Last week DJ and producer Yousef (Crosstown Rebels, Hot Creations etc.) spoke to a UK government cross-party round table about the impact on the music industry of post-Brexit free movement restrictions. We caught up with Yousef and asked him to talk us through the issues.
With the end of freedom of movement in Europe for all UK citizens, there is considerable concern in the music industry about the possible negative effects on touring artists, musicians, groups and DJs and all their related crew – light crew, sound crew, drivers and so on. The UK government is coming under pressure to address the fact that despite reassurances to the contrary, there is nothing in the Brexit deal about visa-free travel for performers, with many in the industry predicting a disastrous impact on the sector post-covid. The UK press reported this week that the government have yet to even begin talks with EU member states on the subject. Last week, DJ and producer Yousef attended a government round table to discuss the issue, representing the UK’s DJ community. We asked him to talk us through the main issues.
Attack Magazine: Thanks for your time today. So first of all, for our readers who might not be familiar with what’s going on, tell us what this is all about:
Yousef: I was invited to attend this out of the blue the day before. They needed a DJ to be on it and maybe because of my profile with certain things I’ve done this year – most noticeably with Prince William and trying to help our scene with the NTIA they came to me for some advice.
It was about being able to continue free movement for all aspects of the arts and creative industries across the EU not necessarily just for what I do as a DJ but for opera singers, musicians, tech workers, back-end events, and obviously DJs too – we all have one voice when it comes to being able to move around Europe, its something that we’ve been accustomed to our entire working lives.
Attack: So what impact is the loss of free movement going to have on UK DJs?
Yousef: It’s going to restrict the whole range of people, from the grassroots all the way to major names and everyone in between because, for example, some people are going to want to go work in Ibiza for the summer – now that’s going to be really quite difficult, particularly if travel is limited for 90s days when some people usually go for three or four months. [Now that the UK is no longer an EU member, there are limits on how long UK citizens can work in European countries and the rules are different for each member state.]
At my level and above, we travel to perhaps one country on a Thursday, another on a Friday, maybe Ibiza on a Saturday afternoon, then another place Saturday night, another place on the Sunday. Now I’m very familiar with getting visas for other parts of the world and not only is it expensive but it’s an entire day off to go to an embassy in London, and it’s really quite laborious to get a visa in the first place. Now if we have to do that for three or four countries a week, it’s going to make our lives a living hell!
I’ve been around the block, I kind of know how to circumnavigate these things and work them into my every day, but for the grassroots people coming through that aren’t familiar with it, don’t have managers or agents or even the finances to support these new requirements, its going to make it really difficult for the scene to progress and for people to follow their ambitions. And I don’t say that lightly.
This is not about me, this is about the creative and artists being able to move forward with that they’ve dedicated their lives to. For a lot of us, Europe is 40 or 50 % of our work and income and this is going to make things really, really difficult, particularly for bands who don’t just travel alone like I do. They might have ten, fifteen people who’ll need visas, who’ll have to account for all the different equipment they use from country to country, and all the red tape that goes with that, it’s going to be a colossal nightmare.
Attack: The UK government seem committed to a purist idea of no freedom of movement – do you think they’ll change their minds?
I simply can’t believe this is even under discussion, that they want things to be so restrictive it just doesn’t make any sense to me. Of course Michel Barnier has offered a solution that’s been thrown back in their faces. It seems the UK government are cutting off their noses to spite their faces, particularly when it’s clear that the UK, from a music point of view, has been the centre of the universe for a number of generations and it’s because we’ve been able to tour around Europe, build reputations from that and then into America and beyond to the rest of the world. Why would you want to stop that? It’s an industry and you’re literally cutting an industry off. Everyone’s talking about the difficulties that the fishing industry is facing from Brexit and with respect, that industry pales into insignificance in terms of the income that the arts and music industry generates for the UK.
Attack: So what do you want the government to do in the short term?
Yousef: Immediately I’d like to get a 12 month respite period where we can at least look at what is going to be enabled by the rest of the EU states – because of course there are 27 states. Across the whole of Europe, there’s only 15 of them where things might be difficult as it stands, but the thing I really want to get across is not only are we a year into being on our knees in terms of income – because we were the first to shut and will be last to open – there’s going to be at least another six months of this. So at that point, with the best intentions, we might not be able to actually get back to work because of all the other complications that the UK is likely to face. It just seems like an awfully big, bitter pill to swallow. People’s livelihoods have already been decimated and this is going to be really difficult.
Attack: And in the long term?
Yousef: I would like a blanket EU work visa for the arts which would put us back into a similar position to where we were before Brexit, for musicians and performers and all the other relevant staff, road crew etc. Because what’s going to happen to the road and light crew, is instead of bringing people from the UK as part of the touring party, you’re going to have to hire people locally which again will affect the coffers for the UK in terms of taxable income. It doesn’t have to be like this, it just seems like the EU’s offer to the UK could have been accepted and we could just crack on – but that seems just too logical – and logic and Brexit don’t go hand in hand!