Monday, September 3, 2012

Viva la crisis!

A post where there shouldn’t have been a post. Some mother fuckers broke into my flat while I was on vacation and stole a lot of things from my flat forcing me to come home early at some additional expense when I was recently told I will be unemployed in the near future. A pestilence on them and their families.

One wonders if it is a sign of things to come? Is it an increase in street crime due to the ongoing crisis and the worsening of the situation in Spain or is it coincidence? It comes on the day before the Spanish government increased the IVA (impuesto de valor añadido; the VAT or GST equivalent in Spain) from 18% to 21% on many things, amongst them the price of tickets to concerts, cinema, theatre as well as many consumer goods like clothes, alcohol, school items, in addition to services like gas and electricity. On Friday, the Spanish government also created what are called “bancos malos”  or “bad banks” to absorb the over supply of devalued land and unfinished developments that are owned by existing banks and are catalysing the catastrophic fall in their value and potential.

The increase in IVA has lead to an interesting situation in which the major Spanish music and entertainment press including, amongst others, GO Mag, Mondo Sonoro, DJ Mag, Time Out Barcelona, Guia de Ocio and Scanner FM, have published a manifesto called “La cultura no es un lujo” (Culture is not a luxury) and called for protests (the Spanish text of the manifesto can be found by clicking here.

Amongst the propositions of the text, the collective have stated that the increase in IVA

“Es el definitivo golpe de gracia para un sector que depende del gasto en ocio para su supervivencia y que ha ido viéndose acorralado progresivamente por las decisiones de nuestros gobernantes… la lista de zancadillas a la iniciativa privada por parte de las Administraciones es interminable: desde la promesa incumplida por parte del anterior Gobierno de considerar los discos y directos como producto cultural y rebajar su IVA al 4%, hasta la prohibición a acceder a una sala de conciertos a los menores de edad, pasando por las periódicas trabas a promotores y hosteleros para impedir que programen música en directo. Especial hincapié merece la nula respuesta que han dado nuestros gobernantes durante la última década al problema de las descargas ilegales, que se ha llevado por delante infinidad de puestos de trabajo en discográficas y distribuidoras”

“It is the final blow to an industry that depends on leisure spending for its survival and has been progressively cornered by the decisions of our leaders ... the list of tripping points for private initiatives by Administrations is endless: from the unfulfilled promise by the previous government to consider physical music sales and live performances as cultural products and lower the VAT to 4%, to the prohibition of access to a concert hall to minors, through the periodic obstacles to developers and some public places [hotels and pubs] to prevent scheduled live music. Special emphasis goes to the lack of response that our leaders have given over the last decade to the problem of illegal downloading, which has wiped out countless jobs at record companies and distributors”

Grim times indeed as so much is done in the music industry these days for free, or at least a promo CD, an entrance ticket etc.

The issue of illegal down loads is a critical one and a divisive one obviously that may well be coming to a head soon. The case of Megaupload drags on, whereas in the last weeks search engine changes  have made it more difficult to find sites offering links for illegal downloads. The sinister side of this is that Google only made the changes so that it could expand its own fledgling music business to rival iTunes. It seems that nothing is ever done until money reaches a critical tipping threshold. Hardly a surprise, but always a bitter truth. Meanwhile, one of the founders of the Pirate Bay, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, was just arrested  in Cambodia for possible extradition back to Sweden where he was previously sentenced to one year in prison for encouraging copy right violations. This comes on the tail of recent moves by some internet service providers  in the UK, Australia and New Zealand to block access to the site. New Zealand already has a “three strikes” policy  by which people caught downloading pirated material three times are fined. These methods have produced some results, but there is still up to 40% of internet users still illegally download material.

But couple the two processes together in Spain, massive increases to the cost of buying recorded music or concert tickets and a greater prohibition of piracy and you risk creating a cultural vacuum where nobody will be able to have or participate in anything cultural, except the rich and the political class.

Copyright rules are obviously a sticky issue for many. Ask Negativland how they feel, for example. Also, it is worth sticking through the 18 minutes of this fascinating audio documentary (not much to see actually, but don’t let that deter you). What is interesting here is the clear play-off between the “advantages” of the sampling culture (particular for some), whereas the copy right holder and the drummer of the original Amen break has received nothing, with one of them apparently living and dying in squalor at the end of his days.

So in conclusion: the banks steal from the government and the people, the government steals from the people; and the people steal from the people. I am reminded of the words of the Buzzcocks in their song “Breakdown”

“Now I can stand austerity, but it gets a little much
 when there's all these livid things that you never get to touch
 I'm gonna breakdown ...”

The crisis aside, there is still some good news from down on the street. New record store Sub Wax BCN has just christened their new label with the release of their first record, itself a re-release of Icelandic dub techno artist Aðalsteinn Guðmundsson’s debut album “Rhythm of snow” which originally came out on Force Inc in 2002 under his Yagya moniker.

Yagya also has a new new (sic) album out which is more pop orientated album with vocals by several different contributors. The sound is curiously radio friendly, but not always as regrettable as it would seem. However, there must have been some doubts over how it would be received as the album comes as both vocal and instrumental versions.

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