Stop the Music: How Britain’s Riots Harmed Its Record Industry

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Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

Smoke continues to rise from a Sony Warehouse which was destroyed by arsonists in Enfield in north London August 9, 2011

The following is a guest post by music journalist Mark Sutherland.

Former Oasis singer Liam Gallagher has become the latest small businessman to be hit by the breakout of civil unrest in England.

Gallagher, who now fronts the band Beady Eye, woke up to news Wednesday morning that the Manchester branch of his Pretty Green clothing store had been looted in Tuesday night’s riots.

He may be the most high-profile member of Britain’s music industry facing a clean-up operation, but Gallagher’s certainly not the only one. Hundreds of independent labels are also counting the cost of Monday night’s fire at Sony DADC warehouse in Enfield, North London.

(PHOTOS: Riots Spread Throughout England)

Started by looters, the fire destroyed hundreds of thousands of CDs belonging to indie labels, as independent music group [PIAS] U.K. subcontracts its physical distribution to Sony DADC. Many leading independent film companies, including BFI and Artificial Eye (which releases the Three Colors trilogy, among many others) also lost DVDs in the blaze.

Affected music labels include XL (home to Adele), 4AD (Bon Iver) and Domino (Arctic Monkeys). Physical stock of Arctic Monkeys’ new single, “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala,” is so depleted that it will no longer be distributed to record stores.

Alison Wenham, chairman of the Association of Independent Music (AIM), which is coordinating efforts to help affected labels, says many smaller labels face going out of business after having their entire catalogue destroyed. “The stock is likely to be insured,” says Wenham, “but insurance money is slow to come through, and loss of business can never be quantified absolutely.”

(VIDEO: London Riot Chaos)

AIM is now working to establish a contingency fund to help bail out the hardest hit labels, and is urging fans to download a digital album by [PIAS]-distributed acts to help with short-term cashflow – a campaign Wenham says has, somewhat ironically, attracted huge attention on the same social networks said to have fueled the riots themselves.

The larger companies at least have CD reserves elsewhere, leaving retailers optimistic that further civil unrest will not be caused by shortages of Adele’s mega-selling 21 album in the coming weeks. “The music community’s been rallying round [PIAS] and the labels it represents,” says Gennaro Castaldo, spokesman for market-leading retailer HMV, who says he’s “pretty hopeful” of avoiding stock shortages for key releases over the coming weeks.

HMV has had problems of its own, however, with its stores in Enfield and Wood Green, North London, targeted by looters. Both stores have now re-opened, although the wider retail business will be further affected by the early closing advised by the authorities in many places, and shoppers’ reluctance to venture out.

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Some concerts in affected areas were also canceled, although rock fans breathed a sigh of relief after iconic venues the Electric Ballroom in Camden, North London, and the O2 Academy in Brixton, South London, avoided major damage despite being at the heart of riot zones.

Gallagher, meanwhile, has yet to follow the example of Kaiser Chiefs singer Ricky Wilson, who joined the post-looting cleanup operation in Camden, North London. Given that one of his band’s biggest hits was the prophetic “I Predict A Riot,” perhaps he thought it was the least he could do.

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