Post-punk duo Sleaford Mods are known for being outspoken. Hailing from Nottingham and making music that encapsulates themes innate to their working-class background, their music is not made to appeal to the gatekeepers of websites such as Rate Your Music or to fill stadiums. If anything, their music is aimed at a crowd who aren’t the stereotypical gig-goer. Sleaford Mods want to make music for people like them – they are unashamedly working class, but they would never claim to speak for or represent such a complex group.
If you want some proof of this, just ask Miles Kane. Mods lead singer and all-round punk Jason Williamson fired off this particularly stinging tweet to the singer after Kane tweeted that he was a fan of Mods: “This music was born out of a hate for pretenders like you. You can either leave gracefully or I will block you.” Clearly Sleaford Mods are a cut above artists who are more simpering about using their platforms for political statements or publicity.
They have bite as well as bark too. It was recently announced that as part of the ticket release of their upcoming tour for sixth album, Spare Ribs, a portion of tickets would be sold for £5 each, much lower than the market value. These cheaper tickets are for fans who are suffering from financial difficulties and what really makes this scheme stick out is that it is reliant on people’s honesty, hence Williamson’s warning to not “take the piss” in the announcement message.
It’s a move that should be praised but we should also think about it with some perspective. Gigs are expensive. The dual cost of the ticket plus travel expenses will usually top what we are able to earn in a day and that’s not even including the often-requisite pint and merch that will probably cost as much as the ticket itself.
Everyone should be able to enjoy cheap and easy access to gigs and financial constraints are the most basic barrier that artists could attempt to do away with
Their cost means they are usually reserved as a treat, an opportunity usually just to see artists we are very familiar with; you wouldn’t want to waste your money after all. It’s nominally a given that the live arts and gigs are often a middle-class preoccupation but the fact that very few people have the money to attend gigs solely as a way to experience and sample live music and new artists must also be thought about.
This is perhaps the most destructive element of the costliness of gigs. Listening to an artist live, be they a new discovery or not, is a far more profound and nuanced experience than that of listening to them through your phone. Everyone should be able to enjoy cheap and easy access to gigs and financial constraints are the most basic barrier that artists could attempt to do away with.
Discovering an artist by chance in such a way is one of the many nuances of ‘real’ life that Covid took away from us but for many, before and after lockdown, gigs will still be as inaccessible as ever before. Untold thousands of artists dwell on paths untouched or uncared for by the Spotify algorithm. Such artists may only be discovered by chance at a festival or other live music event and even poor performances can spark joy and inspiration. Some of these artists might make music that is less palatable to the ear or not suitable for conversion to the internet. Sometimes you just have to experience a sound in a sweaty field or auditorium.
In setting aside these tickets Sleaford Mods are considering their fans and those who may have been in similar positions to the band members themselves, people for whom their music would resonate so much more. Sleaford Mods are also undertaking this move in a climate where artists are especially reliant upon ticket sales to make up the bulk of their income. This only makes it more impressive, evidence not only of their integrity but of their self-awareness about the platform they now possess and their recognition of the value of live music for everyone.
Sleaford Mods might not be endeavouring to change the entire music or economic landscape, but they are trying to give something to all of their fans
For any successful artist, it will not hurt at all to set aside cheap tickets in such a manner and perhaps it should become an unspoken rule that they do so. It could also be the precursor to more government or community led action to reinvigorate the music economy as something with a more grassroots and localised centre of gravity that could facilitate the emergence of more small artists with a sustainable if modest means of income.
Imagine a post-lockdown world where everyone could attend gigs, where most towns had some sort of venue where artists of all levels (but especially the emerging kind) could play and where your income wouldn’t be a barrier. It’s optimistic for sure, and it relies on people’s honesty, but did a year of Covid not demonstrate the potential for such a community effort?
Live music exists now not as a pure expression of art but as a means for artists to make money. In such a form it will always be tainted. Sleaford Mods might not be endeavouring to change the entire music or economic landscape, but they are trying to give something to all of their fans. For that, they should be commended.