This series of reports looks at how other creative scenes across the world have been impacted by Covid-19. This week, we speak to Robert Schaeffer who runs the Effenaar venue in Eindhoven, Holland. The two room venue celebrates its 50th anniversary next year and has played host to Joy Division and The Ramones. In recent years it spawned annual festival Eindhoven Psych Lab and has had the likes of Father John Misty and Shellac tread it’s boards.
The nature of a global pandemic means that almost everyone is being affected by our current virulent nemesis. But, while cultural communities around the world are facing similar challenges, is each scene responding in a similar way?
In our Isolation Dispatches series, we find out how creatives based in cities across the world are dealing with their particular situation. We hear from the record labels, venues, musicians and curators on how they themselves are dealing with the crisis and how those around them have been affected.
Firstly, what’s the situation in your city – is Eindhoven on full lockdown or a bit more relaxed?
The Netherlands are under what our prime minister calls an “intelligent lockdown”. That means that we are advised to work from home when possible and that all events, big or small, are forbidden until 1st June. Bars and restaurants are closed as well. But we can still go out on the streets if we keep a safe distance (1.5 metres) and groups are no more than three.
What is Effenaar doing to keep active in these times?
Each day at 9pm (CET) we stream a live gig: The Isolation Sessions. It’s an initiative that was started by the local Super-Nova studio. Bob de Wit is the main guy there. He’s also the sound engineer for A Place To Bury Strangers, Mudhoney and Radar Men From The Moon. The idea to stream a session every day during the lockdown was a lot more work than he first anticipated. The project was running over his head (is that a proper english phrase?). So Effenaar and Dynamo jumped in to help him out. We moved the session to Effenaar and the guys from 360 Verbeelding brought their professional cameras and streaming set-up. It’s getting more popular every day. Last week we streamed our session with Voltage to national Radio 2.
But Covid-19 also makes the project more challenging. We take the safety precautions very seriously. We are working under a strict safety protocol. Every band is checked in the morning to ensure everybody is feeling well, otherwise we cancel the whole thing and start looking for a replacement. Everybody keeps the safe distance. There is a lot of shouting! We have the musicians set up at a safe distance from each other in our live room with lights, sound, video control and streaming all in a separate room in our venue.
It’s hard work, but it’s so cool that we still can bring bands and audiences together in these times. It’s great to see that our work is rewarded with a vast amount of people that are tuning in each day; far more than could fit our physical venue.
How have other cultural organisations in the city reacted to the measures?
There are a lot of plans. I’ve seen plans for streaming concerts, DJ sets and plays and ideas for a drive-in movie theatre. But they all need the help from the municipality for permission and permits. I don’t know the situation in Liverpool, but over here, civil servants are known to be very keen on minimising the risk of being at blame if anything goes wrong. It’s very hard to get permission or a permit these days.
Can you give a few examples of what musicians are doing to keep themselves busy and to promote themselves in these times?
There’s a lot of togetherness, as opposed to musicians who are creating their own little initiatives. I think The Isolation Sessions is a typical example of the Eindhoven way of doing things. Everybody – bands, venues, promotors, tech people – are working together to get stuff done. We understand that we can make a bigger impact when we work together. And, to be honest, it’s the only way to host 80 daily sessions until 1st June. Collaboration is the only way to make this possible. No one could do this on their own.
How are you yourself getting through it – personally and professionally?
At first there was the shock of having to postpone or to cancel all of our events until, at first, 6th April, and then ultimately until 1st June. That was an unreal situation. But I was proud to see that the music business is very adaptive, and I noticed that everything could be arranged rather smoothly without too much hassle or legal stuff.
After that two or three weeks of craziness I thought that the corona crisis would give me a lot of extra time to pick up shelved projects that needed attention for a long time. Or to finally revisit the long forgotten gems in my record collection while working at home. But that wasn’t the case at all.
I found that our Effenaar team had to re-learn how to communicate and work together, while most of us are working from our homes. The live streaming project is something most of us have never done before. There is a lot to learn. I really miss having a coffee and a talk. Or a group meeting in the flesh. I find that the forced new ways of communication is a complicating factor. It just takes longer to make the steps that are necessary for a project. Everybody is working their ass off to make it work, but it’s harder to get everybody on the same page.
But on the bright side, I also feel that we adapt really quickly and that the third [Microsoft] Teams meeting goes a lot smoother than the first.
How do you think this will affect the cultural scene in your city once things return to normality?
We are blessed that, in the Netherlands, venues like ours are funded by the municipality. Our building is owned by the municipality and we rent it back from them. We do worry about the financial impact on our venues. But, in comparison with the situation in Liverpool, the cultural scene in Eindhoven is relatively safe as long as the municipality doesn’t go bankrupt. One way or another we will survive.
That enables us to look at this situation not only as a threat, but also as a chance. Right now we have a big opportunity for streaming live music. And we hope that after Covid-19 we will have built a solid streaming platform and we can keep on doing this on a regular basis. Something that we couldn’t have pulled off that easily without Covid-19 happening.
Meanwhile we are working with several tech parties in our city to bring the streaming to the next level. We are thinking about experiments with 360 video, VR streaming and a donation system that automatically splits the yields between parties and arranges the music rights along the way. All these developments are accelerated at the moment because of the situation. It surely helps that some people now have time on their hands that they normally wouldn’t have.
Do you have any advice for isolated creatives at the moment?
Crisis and tough times are generally good for creativity. We creatives are wired to make the best out of any situation, so I have great hopes for the future. We are desperately in need of a new musical revolution. And this might just be the spark that was needed.
On a more practical side I suggest to join the Music x Corona email list. This guy brings together all sorts of new developments and trends and I find it very inspiring.
Robert spoke to us as part of our Isolation Dispatches series. Read our dispatch from Istanbul here.