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Basslines and Protest Signs

Basslines and Protest Signs Part 33: How Brexit Screws Bands

Pop Will Eat Itself (photo credit: Tom Barnes)

Touring bands and artists have long had to deal with the insufferable admin and red tape that comes with securing work visas, permission to sell merchandise, transporting gear safely across borders, getting the right amount of help either to travel with them or at the location, etc. It’s never been a case of “turn up, plug in, play” or at least not for a very long time. But recently, the challenges seem to have gotten steeper.

Here in the States, we’ve seen a number of British bands be forced to either cancel a tour (or a portion of a tour), or perform without key members due to visa issues. Indie band Pop Will Eat Itself were scheduled to perform on the Cold Waves electro-industrial festival dates this year but canceled the shows in the west, posting this statement on Facebook:

Screenshot via Facebook

“The last 48 hours has been a whirlwind of anxiety and depression. Please forgive us for the bad news, but Pop Will Eat Itself was unable to collect their passports from US embassy processing in the UK in time to board their flights bound for America… After lots of risk-assessment, hand wringing, phone calls and airline communication, it has been confirmed that PWEI will not be able to make the first week of their US visit, meaning no Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Austin or San Antonio. With the time given and inability to solidly guarantee passport arrival, the main goal was to try and salvage things as best we could… Those of us involved have all dedicated many lost hours and dollars to this endeavor. T-shirts printed, flights and hotels purchased, tickets, etc. We apologize for the situation, but the visa application process was dependent on the efficiency of third parties and outside of our control. We understand your frustration, and hope you will continue to support the west coast shows that Pop Will Eat Itself was scheduled to be a part of.”

Orange Goblin (photo credit: Ralf Lotys)

Similarly, stoner metal band Orange Goblin were forced to embark on their US tour in September without drummer Chris Turner after his visa was inexplicably held up. They posted the following on socials:

Screenshot via Facebook

“Despite starting our visa application process over 3 months ago, despite having one of the top companies put our petition in, despite the endless red tape and hoops we had to jump through we were only given a last minute embassy appointment. At that appointment Chris was told that he would have to provide extra information for ‘Administrative Processing’, this despite having had 6 US working visas previously, as well as a US social security number… This ‘extra info’ required was 15 years international travel history (every single Orange Goblin show outside the UK plus every single personal and family holiday Chris has taken), 15 years address history, 15 years employment history, all the names and birthdays of his entire family, every phone number and email address he’s used in the last 15 years and all his social media info. Bear in mind Chris has no criminal record (even had a clean driving licence for over 30 years), He is not a member of or affiliated with any political group or organisation and he hasn’t travelled to a blacklisted country… According to our legal team they’ve seen an increasing amount of these extra info requests since the current administration took over and it’s becoming harder and harder (and more expensive) for touring artists to visit and work in the USA. In this case specifically they can find absolutely no reason why this info was requested of Chris, why the process is taking so long and why there is zero information forthcoming from the embassy/immigration. In their opinion, Chris has just been singled out for reasons or by individuals unknown.”

Yeah, it appears that under the current administration, touring to the United States has been made more difficult than it already was. But British bands are preparing for the shitshow that could soon follow a post-Brexit Europe — and the challenges that touring the mainland of that continent will present.

The deadline for Brexit was set at October 31 as British and EU leaders attempted to scramble together some sort of a workable deal. As of now, there still hasn’t been a Brexit and no deal has been agreed. Were a ‘no-deal Brexit’ to go ahead, that would leave most bands in the dark about how to proceed with European tours.

Boris Johnson (photo credit: Arno Mikkor)

The website Louder Than War spelled it all out eloquently, pointing out that
nobody will know what visas are required because there will be no precedent for
the situation:

“If there is a sudden last-minute decision to have work permits then tours will be getting cancelled left, right and centre and if the situation escalates will we end up with a situation like with our ‘special relationship’ friends in the USA? The cost of British bands getting work permits to tour America has increased to up to £5000 making it impossible to tour the land of the free (it costs £30 for American bands to come to the UK).”

They also pointed out Johnson’s dubious views when it comes to copyright laws:

“Boris Johnson has already voiced his disapproval of the new EU copyright law, which made services like YouTube liable if users uploaded copyrighted material without permission. In a tweet, Johnson called the law “terrible for the internet” and said copyright was an area where the UK could “take back control”. His stance understandably gave the music industry cause for concern over added confusion in a time of uncertainty.”

We should point out, nobody knows what a ‘deal-Brexit’ would look like either. It’s a mess. Brexit should never have been put to a public vote. When it was, the public was duped. As Billy Bragg said, “ Not everyone voting to leave is racist, but every racist voted to leave.”

Ultimately it’s ironic, at a time when the internet has served to make the world smaller when it comes to access to music, the fuckwit world leaders are doing their best to make it unreachable. Touring is a bigger ordeal than ever and it may be set to become worse. 

Leave it to the politicians to screw with our music.

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