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A world without music

Bill Drummond's long-running thought experiment allowed us a glimpse of a silent world – do musicians need a Basic Income to stop that becoming a reality?

No music day
Bill Drummond, No Music Day, 96-sheet billboard, Mersey Tunnel, 2005, organised by Alan Dunn.

Imagine waking up tomorrow, all music has disappeared. All musical instruments, all forms of recorded music gone. What is more, you cannot even remember what music sounded like or how it was made. You can only remember how important it had been to you and your civilisation. And you long to hear it once more.

Bill Drummond

No Music Day was a project instigated by KLF co-founder Bill Drummond that ran from 2005 to 2009. Some interpreted the event as an attack on music, an attempt to remove it from public life. But this is the opposite of what Drummond intended.

He felt that music had become something we take for granted. Before the dawn of recorded music, we were active participants in the process of music-making. Music was conceived to be heard at certain times or at preordained sites to create moments of spiritual uplift, ritual and celebration.

With the advent of the internet, we can access almost every piece of music ever recorded. By not listening to music for a day, Drummond hoped we would realise how valuable it is to us.

Others have proposed similar acts of creative abstinence. In 2001, Luke Haines announced the First National Pop Strike in which he proposed that no music should be produced, consumed or listened to for seven days. Haines was aware that the pop strike was doomed to failure, admitting that he did not expect musicians to stop playing their instruments and listeners to turn off their stereos.

Like Drummond, he asked us to imagine what it would be like if everyone in the creative industries suddenly downed tools. Would this force us to re-evaluate the work they perform? Would it prompt us passive consumers to explore our own creative potential?

The purpose of the pop strike and No Music Day was to provoke us to interrogate the structures of our society – to question who gets to create art and to consider why others cannot. Drummond believes that music-making is something everyone should be able to do, and questions why it's become something most of us leave to the professionals.

Imagine if the porn industry had been so successful it had convinced the mass majority of people that they no longer needed to have sex anymore, because we now had experts at sex to do it for us. All we had to do is pay to watch the experts do it instead. That is what the music industry achieved in the 20th century.

Bill Drummond

The thing that motivates most people to make music is not money – they do it because they love it. As a consequence, musicians can be open to exploitation and are often expected to work for free. Many artists struggle to make a living from their work and need to take on a second, third or even fourth job to make ends meet.

One argument for introducing a Universal Basic Income (UBI) is that it would enable more people to pursue creative ideas without worrying about whether they'd make money.

Enabling more people to make art could help democratise the creative industries, which are currently extremely unequal and rely on vast amounts of unpaid work.

People from working class and ethnic minority backgrounds are under-represented, as they're unable to take on unpaid work and lack the personal networks or insider knowledge of people from more privileged backgrounds.

A UBI would not solve this problem, but it would enable more people from different backgrounds to become artists. It would allow people to create new art scenes that represent them, instead of trying to enter ones built on hierarchy and privilege.

DIY culture already offers multiple examples for what people would do if they had more free time to engage in creative activities. Sociologist David Graeber felt that people are naturally creative, industrious and empathetic, and by detaching livelihood from work a UBI would enable us all to contribute to society in different ways.

The idea of a world without music sounds dystopian to me – it's one I don’t want to imagine. I prefer to think about a world filled with art, music and culture, one in which we're all active participants in creating, rather than just consuming, art. A UBI could help to make this utopian vision of the future possible.

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