A breakdown of the ongoing controversy...

The past week has seen a number of people employed by Newcastle based SSD Concerts come forward with disturbing testimony, alleging poor treatment, bullying, and widespread misogyny.

In just a few days, the row has brought claims and counter claims, a visit from Northumbria Police, and the severing of relations with IDLES, Lanterns On The Lake, and venues cross the North of England.

The company – founded more than a decade ago – is perhaps the biggest live promotions agency in the North East of England, working on gigs from Noel Gallagher, Jake Bugg, 30 Seconds To Mars, and Johnny Marr, while their festival interests include This Is Tomorrow and multi-venue weekender Hit The North.

A huge name in live music, SSD Concerts have developed a reputation for “bringing you locals, legends and beyond.”

Within seven days, however, that reputation has been torn to shreds. A number of employees have come forward with allegations including irregularities in pay, the lack of a work/life divide, widespread misogyny in the workplace, and examples of bullying.

With the discourse moving across social media, one former SSD employee entered the company’s Instagram account, and began posting reviews from Glassdoor – a site that allows current and former employee to review workplaces – online.

Chronicle Live have confirmed that Northumbria Police arrested and cautioned a 25 year old in relation to the hack, following a complaint by SSD Concerts over what they termed “malicious” claims made in a subsequent post.

Following this, Steve Davis – managing director of SSD Concerts – made the firm’s Instagram private, before sharing a full statement. Condemning “trial by social media” he reiterated “we take what we have seen seriously” before vowing to “improve the well-being of our staff and the people we work with”.

Alongside this, SSD have opened up a “confidential email” which will bring all formal complaints to their HR team, a move some have condemned for its lack of transparency.

The reports have already had an impact. Newcastle event space The Boiler Shop have confirmed that they will sever ties with the agency, while artists as diverse as IDLES and Lanterns On The Lake, Kelly Lee Owens and Bryde have all confirmed that their North East shows will not now be handled by SSD Concerts.

A few of their posts can be seen below.

Condemnation from industry bodies has been swift. PRS Foundation state simply that "misogyny & abuse is unacceptable" while Generator have posted a series of links to help those on the ground.

"We do not condone or tolerate these behaviours and cultures in any situation and we hope to see a systemic change to prevent this from occurring in the future. The issues of abusive behaviour, misogyny and staff mistreatment are not limited to a specific company, nor to the North East, but we cannot ignore the impact this has and will continue to have on our local and regional music industry. It has also been enlightening to see a strong community response from artists and venues in taking action to influence and enforce such changes."

"Our primary concern is for those who have been directly affected by this. We must enable those who wish to, to tell their stories, call out such behaviour and to seek help and support where possible."

Clash understands that an organisation set up by current and former SSD employees are preparing further testimony, and that this conversation will continue in the coming weeks.

It’s worth highlighting the broader context these events come in. SSD Concerts have seemingly been awarded substantial monies by the Culture Recovery Fund, with documents emerging online suggesting that the agency have received in the ballpark of £1 million from the UK government.

If this is true, it does raise significant questions over the type of industry that will emerge from the hugely difficult trading circumstances presented by the pandemic, and how those funds will actually reach professionals on the ground.

What rings true with Clash, however, is the similarity of the language used in those complaints against SSD Concerts with other statements from music industry groups. The increased appetite towards collective action recently saw workers at Secretly Group unionise, something the label group almost immediately gave official recognition of.

In their statement, the employees comment: “Our enthusiasm for the culture in which we work can lead to exploitation in ways endemic to the creative industries: poor wages, inadequate benefits, lack of work/life boundaries, gatekeeping that obstructs professional development, and an absence of initiatives that address systemic race and gender inequality.”

Each of those aspects can be seen in the Glassdoor reviews of SSD Concerts. The conversation around this row is ongoing, but it’s evident that trust between workers and employers has broken down, and that social media is being used as a vehicle for voices who feel that they might otherwise be unheard.

To this writer, it seems clear that broader unionisation within the music industry could enable these conversations to function to a higher degree, to stamp out sexist bullying, and reinforce basic rights. We need to work together to build something better.

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Words: Robin Murray

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