|WEDNESDAY 26 JULY 2023||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Late last week Utopia Music announced that it was winding down its UK R&D division. However, CMU has learned that Utopia UK (R&D) Ltd - the entity through which Utopia’s UK R&D team were employed - has in fact been put into liquidation, as confirmed by a spokesperson for the company... [READ MORE]|
Utopia calls in liquidators at UK R&D division
Sources close to the business say that staff employed by the R&D division were expecting to be paid their regular monthly salary yesterday. Instead, it is claimed that they have been told to pursue the appointed liquidators for the wages that they are owed.
In response to that allegation, a spokesperson for Utopia told CMU: "We cannot comment on any individual cases as this is managed by the liquidator. An independent specialised company not affiliated with Utopia has been engaged to provide specialised assistance to each employee in claiming their entitlements. Our commitment remains steadfast in ensuring that all aspects are handled with utmost care and diligence".
Last week Utopia co-founder and CEO Mattias Hjelmstedt said in an internal memo that the company was "consolidating" its R&D offices in order to create a "leaner and more efficient setup". As a result, he said, its "relatively small" R&D offices in the UK and Finland would be wound down, leaving one in Sweden remaining.
What he didn't say was that the UK R&D entity was in fact being placed into liquidation - a key difference and something that generally happens only when a company cannot meet its financial obligations.
Commenting on this, Utopia's spokesperson said: "A liquidator has been appointed to manage the process concerning Utopia UK (R&D) Ltd. The proceedings concerning the affected individuals are managed by this liquidator and are subject to local regulations. Unfortunately, we cannot provide detailed information about the specific processes related to individual cases. All impacted employees will be considered for new positions".
The R&D restructure reportedly involves around 25 people - although it is not clear how many of those were employed in the UK.
The sudden liquidation of the UK R&D company opens the wider question of why parent company Utopia Music AG couldn't send funds to Utopia UK (R&D) Limited to wind the operation down cleanly.
When asked whether Utopia Music AG is solvent, and if so why it decided to call in the liquidators for the UK company, the spokesperson added: "As part of our pursuit of sustainability and profitability, we have made some difficult decisions. Unfortunately, we could not maintain the UK entity's sustainability, which is why we have entrusted it to the liquidators. Nevertheless, we remain committed to delivering services to the music industries through our other ten operational entities".
Whatever the circumstances, with staff caught in the crossfire, this is a bad look for Utopia. It also follows the recent divestment of a number of the companies that Utopia bought in late 2021 and early 2022 during a period of rapid growth. Meanwhile, earlier this year the company was sued in the US over an alleged failure to complete an acquisition of another business, LA-based music rights management and licensing platform SourceAudio.
Following the liquidation of the UK R&D division - as well as the sale of data platform ROSTR back to its founders in February, the sale of music publisher Sentric Music to Believe in March, and the reacquisition of label services company Absolute by its original management team last week - one of the most significant parts of Utopia's business is its UK-based physical distribution division.
Utopia Distribution Services combines Proper Music - the distribution firm acquired by Utopia at the end of 2021 - and the former Cinram Novum, another physical distribution business that Utopia bought in a "pre-pack administration" in September 2022.
This distribution division controls a significant portion of the infrastructure for distributing physical releases in the UK - something acknowledged by Utopia earlier in the week when the company said that its physical distribution businesses were "both unaffected" by the shuttering of the R&D division and would "continue to deliver world-class distribution services to the music industry and to the many labels (including all majors) that we represent in the UK".
With 130 people employed by Proper at the time the company was acquired, and as many as 250 more at Cinram, those people represent a huge portion of Utopia's overall employee numbers and have long-standing relationships with thousands of labels from tiny indies through to the majors, as well as with the majority of the UK's physical music retailers.
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Ten artists and vendors set to sue The 1975 over Good Vibes Festival cancellation
Malaysian law firm Thomas Philip announced it was planning legal action on behalf of artists and vendors impacted by the cancellation the day after The 1975 played the Good Vibes Festival in Kuala Lumpur. And yesterday the lawyers told NME that five artists and five vendors are now involved in that litigation.
Addressing Malaysia's anti-LGBTQ+ laws during his set at the Good Vibes Festival last Friday, Healy told his audience: "I made a mistake. When we were booking shows, I wasn't looking into it. I don't see the fucking point, right, I do not see the point of inviting The 1975 to a country and then telling us who we can have sex with".
He then kissed bassist Ross MacDonald on the mouth and added: "I am sorry if that offends you and you're religious and it's part of your fucking government, but your government are a bunch of fucking retards and I don't care anymore. If you push, I am going to push back. I am not in the fucking mood, I'm not in the fucking mood".
Those comments caused the band's set to be cut short. And the next day the festival's promoter announced that the country's Ministry Of Communications And Digital had responded to Healy's on-stage comments by issuing a cancellation directive, meaning the event's Saturday and Sunday programmes could not go ahead.
The promoter added: "The ministry has underlined its unwavering stance against any parties that challenge, ridicule or contravene Malaysian laws. We sincerely apologise to all of our ticketholders, vendors, sponsors and partners. We are aware of the time, energy and efforts you have put into making this festival a success, and we value your steadfast support".
Opinion is divided regarding Healy's actions at the Good Vibes Festival. Many have applauded the musician for making a stand in support of the LGBTQ+ community in Malaysia. However, there are plenty of critics too, including from people who support Healy's stance, but criticise the way he delivered his message.
Malaysian drag queen Carmen Rose told the BBC World Service: "I think there is a right place and time to do that and how you deliver the message that he delivered. It was very obvious that he was intoxicated and he wasn't in the right space to do that".
"I think the way he said [what he said was] very performative", she went on. "It's giving [off a sense of] 'white saviour complex' and he wasn't doing it for our community because if he was … he would know what the consequences we would have to go through [would be]. I don't think he cares about us, [just] himself".
"Right now the state elections [are] just around the corner", she added, "and the politicians are going to use this as a scapegoat, or it gives them more ammo to further their homophobic agenda".
Others have rejected the 'white saviour' label. Long-time LGBTQ+ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell wrote in The Guardian: "Matty Healy is not a 'white saviour' for showing solidarity with Malaysian LGBTs. The Kuala Lumpur regime will be delighted that the focus is on The 1975, rather than the LGBT+ human rights abuses the band condemned".
"Whatever you think about Healy's actions", he went on, "he succeeded in drawing global attention to Malaysia's persecution of its queer citizens - more so than any other action by anyone else. Hundreds of millions of people are now aware that Malaysia penalises LGBT+ people with up to 20 years jail, plus caning and fines - under a colonial-era law originally imposed by Britain in 1871".
Healy responded to that article on Instagram, stating: "Thank you Peter, you have always been a hero of mine and a great friend to many people I love dearly. You mean a lot to so many people".
Alongside the politics surrounding the incident, there are the legalities. Lawyer Mathew Thomas Philip - founder of the Thomas Philip law firm - posted on social media over the weekend: "The Good Vibes Festival got cancelled and I presume that the local artists who were to perform today and tomorrow will not get their full pay because of this cancellation. I am happy to represent all the local artists pro bono to sue the band The 1975 for causing loss".
Addressing the band directly, he went on: "It is not The 1975's time or space to tell us how to run our country. You should have stuck to your scope of work as per your contract which you recklessly breached. You are very silly".
Regarding the band's contractual commitments, the Good Vibes Festival has said that Healy and his bandmates specifically agreed to follow local rules regarding live performances so that the promoter could get approval from the relevant authorities to have The 1975 play.
"Regrettably", the festival added, "Healy did not honour these assurances, despite our trust in their commitment. Healy's actions took us by complete surprise, and we halted the show as promptly as feasible following the incident".
The promoter is not involved in the Thomas Philip lawsuit, but has confirmed that it is considering its own legal options. Meanwhile, according to the NME, around 70 people attended a meeting organised by Thomas Philip last night, including artists, vendors and journalists.
The lawyer told those people: "My view is that The 1975 must be held responsible and accountable for the losses suffered by the artists and vendors". He then told the NME that ten people are already on board for the class action he is organising.
It is thought that it will be mainly Malaysian artists who could be financially hit by the cancellation. International acts are usually paid their fees upfront, whereas local acts get some of their money after the show, and it's not currently clear what the cancellation will mean for those payments.
But international artists - and the Malaysian promoters and festivals that want to book them - could be more indirectly hit, because many anticipate that the country's officials will be much less willing to grant approval for Western artists to perform there in the future.
In addition to the Thomas Philip-led lawsuit, a police chief in Kuala Lumpur has confirmed that eighteen people also reported Healy's on-stage comments to local police. However, according to Malaysian news site The Star, Deputy Inspector-General Bukit Aman said that the first report was made at 2pm on Saturday and the band had left the country at 5.30am.
"There are those that question why the police did not act quickly", he stated. "This incident occurred on 21 Jul at 11.30pm and we understand that the concert was stopped soon after. The band then left the country the very next morning at 5.30am, so it was only six hours before they flew off. The report was made at 2pm, so by the time it was made, we were already unable to take action because they had already left".
Quad9 again criticises German web-block as it's forced to apply it globally
Web-blocking - where internet companies are forced, usually by the courts, to block their customers from accessing copyright-infringing websites - has long been an anti-piracy tactic of choice for the music and movie industries.
Initially, music and movie companies mainly sought web-blocking injunctions against internet service providers. But more savvy web users can circumvent those ISP-instigated blockades by using a VPN or a third party DNS resolver. This means that VPNs and DNS resolvers have also found themselves on the receiving end of web-blocking legal action.
Sony Music in Germany sought a court order forcing Quad9 to block access to the music piracy site Canna. For its part, Quad9 argued that - while it doesn't endorse copyright infringement - responsibilities for stopping that infringement shouldn't extend to services like DNS resolvers. However, the German courts did not agree and a web-blocking order was issued.
Quad9 continues to appeal that ruling and published an update on that process earlier this month, which was spotted by Torrentfreak yesterday. That update also reveals that Quad9 recently had to extend the web-block against Canna.
One discussion regarding web-blocking orders against VPNs and DNS resolvers relates to whether or not any one injunction ends up affecting web users beyond the jurisdiction of whichever court issued it, given ISPs generally operate on a territorial basis whereas VPNs and DNS resolvers often have users around the world.
The argument goes that, even if the German courts are right to issue a web-blocking order under German copyright law, that order shouldn't impact people in other countries.
Commenting on how it responding to the initial German web-blocking order, Quad9 says in its update: "Quad9 believes that ... out-of-jurisdiction (across national borders) query delivery is not within the scope of the requirement. [So] we installed a geoIP blocking on our servers in Germany immediately after having obtained the injunction".
However, Sony subsequently complained to the court that Canna could still be accessed via Quad9 if a user employed a VPN. It also alleged that the site was still accessible via a German mobile network, presumably because it routes traffic on its network outside of Germany. That meant, Sony claimed, Quad9 was not complying with the web-blocking order and should therefore be fined.
"We are of the opinion that we have no control over the routing policies of mobile operators and we also cannot control if users pretend to be in a different country using a VPN", Quad9's update continued. But, "the fact that the court issued a fine meant that we had to impose the blocking at the global level".
Concluding, it goes on: "We hope that we will ultimately prevail as we consider it to be inappropriate and disproportionate to be required to roll out blocking based on a court decision in one country to result in a global block. We are talking about a case of alleged copyright infringement here, but other types of alleged violations of applicable laws may follow tomorrow".
Distiller and Stellar sign Gil Lewis
The new deal is part of a wider partnership between the Distiller Music Group and Stellar Songs, the publishing company founded by Tim Blacksmith and Danny D. Distiller Publishing's Head Of A&R Claire Bianchi, who joined the company last year, was previously an A&R Manager for Stellar.
As for London-based Lewis, he has recently collaborated with the likes of MNEK, Jin Jin, Digital Farm Animals, Leah Kate, Talia Mar, Aron Forbes, Rick Broadman, Steph Jones, Ruthanne Cunningham, Talay Riley, Gracey and Nina Nesbitt.
Commenting on the new deal, Bianchi says: "I've wanted to work with Gil since I first became aware of him and genuinely think he's one of the biggest emerging pop writer/producers out there. And what an exciting prospect it is that I not only get to work with my fantastic new team at Distiller but also with my previous team at Stellar Songs!"
Danny D adds: "All I can say about Gil is that he's a secret weapon. Everything he does he does well, and on top of that he's such a nice guy. It's a real pleasure to be working together with Claire Bianchi and all at Distiller, as it was Claire who came across the talents of Gil in the first place. Watch this space and remember the name Gil Lewis".
And in case you wondered, it is Lewis himself who is "THRILLED about all this". Says he: "I am THRILLED to be signing with Stellar, Distiller and Warner Chappell, three powerhouses in the music industry. Joining forces with Tim, Danny and Claire has been an absolute blessing as they embody the essence of pure music lovers. Their amazing track record, along with an unwavering passion is truly inspiring and I couldn't be more excited to have them on my team".
IDOL announces deals with Yemi Alade and Afro B
The first is with Nigerian afropop artist Yemi Alade and the label she runs, Effyzzie Music. IDOL will work with Alade on the release of her upcoming seventh studio album. And the second is with London-based afrowave artist and Capital Xtra DJ Afro B. IDOL will work with him on a number of single releases ahead of a new album next year.
Thibaut Mullings, the firm's Head Of Label Development And A&R for Africa, says that the company has now spent half a decade "laying the groundwork" to support artists and genres from Sub-Saharan Africa. That has involved "strengthening our position across the territory and exploring the diversity of the Sub-Saharan markets through conferences, festivals, studio sessions, business discussions and new partnerships".
"We are now reaching a stage", he adds, "where IDOL's selectivity, local appeal and international reach are producing results for our partners as well as attracting African artists with global ambition".
The new deals also come as IDOL appoints Christophe Mauberqué to the role of Head Of International A&R, with the task of continuing to drive IDOL's "business development in territories outside of Europe".
Says IDOL President Pascal Bittard: "We are delighted to welcome Afro B and Yemi Alade into our diverse, international roster. IDOL has close ties to the Sub-Saharan region, and we're glad to be furthering our global reach with the addition of two highly talented artists. I look forward to working closely with the artists and their teams over the coming months, as well as with Christophe as we continue on this exciting period of growth".
Squid release audiobook of story bundled with latest album, read by Tim Key
Key has previously worked with Ewen on a podcast version of his 2007 book 'London Pub Reviews'. For the audio version of 'Lessons', Squid's Anton Pearson also wrote some music.
"We've loved working with these two people we really admire", says Pearson. "John Fahey's story insert to his 1967 album 'The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death' inspired the project, and after reading and listening to Paul Ewen's amazing work and talking to him, we found he had a great understanding of our work and exciting ideas for the project".
"He said he wanted to write a story about an out of touch geography teacher and it doesn't get much more exciting than that", he goes on. "Similarly, Tim seems to have an amazing grasp of Paul's humour and his delivery takes it to another level, as is the case on the pub reviews series. I went to see Tim on his 'Mulberry' tour and loved it, so was very excited to have him involved".
"It was fun writing some music for the audiobook, I used stems from the album for some of it and built other bits from scratch", he adds. "I hope people enjoy listening to the audiobook and can pick up on a few themes from 'O Monolith' running through it".
Ewen himself comments: "It's one of the best collaborations I've ever had. 'O Monolith' is both brilliant and wonderful, and it's been a privilege to add some not-so-serious storytelling about serious issues to this seriously good album".
Camden's Roundhouse venue has announced Rowan Kitching as its new Venue Director. "I am THRILLED to be joining the team at the Roundhouse, at an exciting time for such an iconic music and arts venue", he says. "The uniqueness and heritage of the space excites me, but most importantly the support to our vital creative youth programme. I am dedicated to delivering world class events and what a fabulous stage on which to be doing that here".
MANAGEMENT & FUNDING
The UK's Featured Artists Coalition has revealed the twelve artists who will benefit from its Amazon Music supported Step Up Fund this year. They are Amahla, Amie Blu, Aziya, B-Ahwe, Calva Louis, Chalk, Declan Welsh And The Decadent West, Graft, Jalen Ngonda, Nix Northwest, Tara Lily and Twst. Each receives a grant of up to £8000, a year's FAC membership and other benefits.
EVENTS & EDUCATION
The Teenage Cancer Trust's Ladies Who Rock lunch - which took place on 18 Jul - raised £43,000 for the charity, it has been announced. This is more than double last year's £20,000 total. "It was wonderful to see so many friends and young members of the industry coming together to support young people with cancer", says Teenage Cancer Trust's Angie Jenkison. "We left with a smile on our face and a promise in our hearts to make next year's lunch bigger and better".
Romy has released new single 'The Sea'. Her debut solo album 'Mid Air' is out on 8 Sep.
Black Grape are back with new single 'Milk' - their first for eight years. New album 'Orange Head' is set for release on 3 Nov. They will also be touring in November and December.
Bethany Cosentino has released 'Natural Disaster', the title track from her upcoming solo album, which is out this Friday. "The song is meant to serve as a commentary on the way we as humans go about our business as the world around us crumbles and literally burns", she says. "Thinking about the way our planet is changing is wildly anxiety-producing, but it's very real, so I hope this song can call attention to it while also giving people something to sing along to".
Tkay Maidza has announced that she will release her second album 'Sweet Justice' on 3 Nov. Out now is new single 'Ring-a-Ling'.
The Mercury Prize has announced this year's judging panel, ahead of the announcement of the 2023 shortlist tomorrow. They are musicians Jamie Cullum, Anna Calvi and Hannah Peel; broadcasters Mistajam, Jamz Supernova, Danielle Perry and Sian Eleri; music journalists Phil Alexander, Tshepo Mokoena and Will Hodgkinson; music programming consultant Lea Stonhill; and Head Of Music at 6 Music & Radio 2 Jeff Smith, who chairs the whole thing.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Britney Spears' autobiography delayed by legal challenges from Justin Timberlake and Colin Farrell
Spears and Timberlake were famously a couple from 1999 to 2002, while she and Farrell were romantically linked in 2003 - although she has previously said that it was "nothing serious". However, seemingly both men were unhappy with their portrayal in the singer's book, with lawyers for both demanding that stories about them be removed.
"Lawyers demanded to see her book in advance and were adamant that some of the revelations were removed", a source tells The Sun. "There are still plenty of gobsmacking tales [in the final version of the book] but Justin and Colin were conscious about what could be said about them".
"The legal process meant the publication was held up by four months as discussions went back and forth about what could be included", the source claims. "But that has finally now been settled and her autobiography is all ready to go".
So, it seems there will still be plenty of celebrity gossip in the autobiography, just slightly less than in the original draft. Of course, while everyone loves some celebrity gossip, many will also be hoping that the book provides more insight into Spears' life immediately before and after she was placed under her controversial conservatorship.
'The Woman In Me' is set to be published on 24 Oct.