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How Brexit Would Fuck Festivals and Live Music

Artists and promoters discuss their fears that the Leave campaign is leading us into a cultural desert.
London, GB

Dimensions festival (Photo by Dan Medhurst)

As the EU referendum approaches, concern is mounting about the impact that a Brexit vote would have on the UK's cultural scene. In May, more than 250 actors, artists, musicians and writers wrote an open letter warning that "our global creative success would be severely weakened by walking away" from Europe. Earlier this month, research from the British Phonographic Industry revealed that 78 percent of music labels want to remain within the EU.


In the last few days, organisations including Boiler Room, NTS Radio and Dimensions Festival have been urging fans to have their say at the ballot box on 23 June. Meanwhile, Vote Leave have had to cancel B-Pop Live. As the debate enters its final stages, VICE spoke to artists and promoters to discuss their fears about a possible vote for Brexit.

Gabriel Szatan, editor-in-chief at Boiler Room

Nightlife at home is suffering enough at the moment, so this is hardly going to do us much good. London should be okay, purely by virtue of being such a massive hub. But if things tighten up on visas and entry, it could definitely hit shows in regional towns. We're at a good point now when you can see Jeremy Underground and Gerd Janson and Mister Saturday Night all on the same night in Nottingham, or Hunee and Tama Sumo play shows in Cambridge, which hasn't always been the case. That could evaporate if playing the UK takes even a small uptick in the amount of forward planning.

As for British DJs abroad, who knows. I doubt we'll be looking at a cultural blockade, but there probably will be a downturn in European promoters bothering with the hassle, especially in progressive spaces like Golden Pudel or Robert-Johnson.

Laurent Quénelle, first violin and vice-chairman at the London Symphony Orchestra

I've been in the UK for 26 years now. I feel totally integrated. My wife is Canadian, I'm French and we have a baby. We've just realised our whole situation might be put in danger and I'm actually very scared. We are just praying for this not to happen.


It's my career. I've been a violinist for 40 years. I've been in the London Symphony Orchestra for 20 years. To change career at my age? My wife is in the English National Opera, it would mean a massive life change. I don't think people realise there is a massive amount of foreigners in the artistic world. It's what makes Europe so rich, it's a big melting pot.

For the London Symphony Orchestra, there are relationships that could be damaged in the long term. We don't know how we're going to be able to work, where we're going to get visas, how much it's going to cost. We have no idea how other countries are going to react. We took years to build up these relationships and to put it in jeopardy is ridiculous.

Moxie, DJ and NTS Radio presenter

Just being able to travel and meet people from different European countries… if we're no longer part of that, it's going to be really difficult for young DJs and musicians. Having to apply for a visa every time? Some people are doing this four times a weekend. It would make life a lot harder.

Look at all the amazing DJs that have travelled over here. They can come over without a visa and play an event and that has an effect on other young DJs. Culturally, being able to connect with the rest of Europe is so important.

If it's something that's going to have a detrimental effect on you, you have to take responsibility and vote. If you don't, it's difficult to have an opinion when it has an effect on you – and it's going to have an effect on everyone.


Joe Barnett, founder at Outlook and Dimensions festivals

I strongly believe in us remaining within the EU from a social perspective. What we hope to represent in our brand is unity. That's the driving force behind our stance on the Remain campaign. What we're discussing is not just about the benefits or negatives of the EU, it's about the impact of leaving. Making an active move away from cohesion is a dangerous thing in our political climate.

The social implications of the Leave campaign are really saddening in my opinion. Celebrations of mixed culture, that we are very lucky to be able to put on, are fantastic events and the EU is partly responsible for that.

(Photo by Jean Louis Fernandez)

Lindsey Dear, general manager at the Akram Khan Company

We have concerns about what might happen – largely about visas, changing immigration legislation, and how that might affect our artists. We work internationally a huge amount and tour across Europe. We have EU staff who have decided to relocate to London and work in the arts. They personally have concerns about what it might mean and whether they can remain here.

We don't directly receive EU funding. However, we work with lots of organisations that do. We work with dance festivals that receive money from the EU. We work with venues that are funded by the EU or have been built with the support of the EU.

There is also a possibility of there being limited access to artistic exchange. If it's going to become harder to have international work in this country, that might affect the vibrant and rich cultural life we all enjoy. Not just for dance, but more broadly across the creative and cultural sector, I see nothing good about the UK leaving the EU.



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