As they released their eighth album, Everyday Life, Coldplay announced at the Natural History Museum last week that they would not take it on tour, instead will be performing the album only once on British soil. Frontman Chris Martin expressed his concern about the future of touring, emphasizing the challenges of reconciling travel with environmentalism and expressed a desire to see a Coldplay show run entirely on solar power with no single-use packaging. Snark was instant–”Coldplay announces a plan to spare the effects of future Coldplay concerts on the planet” ran one headline–but others lauded the move: the previous tour of the band featured 122 shows across five continents, generating £ 405 m.
Massive Attack has said this week that “business, as usual, is over” when they start working with the Tyndall Center at the University of Manchester to measure the carbon footprint of tours and embark on a plan to change the sector, a message also expressed by Billy Bragg during his recent tour.
In addition to raising the issue at his concerts, he now limits his travels through a new travelling model: Bragg is the only one of his crew to travel to the United States, where he then moves with a small team from venue to venue, opting for several shows in each city.
Chiara Badiali, from the UK-based charity Julie’s Bike, says “reimagining touring is probably the biggest problem for the music industry–it will have to change,” while Lewis Jamieson, a founding member of the British climate action group Entertainment Declares Emergency, backed the intervention of Coldplay.
But in the era of streaming and rapidly declining CD sales, gigging is more relevant than ever for musicians–and particularly for those who are not industry juggernauts. Last week the British live music industry’s value was reported to have reached a record high of £ 1.1bn in 2018. Is it possible to make radical changes?
Writing in the Guardian, Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack admitted that bands would not stop touring altogether. Fay Milton, the co-founder of Music Declares Emergency and member of the British post-punk group Savages, agrees: “Music, music playing and culture sharing is a beautiful and amazing thing and we shouldn’t stop it all.” Jamieson, who declared the end of live music to be “neither feasible nor desirable,” reiterated this.
Bragg says: “You can get something at a concert you can’t get anywhere. It’s a communion type. There aren’t many places you can get that anymore, that feeling of not being alone. “Milton acknowledges that she created explanations while touring. “I always thought we were headed for a climate catastrophe, so I apologised because it was work and I saw it as odd,” she says. “But no one receives any special dispensation. This is something that we must all do.
Much of Reverb’s efforts and its afflicted artists focus on actions such as restricting the use of plastic straws, providing water for reusable bottles and educational hubs around the venue–actions closely aligned with the plan of Music Declares Emergency. Nonetheless, much more work is needed to resolve the key contributing factors related to climate change and the entertainment industry. The Green Touring Network estimates that 34% of the carbon footprint of a tour comes from the venue itself, closely followed by public transport (33%), with merchandise being the third biggest driver at 12%.