Has Brexit destroyed touring for UK artists?

Thanks to indecision and confusion over visas, it's not just coronavirus that's threatening our future gigs and festivals.

by Tom George
27 January 2021, 5:42pm

Photography Johnny Dufort. Styling Lotta Volkova. [The Post Truth Truth Issue, no. 357, Autumn 2019.]

As if Brexit wasn’t miserable enough already, now it’s taking our summer festis too. Well, kind of. Since Brexit came into effect on 1 Jan this year (Happy New Year, guys), a question mark has been left over whether or not British musicians will be able to travel visa-free if they want to tour Europe,  NME reports. And in typical Brexit Britain style, nobody can decide who’s to blame. UK culture minister Oliver Dowden and EU ministers are both arguing that the other is at fault over the breakdown in negotiations, and while a petition signed by 100 acts including Ed Sheeran, Elton John and Brian May alongside 28,000 music fans will lead to a debate in parliament on 8 February, very little is actively being done to help. Almost half -- 44% -- of British musicians made most of their earnings from performing in the EU (before the pandemic, of course) an income stream that is now jeopardised, and which will particularly affect young and independent artists. 

But what does the Brexit indecision actually mean for British musicians?  Well, for one, European festivals have now warned that because of impending high VISA charges, we could see less British acts on the bill, and more homegrown talent instead. “I think that if a band is really strong, then there will always be a promoter or a festival who wants to book them at the price that’s necessary to get them over,” says Eric Van Eerdenburg, director of the Netherland’s Lowlands Festival, to NME. Alongside Tomorrowland, Sziget Festival, Primavera Festival and many other major European events, Lowlands often has mainly UK acts within their lineups, with artists such as Dua Lipa, Stormzy and FKA Twigs drawing large crowds. “But it will be a lot less easy. If there’s a good offering from Europe for a better price but an equal amount of people buying tickets, then the choice will be European”, Eric says.  

While already successful UK acts that organisers know will bring in strong ticket sales will still be offered gigs, those up-and-comers hoping to use the European festival circuit to find success may be ignored. For European artists and bands, this may not be a bad thing – it will likely open up space for new artists on the continent to perform to local festival crowds. However, an investigation by DJ magazine has found that EU acts wanting to tour the UK would now face £95 per individual for a visa  as well as an incredibly bureaucratic application system that may put some acts off. 

There is also the worry that the high visa charges -- which under current plans will be decided by each individual EU member state -- would stop up-and-coming UK acts from doing their own European tours, as the cost of visas for each crew member for each country could really add up, especially alongside additional customs charges for equipment. This could have further implications for success, as difficulties breaking into Europe may then affect their chances of gaining visas for the US and elsewhere.

As artists, European festival organisers and music fans wait for the debate on the 8 February that will hopefully lead to the UK resuming negotiations with the EU, until then, UK music acts are left in the dark about whether they can continue to afford to perform across the channel.