May 7, 2021

Noel Gallagher: mask-avoiding shopper and... Record Store Day Ambassador?!

Record Store Day and Noel Gallagher

Record Store Day is amazing. In an era when record shops should be crumbling to dust, Record Store Day has helped record shops not only retain customers, but turn them into destinations worth cueing for. Like Boxing Day sales, butchers at Christmas, or donkey rides.

So whatever I'm about to say, you need to bear that in mind. Record Store Day is a wonderful thing. Yes, vinyl is so expensive, it would be cheaper to make them out of diamond-encrusted mortgages, but it is still a fantastic project and long may it thrive.

Earlier this week, Record Store Day UK announced Noel Gallagher as their official ambassador. The announcement was accompanied by a video of Noel praising Sifters Records, where I bought my first ever seven-inch singles. And yes, as it says in Shakermaker, I would have been just 16 when Mr Sifter sold me those songs. 

So yeah, I get it. Noel. Record shops. Makes sense.

However, Noel has been a naughty boy during the pandemic. Last year, he took against face coverings, wibbling something about liberties and not being able to catch the virus, and eventually getting challenged in a supermarket for not wearing a mask. "It’s not a law," he said about the, er, law. Why is this such a mantra for so many older men?

I had a moan on Twitter (hey, I'm an older man too) saying that mask avoiding puts all retailers and shoppers at risk, which it does, and this decision to appoint a 'mask denier' should be reversed immediately.

I also wrote an email. For the sake of transparency, and to show off the fact that I know how emails work, here's the text. I got a quick response from Record Store Day, or rather the Entertainment Retailers Association, the organisation that drives RSD. Their reply follows my email below.

Hello Record Store Day pals,

I’m writing to ask you to reconsider appointing Noel Gallagher as ambassador for Record Store Day.

Following a difficult year for high street shops, Record Store Day will play a more important role than ever in restoring activity to indie record stores. Appointing inspiring and characterful ambassadors is a great way to promote publicity for the project.

However, Noel Gallagher is an insensitive choice at best, and an irresponsible choice at worst. He received widespread publicity for his refusal to wear a face covering as a mitigation against Covid-19. “They’re pointless,” he said, railing against the removal of liberties and referring to mask-wearing podcaster Matt Morgan as a “cowardly germophobe”. This is despite clear scientific evidence that, alongside other measures, mask wearing helps to protect ourselves and others from the virus.

Opening up a high street shop presents an instant Covid-19 danger to customer-facing staff. Mask avoiding puts all retailers and shoppers at risk, and choosing Gallagher as the ambassador for RSD legitimises dangerously complacent views and puts at risk those people that will be working and shopping to make Record Store Day a success.

Ethical considerations are part of the DNA of Record Store Day, whether it’s supporting high street shops, promoting War Child or raising donations for the AAPI Community Fund. This appointment undermines the image and ethos of your organisation.

At least you didn’t appoint Ian Brown.

Please, for the sake of RSD fans, customers and retailers, reverse your decision to make Noel Gallagher as Record Store Day ambassador.

That's alright, isn't it? Covered my points, didn't waffle too much, didn't say 'bum' or 'willy'.

Here is the reply from the Record Store Day people.

Hi Roland,

Thanks for contacting us about this.

I appreciate your concerns and have contacted Noel Gallagher’s team about this issue.

As background, the record stores chose Noel Gallagher as their ambassador as he has a long and celebrated history of supporting them and their businesses. He has taken part in RSD many times with special and thoughtful releases that so many of their customers love. What is important for RSD is that he shares their love of vinyl and independent shops, and for that reason RSD do not believe it is appropriate to reconsider his involvement as our ambassador.

However, we have been reassured that Noel won’t be making any other comments about it whilst he is an RSD ambassador. 

We know just how hard every single RSD shop has worked to keep their customers safe throughout last year’s 3 Drop events and Black Friday and are confident this will not impact on any of the official social distancing rules in place.  All our shops enforce mask wearing for all their customers.

Thanks again for your email and for supporting your local record stores.

No doubt written through gritted teeth, but a very cordial response. That's enough for me. They've made their point, and I'm not going to labour mine: it's not as if they're toasting puppies over a burning orphanage. OR ARE THEY? No. No, they're not.

I have some take-aways from this.

1. The record stores chose Noel as their ambassador. This pretty much deflates my argument with one sharp prick. My worry was the message it sends about mask-wearing in record shops, but if the shops ain't bothered, then why am I moaning.

2. Noel has been told to shut up about not wearing face coverings. This is brilliant news, and should ensure he sends the right signals as RSD ambassador. And if he suddenly goes all David Icke, they can fire him from the role, preferably out of a cannon.

3. Noel's love for record shops is far more important to RSD than his skriking about masks. This is another indication, echoed in my last post about plague ravers, that there are many people in the music industry far less vexed by viral risks than me.

That last point rankles the most. As we move into Covid 2.0, learning to live alongside this new element of our lives, mask-avoiders and plague rave DJs will thrive without consequence of their previous statements or actions. That somehow seems wrong.

Record Store Day is amazing. Remember that bit? It's still true. And when next I go to an indie record shop, I'll trust their Covid precautions, if indeed they're still required by then. However if Noel Gallagher walks in, I'm pouncing on him and sellotaping album sleeves on his face. It's for your own good, Noel.

Further Fats: Glastonbury's got 99 bands, and Jay Z should be one of them (2008)

Further Fats: The Battle of Britpop – the dullest beef in the history of beefs (2020)

May 3, 2021

The First Dance: scientific clubbing versus plague raving

A clubber and a crowd in Liverpool

The sight of thousands of revellers crammed into a Liverpool club the other night was initially quite disconcerting.

Where were their masks? Why weren't they distancing? Where were all the awkward elbow bumps?

Circus's The First Dance was actually one of two nightclub experiments at the weekend to see if large-scale music events could work with the right safety measures in place. The clubbers went through a scientific testing and monitoring, turning them into guinea pigs with glow sticks. Which obviously is the cutest thing in the world.

These are the first official club events in the UK since the virus hit, and it was a delight to see. Big up to Liverpool for pioneering our way out of lockdown: until now, the city was only famous for Richard and Judy, The Zutons, and Ken Dodd.

The line-up included the Blessed Madonna, Fatboy Slim and Sven Väth. The last name impressed me: he's one of my all-time bestest faves: here's me raving about him in 2010. Sven Väth helping end the apocalypse. Brilliant! I knew I could count on Sven...

Except...

I mentioned Väth on Twitter, and I was immediately put right by Posthuman, who in non-virus times runs a night called I Love Acid and is an all-round good egg. Turns out Sven is a plague rave DJ. Posthuman was hugely positive about the event, but likened Väth's booking to a "having an arsonist on the fire safety board".

What's a plague rave? These are big club events held in places in the grip of Covid-19, with headline acts flown in while the virus spikes with deadly effect. In fact, the events are probably possible precisely because the host country has lax virus regulations. Clubbers arrive in their thousands and the virus claims its victims, putting pressure on already inadequate levels of testing and health care.

Sven Väth has been touring India, a nation suffering a brutal Covid surge. Väth has always had an attachment to the iconic clubbing destination of Goa, so it was no surprise that particular Western Indian state was on his gig schedule. His appearance behind the decks at a particular Goa event in early March was described by one giddy electronic music website as going "viral among fans of electronic music." No irony whatsoever. I won't link to it here.

Let's draw out a timeline. In the month after that March Goa gig, Covid cases across India rose by a multiple of six. Now let's extend that timeline. On the day of writing this piece, around two months after that Goa gig, the number of cases across India was 26 times larger. And in Goa specifically, cases were 64 times higher than they were in early March, albeit rising from a comparatively lower base. 

Excuse the number crunching, but this helps us understand that any big-name DJ show taking place in India in early March could easily have had the consequence of being a super-spreader event.

This isn't just about Sven Väth, of course. Business Teshno has been raising awareness of such Covid-calamitous behaviour for months, calling out the likes of DJs Dixon, Luciano, Solomun and Nina Kraviz.

There are plenty of acts criticising plague ravers too. Carl Cox said in Mixmag

"It’s irresponsible to be out there at the moment... Having a party in a pandemic, it doesn't make any sense whatsoever. People are still suffering from this and we aren't out of yet. This isn't a Steven Spielberg movie called Panic, you know: we are in it."

And Bicep called such Covid-careless DJs "disgusting", saying:

"They don’t need to do this. Take a year off, write an album. So many people lower down in dance music are struggling and this paints the whole industry in a bad light."

I feel weird linking to Mixmag considering they've been raving about Väth's Liverpool appearance on social media, but anyhoo...

This brings us back to the Liverpool experiment. This project was a shining example of science-led creativity, and everyone involved deserves a jolly good pat on the back. The line-up had its problems, but the larger picture could mean a route out of the apocalypse, and the revival of a zillion careers across the entertainment industry. 

It's a shame about Sven. I'd been slow to pick up specifics on the whole plague rave thing, hence me initially praising Väth's involvement. I'd seen Business Teshno's social media activity, but it all seemed rather confusing. Mainstream outlets like Resident Advisor and Mixmag don't seem particularly vexed with the plague rave thing, and there appears to be a widespread suspicion that once the clubbing industry gets back on its knees, the offending DJs will continue to coin it in, with no consequences of their pandemic actions.

As for me? I'd love to go clubbing again – I Love Acid have committed to not booking plague rave DJs, and it will be one of the first nights I go to. That said, as someone who's higher risk, it'll be some time before I have the confidence to get all sweaty and giddy with strangers. We'll see.

More importantly, what about the awkward elbow bumps? Honestly, a little wave is a lot less cringy. Let's stop the elbow bumps. Please. For the sake of future clubbing coolness, let's stop the elbow bumps.

Further Fats: A ticket to ride: bumbling into MC Tunes and putting the green suit away (2007)

Further Fats: The quarantine raves – Top one, nice one, get Covid? (2020)