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New Platform to Support NYC Service Industry, Gig Workers

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NEW YORK – New York City is world-famous for its thriving nightlife, complete with bars, restaurants and cabaret shows. But what happens when there is nowhere, or no one to perform to?

Marti Gould Cummings is a popular New York City drag artist who makes a living performing in bars and clubs around the city. But work has dried up because of the COVID-19 shutdown – and there’s no cash coming in.

“I’m very scared about money. How the rent is going to get paid, come May? When you’re a drag queen, you’re a 1099, so you get paid when you show up for the gig. And when there’s no gigs there’s no income. So I think that’s where a lot of the anxiety comes from,” Cummings said.

To help make ends meet, Cummings has been performing online routines with a Venmo account on screen so virtual audiences can transfer over some tips. Cummings also sees this crisis as a time to help fellow New Yorkers. The performer is actually running for City Council in the 7th District, and is raising money for charities like the Ali Forney Center – an organization that supports LGBTQ homeless youth.

“The homeless shelters don’t close down in this time, you know, they’re still open and, and they need help. Now more than than ever,” Cummings said.

Cummings is just one of countless New Yorkers who can use help during this time, and one new platform is providing just that. Solidarity 4 Service assists people like Marti who work in the nightlife and service industry. It was co-founded by Jenice Acosta and Carlyn Cowen. The two met seven years ago working at a restaurant.

“If you want to help someone out, it takes you to a database of people that have lost jobs due to COVID-19 whether in the restaurant industry, gig work, artists, freelancers, and you can donate to them directly,” said Cowen.

And the co-founders say it’s just as easy to make a list asking for help yourself; be it financial assistance or even a temporary job. No questions asked.

“There is no verification process. We trust that individuals who are taking the time to go out there and fill this out, are actually in need of support. Donors can directly go in and read the stories and donate to who they choose to,” said Acosta.

Since its creation a couple of weeks ago, Solidarity 4 Service has raised more than sixteen thousand dollars for New Yorkers.

“[People have] been able to fill their prescriptions that they urgently needed, they’ve been able to buy groceries that they needed, they were able to pay bills that were past due,” Cowen said.

To donate or even post that you need help, you can visit the website s4s.nyc.

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End of the road? What the Uber ruling means for the gig economy

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Filipe Fernandes does not want a boss and does not want to go to work tomorrow if he doesn’t feel like it.

He is one of hundreds of delivery riders in Dublin who work across Deliveroo, Uber Eats, Just Eat and other mobile apps that deliver food to people’s front doors and offer flexible working hours to riders. These companies rely on the workers being categorised as self-employed and claim to have disrupted…

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Uber’s UK supreme court defeat should mean big changes to the gig economy | Uber

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“Move fast and break things” was famously the mantra of Silicon Valley tech companies. It was passionately embraced by Uber, the ride-hailing company set up to put taxis out of business. Unfortunately for it, one of the things it broke was UK employment law – which led the UK supreme court to issue a judgment on 19 February confirming that this was indeed the case.

Uber (for those who, including this columnist, have never used it) is a technology platform that puts customers seeking a taxi in touch with drivers who own cars and are willing to provide rides. Everything that happens in that process, other than conversations between customers and drivers, is controlled by the platform. Uber’s case – and business model – depends on drivers being regarded as self-employed contractors, ie cheap. The case decided by the court hinged on the question of whether drivers were indeed merely contractors, or “workers” entitled to a minimum wage and holiday pay – protections they were unable to enjoy while Uber classified them as self-employed.

The court unanimously upheld a 2016 employment tribunal decision maintaining that drivers are in a “position of subordination and dependancy to Uber”. The judgment is worth reading just to see the justices’ elegant exposition of this proposition. Uber set maximum fares; drivers had no say in their contracts; the application imposed penalties if drivers cancelled too many requests; and they had little or no ability to improve their economic position through “professional or entrepreneurial skill” – so in practice the only way in which they could increase their earnings was by working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber’s measures of performance. Which meant they worked for Uber and not themselves.

Although Uber are insisting the verdict only applies to the 25 drivers who brought the claim, in reality it sets a precedent for how millions of gig economy workers are treated in the UK and elsewhere (because foreign courts pay attention to what courts in other jurisdictions have decided). In that sense, the judgment is a landmark one with significant implications for gig-economy outfits such as Deliveroo and others.

Mind you, it doesn’t go the whole way to regarding Uber drivers as employees. There are three employment categories under UK law: employees, who are guaranteed employment rights and benefits; workers, who enjoy some of those rights; and the self-employed, who have very little protection. The supreme court has just moved the drivers from the third of these categories to the second. But it’s a start.

So what happens next? Will Uber tweak its platform to reduce its level of control over its “new” workers? If it does then, as the Financial Times pointed out, it will be less able to guarantee customers a uniform service – which is one of the reasons why Uber was so popular with foreign visitors to Britain. (I gather that a common complaint of Uber drivers to their passengers in Cambridge is that the bottom dropped out of their business once the pandemic forced Chinese students to return home.)

Another possible response will be to raise prices to cover the additional costs of conforming with the law as decided by the supreme court. Since Uber is pathologically unprofitable (London seems to have been one of the few cities where it was making some money), a significant rise in its operating costs seems certain to make the financial picture worse.

So, on the face of it, Uber is cornered – by UK law on the one hand, and by financial realities on the other. But, as any zoologist will confirm, wild beasts are often at their most dangerous when cornered. And Uber – which until recently had the most toxic corporate culture after Facebook – is unlikely to play nice. We had a taste of that in California a while back when it – and an alliance of other gig-economy companies – shelled out $200m to successfully support Proposition 22, a measure that allows them to continue classifying their drivers as “independent contractors” rather than “employees” with mandated benefits.

Uber is already trying the Proposition 22 approach in Brussels. It has published a preposterous “white paper” explaining how important it is to preserve the freedom of 600,000 European workers to “access flexible earning opportunities”. The “current legal ambiguity on the status of independent workers”, it goes on, “makes it difficult for platforms like Uber to provide both access to flexible work and benefits and social protections to independent workers”.

Well, in the UK at least, that “current legal ambiguity” has been eliminated. So all that remains now is for Uber to come to terms with the one thing that all global tech companies viscerally loathe: the idea that they have to obey the law of the petty jurisdictions in which they operate. And one of the deliciously ironic side-effects of Brexit is that the option of kicking the case into the long grass of the European court of justice is no longer available! Sometimes, one must be grateful for small mercies.

What I’ve been reading

Special effects
There’s a fascinating post by Eugene Wei on his blog about some of the unexpected affordances of TikTok for enabling creative responses to videos.

Getting with the program
Paul Graham, one of the few good essayists the tech industry has produced, has contributed a lovely autobiographical essay, What I Worked On.

Chief of staff
Trump Hotel employees reveal what it was really like working there in a nice piece of reportage by the Washingtonian magazine.

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Maximo Park back with album Nature Always Wins and Oxford gig

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WE have been starved of most meaningful live music now for over a year. But there is, now, at least light at the end of the tunnel as bands tentatively pencil in dates for later this year.

They include one of the country’s best live acts: Maxïmo Park, who have announced a show at the O2 Academy Oxford on September 2 – and a new album out this weekend.

The Geordie indie-rockers are no strangers to Oxford, having raucously played the Academy and, famously, the debating hall of the Oxford Union back in 2007.

“I remember a great, sweaty night when we last played at Oxford Academy!” laughs frontman Paul Smith.

“I love visiting Oxford because, as well as the enthusiastic crowds, we get to look around one of the country’s most beautiful cities. And we always pop into Truck Records for a look at the vinyl, obviously!”

In the run up to making their seventh album, Maxïmo Park had a lot to chew on.

From the very first song on their very first album, 2005’s A Certain Trigger – their multi-platinum selling, Mercury-nominated breakthrough – Smith pinned his socio-political colours to the mast and their activism continued through their subsequent albums.

For Maxïmo Park – Smith, Duncan Lloyd (guitar, keyboards), Tom English (drums) – it’s always been about being “conscious of your own voice, empowering people, sharing with people, communicating with people,” expands the frontman. “

But around the time of [album] Risk To Exist, we felt we had to be overt. We were clear as we could be, without being preachy.”

With an accompanying zine titled Inspiration Information, which included essays on the ruinous impact of the Department of Work and Pensions’ austerity policies and a contribution from political commentator Owen Jones, not to mention a declaration of support – vocally and financially – for refugee charity Migrant Offshore Aid Station, for Maxïmo Park it was mission accomplished.

Well, they acknowledge, as much as any musical activism can be “accomplished” in a time when such IRL challenges remain stubbornly ongoing and, for many, deepening and worsening.

But when thoughts turned to their seventh album, the world – close to home and at large – shifted again.

Firstly, founding member and keyboard player Lukas Wooller decided to emigrate to Australia. While ruing the personal loss of a good friend and bandmate, Smith, English and Lloyd quickly and smartly pivoted to the musical opportunities this could afford them.

Maxïmo Park by Em Cole

Maxïmo Park by Em Cole

“When Lukas left there was the challenge of doing a whole new thing – there was a space there,” says Lloyd. “And we decided to think of that space as more freedom. A fresh canvas. I could write something on piano, or guitar, or bass, and that would begin something different.”

Writing began last summer, with Smith and Lloyd in Newcastle, English in Liverpool. They sought, too, a different kind of new fourth member: a producer who was also a musician. Maxïmo Park wanted the freedom to play, in every sense. Ben Allen, Atlanta-based, Grammy-winning producer of Animal Collective, Deerhunter and Gnarls Barkley was a quick and easy choice.

From the off, he challenged the trio, asking them to write 40-odd songs.

“The good thing about that,” begins Lloyd, “was that we did everything from Why Must A Building Burn, which was acoustic-based, through to Meeting Up, which was synth-based. We could go electronic, we could go avant garde. And that helped us get to the tracks we eventually settled on.”

Allen travelled to Newcastle at the start of 2020, a place he’d never been, and the band showed him round town (curry, castle walls, quayside, boom) and started working on ideas in the studio, with the American joining in jam sessions. The plan was to go to Atlanta in the coming weeks and begin the recording process in earnest.

And then… Well, we all know what happened then.

When international lockdown bit, producer and band were stuck on opposite sides of the Atlantic. The band, too, were scattered in their individual homes, as were the other new players and guests who ended up contributing: recently recruited keyboardist Jemma Freese, who also sings backing vocals; live bassist Paul Rafferty; and proper “Northeast legend” Pauline Murray from Penetration, who sings on Ardour.

Fortunately, Maxïmo Park have always been a self-sustaining, self-sufficient unit. So, again, they deftly jumped to it, each member working on their musical and lyrical contributions at home, then bouncing the audio files to Allen 4000 miles away in Georgia.

“I was the only one who went to a real studio,” says English, “but that’s because you need about 500 mics on the drumkit. It was odd driving into town every day, when Liverpool was like a ghost town, me in one room, the engineer in another, hashing it out over a few days with Ben on FaceTime on a laptop next to me while I tracked everything. It made it quite intense,” he says, grinning, “but it also made it quite efficient.”

Maximo Park performing at the Great Exhibition of the North opening event on the Newcastle Gateshead Quayside

Maximo Park performing at the Great Exhibition of the North opening event on the Newcastle Gateshead Quayside

In April and May, in the teeth of lockdown, Maxïmo Park cracked on. I Don’t Know What I’m Doing was an early stand-out. Furiously energetic and driven on by a pounding beat and angular riff, it’s nakedly honest about the reality of being a dad – Smith and his wife had a daughter, now four, in the midst of the Risk To Exist period.

“The challenge of that track, because we couldn’t do it together, was that we had to pick the tempo felt most exciting,” notes English. “In the end I just had to play it as steadily as possible, and get everything else on top to make it as exciting possible, including a really weird guitar solo in the middle which Ben spent some time making as dynamic-sounding as possible. And then there’s Paul’s frantic vocal delivery…”

“I’m not actually singing at the end!” laughs Smith. “I’m like a dog barking. It’s a song about self-doubt, child-rearing and those existential questions about parenthood – have I passed down the worst aspects of my personality, or am I just raising you wrong? The old nature or nurture thing, which you’re always trying to work out.”

Baby, Sleep, pegged as the first single and one of the catchiest songs Maxïmo Park have ever made, explores parenthood from another angle, shackling those lyrics to a “harsh” riff from Lloyd and a “bubblegum pop chorus”, as Smith describes in it.

“Being a father became the main topic I wanted to write about, but finding interesting ways to do that. So here it was the idea of sleep deprivation making everything take on a surreal tint – like watching basketball live from America at two in the morning. Or pushing a child round Eldon Square shopping centre in Newcastle in a daze. But then, I always seem to gravitate towards shopping centres…

“Again, it was about trying to find anchors to the real world. One of the key lines is: ‘What are all these balloons doing in my front room?’ It’s that idea of: how on earth do these things creep up on you?”

Smith also grapples with the onward march of time in the album’s big, emphatic, declamatory opener, Partly Of My Making. “As you can clearly see,” begins Smith’s huge, yearning vocal, “I’ve lost some luminosity.”

“Musically it’s got that in-your-face quality,” the singer observes by way of explaining the song’s position at the album’s starting gates. “There’s something monumental about it, in terms of the drumming. When I first heard what Tom had done I was amazed – he transformed the demo into something much more direct, faster, escalating. It gave it a lot more ballast. And the music gives a lot more weight to what I’m saying.

“The song is about accepting the ageing process, which isn’t really often done in pop songs – it might be done by a singer-songwriter. But it’s important for me when I’m writing lyrics to evolve. Pop music can be frozen in time, or be about recapturing youth. We’ve always tried not to do that.

“Yes, it’s about getting old… but it is really powerful and full of beans. And when we play it live, that’ll be evident.”

An inevitable standout of their Oxford show will be All Of Me.

“That was the one track we collaborated in the writing with Ben on,” Lloyd says. “And that synth line came from Ben. So it’s the first co-write with a producer we’ve ever done.”

Smith’s lyrics and vocal performance fit the brief, too, of a song “that has that anthemic quality to it. They’re all pop songs, but they need to have an edge to them, too. Something gnarly in the mix, some dose of reality.”

“We woke up in London the morning after the Grenfell fire,” remembers Smith, “about to do a radio session. Being in the city at that time, it couldn’t help but burrow its way into our writing. Then, one of our old merch guys, Nick Alexander, was killed in the Bataclan attacks. I remember very clearly seeing his face come up on TV.

“Those things really affected me, and I never thought I’d put them in a song. But I wanted to set down how powerful people often wait until something bad has happened before they decide to do something about it. So that’s the line: ‘Why must a building burn before the lesson is learned?’ And it colours the rest of the song. It’s about, again, solidarity and connection.”

Maxïmo Park describe the track as “a snapshot song”. There’s another like that, one which is being released as the first taste of music from their new album – one chosen because it’s “an artistic choice, a more crafted song” as the first taste of what’s to come.

Kaiser Chiefs at Bingley Music Live 2017

Kaiser Chiefs at Bingley Music Live 2017

Child of the Flatlands is a song that re-amplifies both Maxïmo Park’s wide musical horizons and Smith’s acute lyrical observational touch. It’s an epic song with both space and reach, as Smith mines down through the sedimentary rock of his and his peers’ background, geographically and psychologically.

“That was one where I was really conscious of Lukas leaving,” admits Lloyd, “so I wanted to write a piano song – obviously a lot simpler one than he could do! And I wanted to give the basic chord pattern this walking pace, because with Paul’s lyrics, you are walking through this landscape of Paul’s life. There is a melancholy to it, and something that suggests memory, and keeps changing, So I wanted to have the chorus be the quietest thing, to underpin that very reflective feel.”

Empathy, engagement, anger, ambition, anti-cliché, maturity, reflection, big tunes, big ideas… Maxïmo Park’s seventh album combines all of the above, with (occasional) strings on.

The album is called Nature Always Wins.

“It’s the reality of our situation on earth!” says Smith. “You can’t fight against nature, whether it’s human nature or the environment. And to call back to the domestic situation: whatever happens is down to the nature of who we are. When you give birth to anything, whether it’s a child or an album, you betray who you are in that process.

“Even just making this record the way we have and the way it sounds now – that’s the nature of the band. It wins out. We’re a pop band. They’re songs you can understand, yes, influenced by lots of different genres. But what it comes down to is: we still want every song to be hooky, melodic, memorable – to be loved. It’s not a vanity project – we want people to get into it.

“That is the nature of Maxïmo Park.”

  • They play the O2 Academy Oxford, Cowley Road on Thursday, September 2



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