I'm gutted for all those artists told to go away and retrain | Nosheen Iqbal

People in the devastated music and arts industry desperately need more support

I find it difficult to believe that Maxim from the Prodigy, the most famous person to come from my home town if you don’t count one of Erasure, has described his new work as a mixed-media visual artist to be an exciting “venturing into soft furnishings, interiors [and] brand collaborations”.

The rapper from one of Britain’s most pioneering dance acts, formed at a rave 30 years ago this week, has genuinely developed a side hustle in designing fine bone china. It’s just what Rishi Sunak would have wanted. A lifetime of touring stadiums and inciting moral panics swapped for a pandemic-friendly career in cushion design. This from an artist who has sold an estimated 20m albums and influenced a generation of dance music. But what happens to everyone else?

I feel especially gutted for friends in music and nightlife. An entire industry seems to have been discarded by a government unable to recognise its worth to our cultural and social survival. The chancellor’s advice to retrain and find a new job, as if most artists don’t already hold down another gig to fulfil their passion projects, would sting even if there were jobs to retrain for. To launch an inept national careers service alongside it is just painful.

Sidenote: I took the national skills and careers assessment to see what I might be eligible for after spending all my working career in journalism and it told me I was best off retraining as a fairground worker. I mean, I guess the hours are unsociable, the industry is in decline and there are a lot of cheap thrills to be had, so maybe it is a fun house mirror of newspapers?

It’s more convincing than telling a successful DJ friend to consider taking up boxing (true) and an actor friend to make a career in microbrewing (also true).

The financial case for the arts and culture industry is well rehearsed, so I’ll barely bother to lay out the stall except to say the sector contributed £10.8bn to the UK economy last year. But I’m here for the emotional case. Culture is what keeps us sane, happy, thriving, inspired. Loved ones, yes. But music, film, books, TV, art: how would this year – any year – have been without them?

The irony is that a musician has had so much training already, says Stephen Bass, who runs PRAH arts foundation and Moshi Moshi records. “Why is the UK held in any esteem in the world? It’s music and culture that spreads. That’s why wealthy international students come and study in London, not because of Canary Wharf.”

My Japanese app won’t let me give up

The Duolingo site on a tablet.
The Duolingo site on a tablet. Photograph: M4OS Photos/Alamy Stock Photo

“Hi, Noshi! Got five minutes? Time for a tiny Japanese lesson!” My planned trip to Japan this year was abandoned long ago, but my language “tutor” still won’t leave me alone. Fed up with sending me alerts on my phone that get ignored, Duolingo has doubled down and now keeps emailing me “friendly” reminders to make me come good on my promise to learn basic phrases. But I can’t tell who is more useless at structuring sentences in a new language: me, with a brain past its sponge-like peak, or an app obsessed with teaching me all the farm animals before we even get to “hello”.

I very much doubt that anyone has successfully learned a language by app alone and yet, here I am, a sucker for a gimmick, unable to delete it and let go. I will make it to Japan one day. Best, I think, to keep that hope alive through my hopeless relationship with a robot.

• Nosheen Iqbal is an Observer columnist


Nosheen Iqbal

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