Thoughts on 4ARM leaving their US tour

Melbourne band 4ARM have created a little bit of a stir over the past twenty-four hours by quitting their US tour. Apparently fed up with no organisation, no communication from the promoter Nemesis Records, tiny venues, and a string of broken promises, they’ve decided to cut their losses and finish up the tour. Their press release is up over here.

Naturally the metal scene – being the wordly, sympathetic bunch that they are – had their own thoughts to share on the matter:

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Ah, the good old predictable heavy-metal scene doing what it does best: shooting itself squarely in the foot. I don’t know 4ARM, I haven’t heard their music, haven’t met the guys, but I love being a contrarian and I’ve been in their position before so I’ll say the following:

Good on them.

I am so biased on this topic. Every US tour for me followed the same pattern: get tour contract from booking agent, negotiate conditions for backline and pay, get a list of venues, book air tickets to the US and get visas, arrive in the US, FIND OUT THAT EVERYTHING WE WERE TOLD WAS BULLSHIT AND THAT WE’RE EXPECTED TO GET ON WITH IT AND PLAY.

Um, hello? I may be an unreasonable-expectation having son-of-a-bitch but if I take vacation time from my job to enter into a legal contract where I pay my own money to fly to the other side of the planet to work my ass off on a tour (where I shall incidentally work harder than I do on my day-job), the absolute least I would expect is for the conditions I signed up for to be met.

However this simple ethical concept eludes many US booking agents. Unlike almost every other dick who’s flapping on about this story at the moment, let me back my rant up with an actual true experience. In 2002, Berzerker went to the US to do a tour with Finberg. We had signed contracts, quit jobs, bought our plane tickets, and flew over to do a one month tour with Immolation, Vader, and Origin. We were contracted to use Immolation’s backline for free. When we arrived the tour manager was like, sorry, you are now using Origin’s backline. Oh, and you’re paying them US$100 a week for the pleasure. And if you don’t like it? Well, I guess you’re not playing. What, your contract says otherwise? Well YOU’RE IN AMERICA NOW, LITTLE AUSSIE BAND. What are you going to do about it?

First we complained to the label who, true to form, said “that’s terrible” and did nothing. Next step? Complained to the booking agent and asked him to uphold this legally binding contract. Or at least we tried. He was on a holiday in Thailand and was too busy fucking kids to respond to any calls or emails. We were stuck. The only way we could afford to leave the country and go to our next tour was to play the shows. This is why I can’t judge 4ARM like everyone else is so happy to do; if we had enough money, there’s a pretty good chance we would have bailed. And I’m sure many bands would have done the same.

This wasn’t a one-off incident for us by the way. Every trip to the US was the same: lying thieving booking agents, venues who won’t pay you, venues who decide they’re suddenly entitled to 30% of your merch takings, suddenly being notified by the agent that you will be playing a show for free and he’s taking the earnings, and so on. It’s a different story if you play the UK or Europe.

If 4ARM are guilty of anything, it’s of doing a shitty PR job of initially explaining why they quit the tour. By posting a picture of a sub-par venue as an explanation, they opened themselves up to those hoary old chestnuts that the industry uses to continue exploiting touring bands: You are letting the fans down. You’re letting the other bands on tour down. We provided everything we said we would, what’s the problem? That venue was good enough for <insert now-famous band> to play in, do you think you’re better than them? Are you rockstars, or something? You may be big in <rest of the planet> BUT YOU’RE IN AMERICA NOW, YOU NOBODY!

Metal fans being, well, metal fans, swallow this BS hook line and sinker. It’s not enough that bands no longer make money on CDs or touring, but now we’re supposed to spend our money travelling the planet on bogus piece-of-shit tours playing dusty shacks for you illegally-downloading smelly metal fucks? I thought metal fans would like actually be in the corner of the metal bands they’re supposed to be supporting? Obviously not. Go listen to Bieber, pricks.

And while I’m wrapping up this rant, I need to address a couple of things people have said which seem to reoccur in every discussion of this type:

“They should be grateful to even be playing the US, I’d do anything to play there with my band!”

No you wouldn’t, otherwise you’d be doing it. Any Australian saying the above is a slack sack of shit. If I questioned them, I would drill down to their lazy-ass excuse in less a minute: Can’t get the time off work. Don’t want to leave the girlfriend for a month. Can’t scrape together the few grand for a plane ticket. Guitarist doesn’t want to do it. Maybe next year.

You weak Aussie bong-jockey bastards. If you would do anything to tour the US, then do anything to tour the US. Quit that job. Leave that girl. Steal that money. Sack that guitarist, hire a new one, and go now. That’s what almost every Oz band (yep, even the ones you whinge about and rip on) have had to go and do. And if you don’t have the cojones to do the same, yet feel entitled enough to speculate about how much better you’d act on tour, then have fun living your lie. I say this with the knowledge that when you really want to tour overseas you can achieve that in less than a year.

“Pay your dues”

Yeah nice one, Yoda. Stick your dues right up your ass.

What does “pay your dues” mean, anyway? The translation of it seems to be “work and get ignored and shafted by everyone until an ill-defined moment decided by pompous dickheads who don’t matter that you may start to live like a human-being”. I’ll tell you all something now: paying your dues is for suckers.

I remember hearing the cry of “but they didn’t pay their dues” grow fainter as my plane lifted off in 2001, destination: America. Melbourne metal bands were in uproar that my band, after only playing about four shows, was already heading off to the US. I’ll freely admit, they were better musicians, made better music, and had paid their dues – which counted for fuck-all. We hurdled that group-hug dues-paying bunch and went out to the world to destroy…which is what anyone with any balls goes and does. While we were on the road they were on the internet filling our website guestbook up with all sorts of hate. The idea was that we should have played more shows and gotten more popular at home before heading out to the world.

The industry loves talking about those mythic first US tours for AC/DC and The Police, where they travelled around sleeping on a tricycle, eating their own bootlaces, and getting paid with punches to the face.”Look where they are now!” Yeah, well, I guarantee the conversation in the van every night went like this:

“I want to go home. I hate this. I should have stayed with my teaching job. Why? WHY?!”
“Because we can’t afford to do literally anything except drive to the next venue, play, and hope someone gives us a sandwich to share so we don’t starve to death.”

And for every AC/DC that came out of the other end of that experience and arrived at success, there are hundreds of bands that went home broke, miserable, and quit immediately. And that was in the days when it was possible to make a living from metal. It doesn’t have to be this way. Bands don’t want necessarily to be rockstars, or multimillionaires. We’re not that deluded. If we’re spending our money and time travelling on one of the longest and most expensive plane flights in the world, all we want is for our business partner at the other end NOT to fuck us over from the moment we arrive.

In closing, I’ll leave metal with a piece of knowledge that a lot of teenagers already know: people treat you how you allow them to treat you. If you let a someone get away with calling you a ho, banging you in the ass, stealing your stuff and hitting on your friends, then quite often they will. If you let booking agents and tour managers in the US get away with not paying you, not supplying schedules, not paying promised advances, or supplying backlines, they will. In such times your only recourse may be to walk away from the business contract you are in. Real fans will be disappointed, but will understand. Everyone else can go to hell.

And Short Fuse are a bunch of Uncle Toms.

“Prince played here. What, are you too big to play here or something? You ROCKSTARS”

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