When it was announced back in 2019, Hit The North felt like a potentially exciting new development for Newcastle. A multi-venue festival focussing on new talent, the initial announcements piled up, with the likes of DMAs, Sports Team, Oscar Lang, NOISY, and many more confirming their involvement.
Finally taking place over the weekend – after a pandemic enforced delay – Hit The North instead served notice on endemic issues not only in the North East but in the live music sector across the country. A string of cancellations across the weekend turned the event into chaos, with only nine acts from the 79 names on the line up eventually playing.
Only three venues were used for the truncated line up, while social media was flooded with ticket holders who were left confused and angry. It’s important, though, not to take these frustrations out on the artists, the bands, or their crew – but there’s something much more profound taking place.
Hit The North is linked to SSD Concerts, an organisation whose work-place culture came under scrutiny earlier this year. Allegations of a toxic nature were made, with instances of misogyny and racism being made on social media against senior members of staff. Repeated complaints, it is alleged, were dismissed, with SSD failing to act upon them.
At the time, SSD promised major changed. Managing director and founder of the company Steve Davis resigned “with immediate effect” over the summer, while an independent investigation was ordered. Artists such as Sam Fender, IDLES, and Kelly Lee Owens all severed tied with SSD, while the cloud hanging over the company seemed to threaten their subsequent ventures.
SSD were also tied to This Is Tomorrow, another major North East festival. Questions were asked of the artists who agreed to play the event, with Nadine Shah giving a righteous summation of her views, and the importance of believing survivors.
I wanted to explain to you why I have chosen to play This is Tomorrow festival this Sunday. Please watch pic.twitter.com/Da7fZDYel3— Nadine Shah (@nadineshah) September 17, 2021
Last week, SSD sent the results of their investigation to Chronicle Live, stating that the probe found “no evidence of racism, misogyny or sexual misconduct by the managing director.”
"The board can’t ignore that the company continues to face persistent challenges to ‘address the serious sexual allegations’ levelled against SSD and the managing director.”
The rapid growth of SSD “blurred the boundaries of professional relationships,” while stating that SSD Concerts "could, and should, have done better".
News of the report quickly spread on social media, and seemed to spark a backlash on the ground. Bands began dropping out of Hit The North, with a wave of cancellations sweeping across the web. Sports Team were amongst the first to pull out – due to play directly before headliners DMA’s, the band vowed to return to Newcastle “soon”.
We will not be playing Hit The North today. Apologies for those who had tickets to see us, will try to rearrange something in Newcastle as soon as we can.— Sports Team (@SportsTeam_) October 23, 2021
Oscar Lang seemed to sum up the thoughts of many artists: “As much as we love playing shows, we don’t love supporting sexual misconduct allegations.”
NOISY pulled out of the event, with the much-tipped three-piece organising their own free entry showcasr at the city’s Head Of Steam venue, HI SIENNA pulled out, Fuzzy Sun pulled out, Lottery Winners pulled out – until eventually, the bill was left as a shadow of its former self.
The official social media accounts for Hit The North remained scrupulously silent throughout, offering no comment on the cancellations. There was no official update on timings, either, for fans who were left with tickets. Indeed, it was left to organisations such as Tits Upon Tyne – who have done so much to spread awareness – to reveal who was even left on the line up.
Ultimately, Hit The North seemed to exemplify everything that is great about live music – but for all the wrong reasons. The unity of purpose, the sense of DIY on the ground as people rushed to organise alternative shows, the sheer community feeling in artists making their voices heard; for many, it felt like a dam breaking, the sight of people working with a commonality of purpose.
Trust has quite clearly been breached between SSD Concerts and a number of former employees, and this has spread to the organisation’s broader relationships in live music. There is a colossal sense of disconnect between the statements offered by SSD and the words used in those cancellation notices. It poses a huge challenge for the music scene in the North East – SSD is a primary player, perhaps the largest promoter in the region. Clearly, the internal investigation did not go far enough to save Hit The North from descending into chaos – more has to be done to make the live music industry a safer space.
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