light of announcements made today only indoor events operating at 60% capacity will be permitted in the coming weeks. Elaine O’Connor, co-founder of the Events Association of Ireland (EVAI), made the personal suggestion that oversubscribed events should be rescheduled for a later date and a replacement live event be held at 60% capacity before restrictions ease further.

The question then becomes, with all of these requirements and restrictions, will a concert ever feel the same again? Standing in a crowd of a hundred to maybe a thousand people, sweaty, arms up, screaming along to lyrics? What about the mosh pits and the walls of death? It’s easy to imagine with everything the government is informing us about, that we’ll have to be stood a metre apart from each other, masks on and unable to move throughout the venue during the show. Will drunk conversations in the toilets happen anymore, or is it all going to be queues? Will there ever be normality again, or is this the new normal?

Unfortunately, there really is no definitive answer. Will we achieve herd immunity and be able to go to shows, just the way we used to be? Or is there no way to beat COVID, so we live with the restrictions in place. I would prefer the former, and I know I’m not the only one. 

Besides the idea that gigs won’t be the same, will some local musicians and performers even bother with returning to music after being shunned and basically ignored by any kind of government resources during the pandemic? Small gigs may become far and few between, small bands opting to break up and work simple jobs in order to make ends meet after being abandoned by the government. The lack of support regarding the arts since Ireland has started to reopen was another slap to the face. Mass numbers of people congregate for outdoor sports matches, but the idea of outdoor gigs seems to be completely ignored by Ireland.

Many DJs and musicians operate within a black market. This is particularly the case at private events, but is also present at licensed venues. A former UCD student who organised some of the most successful student nights spoke to the University Observer about his experience DJing at a popular late night bar in Dublin city centre, where he performed gigs weekly for a period of 5 months. In order to protect his livelihood, he has chosen to remain anonymous. The former student told us that payments were always made in cash, “any gig like that would have been cash in hand, very normal for djs, if you were booked to play someone else's night and weren’t the headliner or famous, it would always be the same.” Due to the precarious nature of the work and the cash payments it was impossible to apply to any schemes available to artists and even the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. Even festival gigs for smaller artists were almost exclusively paid through free access. This was likely the case for many others involved in this type of employment.

I just hope that I can be in a mosh pit soon, even though I hate them.

However, it is not just DJs and musicians who were unable to access funding. Elaine O’Connor outlined the difficulties some of their members had in accessing vital government support. “One of the criteria for accessing funding was that you had to be in a rateable premise and a lot of event orientated organisations wouldn’t need that.” She also added that many of the supports paid to those eligible have not yet reached them and are now being referred to amongst the association as “retrospective supports”. 

Are “retrospective supports” too late for some artists? May the Irish music scene dwindle due to the pandemic, even afterwards? Obviously it’s difficult to answer hypothetical questions, but the main thing that’s coming to the surface about the future of gigs is, things may never be the same again. And that alone, is terrifying.

The future of gigs very well may be only massive artists in Dublin, performing outdoors to people in pods of 6, two metres away from the next pod, masks on. Even with the government saying indoor gigs will continue, it’s hard to trust their words when they’ve consistently changed every single idea or plan during Covid-19. I’ve become a pessimist, fearful that things will not be the same. Will Irish artists abandon their art, will gigs ever look the same? No one knows. I just hope that I can be in a mosh pit soon, even though I hate them.