Every two weeks we explore a different way in which music and the creative industries are complicit in and are responding to the climate crisis. This week Rebbeca Cribb takes a look at the international touring circuit.
In recent years, the environmental crisis has surged from a far away problem to the largest global obstacle the world has had to face, and no it isn’t next generation’s problem. Despite varied opinions and a broken world in terms of willingness to accept these facts, new findings are hard to ignore: 12 years left to minimize global temperature rise to 1.5C to avoid a catastrophic climate breakdown.
As we deal with the frustration of our impending doom, life goes on. The achievements of global leaders to find solutions to climate change has been limited, despite the Paris agreement, 2018 global emissions have been the highest on record. So, as awareness increases of just how vital it is to make significant changes on a more localized level, it is becoming apparent at just how much difference can be made when we don’t just sit around and wait for ‘the experts’ to lead the way.
The music industry has always been quick to respond to modern socialist ideals, with a variety of musicians using their voice to promote change in their wider community. With 9.7% global growth within the industry in 2018, it is clear that musicians have an increasing influence over their audiences and ability to encourage people to act with sustainability in mind. With industry growth also comes more responsibility and ability to coordinate these changes internally, which can cause musicians the problem of having to choose between the environment and practicality.
International flights are often the backbone of touring cycles, allowing artists to reach several destinations promptly. Many artists, especially DJs rely on aviation to reach international venues, which in turn creates extortionate rates of emissions. For example, U2, a band who have been widely outspoken in their involvement with fighting climate change, had their 44 date world tour calculated to create the same amount of emissions as a return flight to Mars. Refusal to take international flights and limiting oneself to local shows through ‘slow touring’ in attempt to limit personal emissions can however be detrimental to one’s career; the rapidly growing live sector can be a huge source of income for artists and their ability to reach new markets. DJ Richie Hawtin explains as part of his new Environmental Awareness Initiative, “As an international performer I find there are few realistic alternatives to flying thousands of miles per year travelling between performances and online or “virtual” performances are currently no substitute for a “real” physical public performance”.
However, it has been said that majority of the problem lies with high profile artists such as Diplo and Calvin Harris who choose to fly via private jet, alongside aviation companies themselves who thus far seem to have refused to accept their corporate responsibility. With a wide variety of cheap flight destinations and a growing European festival industry, festival bound air traffic is a growing concern, partly for this reason it is no wonder Ryanair is now considered the 10th largest polluter in Europe. With this said, some aviation companies are attempting to battle this by developing more sustainable technology, America’s Wright Electric are in the process of creating an electric aircraft for EasyJet, however it would only be suitable for flights under two hours and still requires years before it’s ready for commercial use.
Several other companies are also starting to take responsibility for the environment and are finding innovative solutions to provide music without incurring a great climatological cost. Festivals such as Flow Festival in Helsinki encourage audiences to avoid short haul flights and instead opt for public transport routes, whilst getting involved with offsetting initiatives. This helps to reduce total transportation emissions from live events instead of putting the whole responsibility on artists. Stevio’s Freerotation festival only allow artists to play if they have a minimum of 3 other EU dates on a tour to avoid one off shows. “We never fly an artist in and out of Freerotation on a long-haul flight.” Other companies such as booking agency POLY are also developing environmental policies to find sustainable solutions to artist tours.
Sammy Bananas founded DJs Against Climate Change to provide an easy way for other DJs to purchase carbon offsets, to give back money in climate initiatives and counteract the amount of carbon dioxide produced by their tour travel. Donated funds are invested in projects such as green energy and is becoming a large deal in the industry, with increasing sites allowing artists to calculate their tour emissions with ease.
Promoter Tail & Twist has created the exiting new club night ‘Eco Disco’ in London, which proudly features avocado shell-based straws, eco- glitter and reusable steel cups which are paid for by a refundable £2 deposit. For their upcoming Climate Change Strike Afterparty in Peckham, £1 for every ticket sold will be donated towards Plastic Oceans and all artist travel carbon offset through Forests Without Frontiers.
Some artists are also beginning to consider their environmental impacts throughout touring cycles. On their April tour and recent festival slots, Sundara Karma have used refillable water bottles “we saved, like, 100 bottles a day! Because people just half drink them and throw them away.” Additionally, Sundara Karma requested wooden cutlery as part of their rider to reduce plastic waste, with a variety of success rates. On one occasion a promoter had misunderstood the request and the band arrived to find a selection of large serving spoons and forks. Quite funny and rather ridiculous, however it is a clear example of how promoters in the live sector also need to be educated in how to create sustainable experiences for artists whilst they are at each facility.
Jack Johnston has also been heavily involved in creating sustainability within his tours for over 10 years. A ride sharing program was introduced to encourage fans to travel to his shows via public transport or carpool groups, to minimize vehicle emissions as a result of his shows. He has also been committed to using local food produce and donating any wastage to food rescue groups during each tour with the help of Reverb’s Farm to Stage Project, who say the ease of sourcing sustainable produce has increased in recent years. “A decade ago, he had to bring his own caterer to source local food at each location to feed the crew. Now, he’s able to find caterers in each city that specialize in local sourcing.”
Companies such as Julie’s Bicycle are starting to pop up online which help to provide artists with affordable solutions to reducing their carbon footprint whilst on tour. Suggestions include swapping to a vegetarian diet whilst on tour as this can reduce carbon footprint as a result of consuming meat by up to 3/4, as well as finding green alternatives to set/lighting design. Radiohead are a band who’s exclusively LED lighting touring system has provided proof that large scale production at a fraction of standard energy requirements and still within budget. “Radiohead’s lighting system demonstrate how a forward-thinking band and production team can drive technological innovation”.
Orca Sound project works with a range of music industry clients such as Warner Music to provide sustainable alternative to plywood ‘Orca Board’, which is suitable for a range of temporary construction work in festivals and venues. Every board is made from ‘30kg of plastic directly from our oceans or form the land preventing it from entering landfill.’ This is the type of forward-thinking approach to live music that will help to create long term solutions to industry in the climate crisis.
Climate consciousness whilst on tour also comes down to the choice of venue and their attitude to sustainability. Village Underground who run on 100% renewable energy and have made efforts to minimize the use of in-sustainable materials within the building such as the use of green roofing, show it is possible to create a live music space which has minimum damage to the environment.
Decisions from Glastonbury Festival this year to include David Attenborough as a secret guest to address climate change to the audience and thanking the festival for its decisions to go plastic free this year, “more than a million bottles of water have not been drunk by you in plastic.” The words of praise and encouragement proved to hold a positive impact, with a reported 99.3% of tents being taken home after the festival had finished.
Many artists have taken on this responsibility to address climate change during touring however more needs to be said during shows and interviews to really reiterate to audiences the necessity of being environmentally conscious. In a recent interview The 1975’s Matty Healy and manager Jamie Oborne stated in reference to Greta Thunberg ‘“the most important person in the world to give a platform to. Other artists didn’t want to do it – it’s madness. Bigger artists than The 1975.”, suggesting some resistance in the industry to adapt and act in the interest of the environment.
A recent letter from MP David T C Davies to climate conscious band The 1975 was posted on social media. The letter has shown just how insincere members of the wider community can be, especially in the minds of politicians who are ready to point fingers instead of trying to help create sustainable solutions to the issues of international touring. The letter questions the band’s motives but fails to understand that one band’s decision to promote the importance of climate change will not change the world, the music industry is just one part of a much wider issue. Awareness and willingness to accept change is the first step towards making a difference, this includes the need to stop shifting the blame onto others and work together to create innovative solutions. Modernity may not have failed us yet, but if we are to have any fighting chance, we must act now.