London riots take 'potentially disastrous' hit on indie music
London rioters took a strike against the independent music business early Tuesday when a fire destroyed much if not all of the contents at a Sony DADC warehouse, which services the physical distribution for PIAS in the U.K. and Ireland. The 215,000-square-foot North London facility, separate from Sony's music operations, held current and catalog stock from about 150 labels distributed by PIAS, including Beggars Banquet, Sub Pop, Thrill Jockey, Domino Records and L.A.'s SideOneDummy.
"Our biggest territory in Europe just went down indefinitely," said Bill Armstrong, a co-founder of SideOneDummy.
Armstrong was awaiting word on exactly how much inventory the label had in the PIAS warehouse, but estimated it could be as much as 20,000 units. In September, the label will have a relatively big release from the Gaslight Anthem side project the Horrible Crowes. As of Tuesday afternoon, Armstong was hoping the new product never made it to the PIAS warehouse.
"From our perspective, it's just, 'Wow'," he said. "We have recordings coming out in the U.K and we have bands on tour and we don't know how long our supply chain will be locked up."
Martin Mills, founder and chief executive of the Beggars Group, a label consortium that is home to Matador, XL, 4AD and more, said his company lost about 750,000 units. Label offices, Mills said, are about 1 mile from some of Monday night's fires, but were unaffected. From Beggars' point of view, Mills categorized the fire as a "hiccup," but emphasized that the news would be much worse for smaller operations.
"We’re a big and well-resourced label and we have stock in a number of different locations," Mills said. "We have the finances to re-manufacture quickly. For smaller labels, who probably had all their stock in the singular location, and may not have cash to re-manufacture until insurance money comes through, this is potentially disastrous."
Mills, who was instrumental in forming the U.K. trade group the Assn. of Independent Music and sits on the board of the American arm (A2IM), said he's been informed by PIAS and Sony that labels will be able to distribute within a week to 10 days. Addtionally, PIAS has promised that particulars regarding insurance claims will be available Wednesday. Those, however, that have to re-manufacture product will have a tougher road ahead.
"A week or 10 days out of the market is not a disaster in itself, but you have to re-manufacture," Mills said. "That takes time. It takes a lot of time for vinyl. The more specialist the label, the more this is going to hurt."
Insurance may cover lost product, but it likely won't cover revenues from lost time. "We’re working with PIAS and AIM to create some sort of support for those labels to allow them to carry on being in business and get new stock manufactured," Mills said.
For fans interested in helping smaller outfits, the Assn. of Independent Music is encouraging them to buy digital downloads. "Music fans can show their support for the independent label community and help them survive this disaster by buying a digital download of an album from any one of the digital retailers in the U.K., as well as going to their local record store whilst stocks last," a statement by the group said.
Mills cautioned, however, that things could change quickly.
"We had staff that had to barricade themselves into their houses last night," he said. "All of London, it’s not even martial law. It’s whatever comes before martial law. This is scary, and it’s scarier than I’ve ever seen London."
-- Todd Martens
Image: Sony's North London warehouse. Credit: EPA