Musical productivity during lockdown

I interview Poppy Roberts, producer, vocalist and DJ on her thoughts on creativity and productivity during lockdown.

As the Conservative-dubbed lockdown rules to ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ were clamped down on the UK, Covid-19 officially rid us of our daily routines, jobs and any chances of socialising for what was the foreseeable future. It was fascinating to witness my own, and others, instinctive reaction to this huge shift in routine. We scrubbed our houses spotless, reignited the job search, cleared out our wardrobes to sell our clothes and launched into intensive fitness regimes. Future concepts began to be rustled up by the business-savvy; social media accounts rose to attention with claims of “secrets to productivity at the home” and opinion pieces on this “new normal”. All the while publications such as The Times were curating material with “The lockdown status symbol: abs” as its headline. Naturally, the pit of anxiety began to circulate amongst my friends and family that we were not utilising the global standstill effectively.

Pops: “most of us have realised how busy our lives were before this – it’s hard to be expected to go from 100 to 0 overnight. There isn’t direct pressure, but I think it’s a little like when you clear a day off to do something: sometimes I think we can intimidate ourselves with this expectation, and on days like this I’ve barely written anything until I stopped trying to. So, if lockdown is a larger scale version of this, and all your friends are saying “I bet you’re writing loads of music” etc. I can see why a pressure could be perceived.”

The urge to overachieve, even in times of global crisis, is reflective of Britain’s productive culture. The direct and wicked humour of our beloved memes only ring true: “lockdown is the closest thing most millennials will get to retirement”. The concept of the hustle has always been a convincing pressure, an emotional bully where our self-worth is often reduced to our levels of productivity. What Anne Helen Peterson describes as the “Burnout Generation”, where our lives are an endless “to-do-list”. Insert then, the rapid decline from this to a historical change in behavioural patterns with the introduction of isolation, and social distancing. Certainly, it doesn’t help when The Times encouraged harmful doses of venomous media, which distorted our perception of what lockdown should look like; shaming its readers into perceived failure if they’re not gearing up towards a “Corona six pack”. Consumerism hadn’t become delinquent but instead moved with the times, the current trend having shifted focus to overpriced tracksuits.

Pops: “However, I’ve also felt like there’s a been a real culture of honesty amongst my friends that create – no one I’ve seen is trying to make their lockdown look better than it is, people seem to be more mindful in general…so I’ve not felt any pressure from anyone other than from myself when I’ve binged too much on films. It’s important to remember that this isn’t some sabbatical for us – yes, it’s a time of confinement and less daily distractions, but there’s something fragile and heartbreaking going on around us and we can’t expect to feel inspired or super proactive with all this uncertainty about. Yes, SOME people may come out with albums of material, but it’s more important we ALL come out of this as mentally sound and healthy as we can – if chilling achieves this just chill”.

For many, creativity began to replace productivity. We put the hoovers down, held tightly onto the few clothes we hadn’t chucked out, and finally came to the assumption that spending each day searching for work in an economic collapse was borderline insane. Thus, as the coronavirus brought life largely indoors, we found ourselves with little distraction from oneself.

As Pops says, “being isolated or locked down in any way is only ever going to go according to how our mind’s handle it.” And inevitably “a time for a lot of thinking (whether we want to or not)”, and this self-reflection naturally needed an outlet of some form, to make it constructive (as is our natural desire). Hobbies may seem trivial to us in a society where we are valued by our monetary capacity; but actually, it has been remarkable to see a return of people’s genuine interests and authenticity of self. Small businesses have sprouted with meaningful ambition, creatives have established themselves on live streams and collective action has been forwarded with mass social movements.

Pops: “My own personal lockdown in these four walls, has been positive – I’ve had time to rethink about the person I am, how I buy food, my consumption and the services that truly are the backbone of life as we know it – it’s a wakeup call we didn’t know we needed and didn’t have time to see. I’ve been reading again and realized how important reading is for you mentally – your internal monologue, how you write, how you see the world and of course stimulating your imagination in general.”

As long as I have known Pops she has been involved in various creative projects in Manchester. During the lockdown she held a live stream from the local record shop Wilderness Record Store; a two-piece rendition of her band Love Scene for viewers to watch at home. In that blissful moment watching Love Scene, I felt a calming sense of solidarity sparked by the passion from two band members. We both agreed the online world has, for the most part, been an essential mode of connectivity and inspiration during a time of isolation.

Pops: “When you’re singing to your own phone on a stand, it doesn’t give you an idea of how it will be taken on the other side of the lens…I was really pleased people connected with it, and that there were some happy tears from people that we knew and some we didn’t. Once it had aired, I had messages to confirm this was much needed by staff and regulars alike. We had some overwhelmingly beautiful messages – both in the comments section and in my inbox over the couple of days after.”

In so many ways, COVID is something of a process of grief. Within the space of the first mention of the virus, to the weeks that followed thereafter, everything we know and love has been dramatically readjusted. Yet we have adjusted with it. As we pave the way to reinventing the “new normal” we must all seek to find to better tackle what our futures may look like. The need for lockdown, Poppy says, is “appalling if you think about it”. Really, “nothing like this has happened internationally in my or most of our parent’s lifetimes. To see politicians that you have no faith in, make huge, life/death decisions is absolutely nail-biting and to hear about terrible conditions and losses for some people is of course deeply negative.”

Soon, service industries welcome back customers for the first since March and we’ll all – legally – be able to meet friends and colleagues. However, nothing will be quite the same as before as we enter the “new normal”. Although our beloved vendors are reopening, with it comes the newly relaxed rules of one-meter social distancing complimented by masks and gloves; as the new accessories allow us to bumble on with our interpretations of what it means to “stay alert”.

This in itself is an incredible thing to process – and process we are – in whatever capacity we see fit. As we go through a transition of rebirth for the UK, and we find ourselves questioning our very involvement in our flawed political system, it is more than enough to just get through it.

There is much more to see from the culture of creativity that has been born from this pandemic; for Pops and creatives across the UK, their work is testament to the extraordinary capacity for human resilience through unprecedented times – “more like “to be continued” rather than a “game over””.

You can check out Pops’ band Love Scene along with other live streams through their social media.

– Edited by Hannah Tinker @hannahetinker


This article about productivity during lockdown is by Hannah Baldwin, and features in our 2020 coronavirus magazine, which you can read in full here:

Coronavirus magazine front cover

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