Savages drummer and Music Declares Emergency co-founder Fay Milton has spoken out about the need for the industry as a whole to change its habits to help beat Climate Change.
At this year’s Mercury Prize ceremony, Foals held up a banner that read: “No music on a dead planet.” The same banner was seen at the Global Climate Strike event in London the following day. The tagline belongs to the organisation Music Declares Emergency, who describe themselves as “a group of artists, music industry professionals and organisations that stand together to declare a climate and ecological emergency and call for an immediate governmental response to protect all life on Earth.”
Since it was launched in July, over 200 bands and musicians have now signed up to Music Declares Emergency’s pledge to revitalise how the music industry tackles climate disaster, from The 1975 and Radiohead, to Robyn, The xx, Massive Attack and more.
Among the core members of the organisation is Fay Milton, drummer of post-punks Savages. Amidst the ongoing Extinction Rebellion protest, she helped sort pop-up gigs from the likes of Disclosure, Johnny Flynn, Declan McKenna, Pumarosa and more in Trafalgar Square, as well as raising awareness for the music industry’s need to become a greener place (she’ll appear at the BBC Music Introducing LIVE event in London this month alongside Glastonbury Festival’s Emily Eavis and more).
We spoke to Fay about the origins of Music Declares Emergency, what music fans can do on a personal level to become greener consumers, and why a government response on the climate crisis is essential.
How did Music Declares Emergency come to be?
“In April, there was a big Extinction Rebellion protest in London, and a lot of us who started Music Declares Emergency have been part of that. There seemed to be a lack of musicians and the music industry getting involved in the climate movement, and it felt like the movement would really benefit from that. At the first Rebellion, we had Massive Attack and Beth Orton play, and it brought a great energy to everything. It felt like there should be more of that.
How has this impacted on the music community in particular?
“It also became really apparent that for a lot of musicians and music industry professionals that people were feeling this kind of guilt around flying a lot for their jobs, and that venues use a lot of plastic. People who wanted to get involved felt like they couldn’t because they’d be hypocritical.”
“Music needs to get real, to be honest, and connect with reality a little bit more
“I was playing drums for Let’s Eat Grandma at the time, and we were at Coachella. California’s been in a drought for so many years, and yet they’re keeping this green grass going in the desert, which doesn’t make any sense. The whole thing just felt really absurd, and made me realise that what was happening in London was really fucking cool, and forward-thinking. It felt like music needs to get real, to be honest, and connect with reality a little bit more.”
Was there a moment for you in particular when you realised that carrying on your touring lifestyle in the same way wasn’t going to be sustainable?
“It was about five years ago. I read Naomi Kline’s This Changes Everything, and you can’t really go back from reading that. It spells out how serious everything is. I was doing worldwide touring then, and made all sorts of excuses to myself. To an extent, it is a good thing, and it is amazing that we can have art and entertainment happening all over the world, and it brings richness to everyone’s quality of life. It’s very easy to make excuses for one’s own actions and to say it’s OK, but I think it’s also very easy to point the finger and call people hypocrites, and it’s a really easy narrative that only makes sense if you haven’t thought about it very much. If artists weren’t to tour, there might even be a larger environmental impact from their fans [flying] to them.”
What are some of the main problems facing the way that music negatively affects climate change?
“Anyone who’s been to a festival, which is a lot of people in the UK, or been to a gig that’s not in their local area, everyone’s part of that system. If you’ve gone to see an artist and paid money for that ticket, you’re buying into that system. It’s not one person’s fault – there’s a huge industry around it. If an artist decides that they don’t want to tour anymore, they have their whole management and agents and tonnes of people relying on them for their work and their income, and it affects a lot of people. It’s a systemic thing, and not a case of simply being able to say that no bands should go on tour.”
Have you discussed ways to make your future touring plans greener when/if you tour with Savages again?
“There’s loads of stuff you can do. The most important thing to look at is tour routing. In an ideal world, you could just go to America once on a touring cycle, rather than there and back four or five times across one album. If everything’s planned with the greenest possible routing in mind, then so many flights – and loads of money – can be saved. And loads of boring time spent at airports! There’s also a ‘green rider’ scheme, where an artist can request that a venue doesn’t sell plastic bottles of water at a show, or that the venue or festival uses green energy. If you’re a small band you might not get that straight up, but if you’re a massive band, you might. If enough artists start requesting these things, that’s when the venues will sit up and take notice.”
“To use Greta Thunberg’s analogy, the house is on fire, and there isn’t time for whoever started the fire with their cigarette to quit smoking before saying the house is on fire”
And what can music fans do to be as green as possible?
“First of all, you can take public transport to a gig. I would recommend trying to see music in your local area as much as possible, and try to avoid going overseas for festivals and gigs. We’ve got so much in this country, and it can be a lot more fun. Playing music with your friends is also probably the most sustainable way of enjoying music, and you’ll probably have so much more fun. Even things like streaming takes up energy – everything uses resources. So the number one way for you to have completely regenerative, sustainable music is to play music with your friends and experience it that way. It’s the most fun you can have anyway!”
What do you think the main step needs to be in order for the issues at hand to be tackled as best as they can?
“There’s such a short period of time to make the changes we need to make, and to make people wake up and realise that there isn’t time for everyone to change everything they do. To use Greta Thunberg’s analogy, the house is on fire, and there isn’t time for whoever started the fire with their cigarette to quit smoking before saying the house is on fire – it’s on fire now, and we need to fix this. Let’s change our lifestyles, let’s fly less, let’s use less plastic – but ultimately what’s needed is a governmental response.
“The government declared climate and ecological emergency in April of this year, and what have they done? They’ve done nothing”
“Our government aren’t responding, and that’s a huge thing. The government declared climate and ecological emergency in April of this year, and what have they done? They’ve done nothing. People are getting used to the word ’emergency’, but we shouldn’t – it really, really is an emergency. Every single day that we’re not doing something, it’s putting the world in more danger.”
What are some of your upcoming plans for Music Declares Emergency?
“There are a lot of people talking about doing a big climate-focused gig. Everyone wants to put on a big climate concert – it’s definitely going to happen. There might be a lot of massive climate concerts next year. At the moment, we’ve all been working so hard up to this point. Now is a time to reflect and think about what we’re going to do next.”