Mark, My Words: why music shouldn’t fear a coronavirus lockdown – it might make 2021 the best year in the history of rock

For all its awfulness, columnist Mark Beaumont suggests how a shut-down summer could lead to new interest in smaller bands and amazing albums from bigger artists

You! You in the bushes! Come out where I can see you and stand in that disinfectant gulley while I hose you down. So you heard I got toilet paper, huh? Damn right I got toilet paper. Built me an impenetrable underground quarantine bunker out of the stuff, I got me so much. Ain’t no way I’m facing down a microscopic virus with a dirty arse. When future generations of survivors dig up the remains of our society, they’ll assume I was the Shitwiper General of 2020. You here for hand sanitizer, huh? Well, join the queue at the isolation hatch round back, 25,000 monkey teeth per squirt. Do I look like I take frickin’ contactless?!?

Yes, this week’s column comes to you from a high-security stockpiling facility in deepest Suffolk, where I was Andrex-ed up to the eyeballs and self-isolated weeks before any of you walking disease sacks realised you might ever have to panic-stab your way to a double pack of Supreme Quilts.

Now I know there are issues of taste and decency in writing a semi-comic, often satirical column around a global issue that’s already killed thousands, caused chaos across continents, crashed markets and cancelled major events at untold cost to vulnerable businesses. The outbreak is a terrible tragedy and the response to it shockingly inadequate. In Australia, for example, research around the properties of the virus are being conducted – and I am not making this up – by the Peter Doherty Institute For Infection And Immunity. Which is presumably attempting to ascertain precisely how much coronavirus will make you feel like you’re kissing God’s balls when injected underneath your toenails.

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Heaven knows, it’s not as if I’m low-risk myself, considering my advancing years, existing underlying medical (well, emotional) issues and pathological need to stroke my own face. At least, if COVID-19 takes me midway through this very sentence, they can say of me that I died doing what I loved best – being underpaid. But in the worst-case scenario of a summer in which all festivals and major tours are cancelled and we’re subject to city-wide lockdowns, we need to start brainstorming a way to keep rocking right now.

The unflinching souls of SXSW are showing us the way: co-operation, unity, direct action. The cancellation of Austin’s annual music conference, where thousands of hopeful bands flock to be ignored by record execs spitting bbq juice into their frozen margaritas, will have left many already struggling bands thousands of pounds out of pocket from un-refundable flights, accommodation deposits and visas.

Yet, within minutes of the cancellation being announced, bands (and NME) were organising replacement showcase events in the UK, venues were offering themselves up and bands that might well have faded into the oceanic morass of the SXSW schedule were getting more exposure than they ever would have got playing a 9am BBQ at the Coke’n’Cattleprod.

Now it just comes down to the SXSW organisers to make sure there are live-streaming cameras at all the replacement shows and drunken delegates are emotionally blackmailed into actually paying attention to every one of them. Then those lost thousands might turn into a sound investment. As long as the money men still watch your show, you haven’t lost out, right? In fact, you’ve saved on sunblock and tequila injuries.

If a similar sense of emergency grassroots spirit infects (sorry) the entire summer, the coronavirus shutdown of 2020 could become a great opportunity to wipe the pop culture slate clean for a year and refocus music from overexposed cash cows to Britain’s vast reservoirs of rising talent. If public gatherings are limited to the size of the average cheese rolling contest and all big shows are banned – suddenly the nation will have to flock to their local pubs and independent venues for their monster weekenders, exposing themselves to a whole new strain of underground brilliance.

Review pages will be unclogged from the Styles and Capaldis, allowing the Murder Capitals and Fake Laughs to deservedly break cover. Small club bands can grab the opportunity to make their CVs far more impressive too – you’ll probably be able to hire out the O2 for the same price as your local pub back room and claim you’ve sold it out by bussing in their new maximum capacity of 37.

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Meanwhile, worrying about missing out on those major arena gigs is as short-sighted as wrestling in the Lidl aisles over anything remotely absorbent. They’ll be rescheduled for next year, and a couple of the more down-to-earth superstars will even play tiny gigs at the end of your street to make up for it. In fact, while the rest of your town is fighting over soap and vodka, consider stockpiling a VR headset – invention follows necessity, and a global corona-quarantine might be just the launch-pad those companies developing virtual gig experiences need to go mainstream. This could be the year you can finally watch Lana Del Rey live from the comfort and safety of your own decontamination tent.

What’s more, with an unexpected year off touring and every album-then-tour cycle in the world broken, we’ll see every single major act confined to their home studios meaning a culture-wide torrent of high profile new albums. Which, along with all those great new acts you’ll discover this summer, will make 2021 the best year for music in all recorded history. Like babies after a power cut, they will come.

Look, it’s going to be awful, I’m just trying to make you feel better. In the event of a shutdown the live music industry will be hit very hard and no, I can’t find an upside to Glastonbury (Eavis forbid) getting cancelled, other than, for many Instagram millions, it would be a FOMO-free summer. But, as events develop, if we keep the spirit of those unbowed foot soldiers of SXSW in our hearts and minds, it’s not impossible to turn a tragedy into a triumph of solidarity for all. Except me. Don’t any of you fuckers come anywhere near me.

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