Another Casualty of the London Riots: Indie Music

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 9 2011 7:47 PM

Indie Labels Devastated by London Warehouse Fire

Photo of Sony/PIAS warehouse by LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images.
Photo of Sony/PIAS warehouse by LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images.


London’s entertainment industry is reeling after ongoing riots there caused a distribution warehouse to go up in flames on the north end of the city last night. While there are no reports of injuries, the warehouse stored thousands of CDs, vinyl records, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs, all of which now appear to be lost. The warehouse was owned by Sony and its stock was primarily distributed by giant PIAS Entertainment, but most of the companies whose merchandise was housed there were small independent labels, and last night’s damages may prove too large for them to recover.

Labels with stock lost in the fire include influential indie institutions like Warp, Sub Pop (the first label to sign Nirvana), and Beggars Banquet, and film distributors include BFI, Dogwoof, and Artificial Eye. Insurance is expected to recoup damages for many of these companies, but a number of independent music labels distributed the majority of their releases out of this warehouse. For these labels, it may take weeks, if not months, to restock.

While recent entertainment headlines have emphasized how digital downloads and on-demand streaming services are affecting the film and music industries, both continue to derive significant profits from physical sales. As industry analyst Paul Scaife told the Guardian, "Physical retail is still absolutely crucial to many in the independent sector and if—as seems quite likely—several smaller labels aren't covered by insurers, this could be the difference between survival and going out of business."
 
If there’s any solace in this news, it’s that most of these properties will be replaceable, as copies of these albums and movies exist in other warehouses and offices. That hasn’t always been the case in the past. Film studios, warehouses, and vaults have periodically been the sites of very damaging fires, particularly in Hollywood’s earliest days, when movies were made with highly-flammable nitrate film. Many would-be classics, such as the Lon Chaney films London After Midnight and A Blind Bargain, were lost to history this way. The backlot at Universal Studios Hollywood, in particular, has suffered several fires, most recently in 2008, often resulting in millions of dollars in damages.

You can read more on the effects of this fire on film distributors and the music industry at The Guardian.

For the latest on the London riots, head to The Slatest.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer.