ILMC 2024: London Calling artists on the highs and lows of playing live

Acts performing at this year’s London Calling showcase at the International Live Music Conference have spoken to NME about the highs and lows of playing live in the current climate, and shared advice for rising acts about taking to the stage.

The event, showcasing unsigned music across the capital, is set to return for its second year tomorrow (Wednesday, February 28) as a core element of the ILMC. With over 1,000 agents, promoters and live music professionals in town, ILMC offers a platform for artists to perform in front of a potentially career-changing crowd.

Across five intimate venues across Soho – The 100 Club, 21Soho, The Lower Third, Phoenix Arts Club and The Spice of Life – London Calling boasts a stacked line-up of August Charles, b1no*, Babymorocco, Backroad Gee, Emilia Tarrant, Forgetting The Future, freekind, Gia Ford, Hyphen, Lala Hayden, Luna Morgenstern, LYVIA, MAVICA, Noah and the Loners, Nxdia, The New Eves and YIIGAA.


With the ILMC hosting talks, workshops, mentor sessions, special events and more during based around the business and culture of touring, festival and live entertainment, three of the acts appearing at London Calling caught up with NME to share some insight about their life on the road.

Laura Hayden of Anteros performs at O2 Academy Leeds (Photo by Andrew Benge/Redferns)
Laura Hayden of Anteros performs at O2 Academy Leeds (Photo by Andrew Benge/Redferns)

Taking to the stage at the Phoenix Arts Club, Lala Hayden said that she was looking forward to the next step of her “surreal” journey after taking an “indefinite break” as frontwoman of previous band Anteros. 

“I put an EP out last year and thought that would be it, but then slowly stuff has been falling into place,” Hayden told NME. “We’ll be putting more new music out this year and now we’re booking more festivals and shows. I’m feeling really, really lucky that I get to do this and that things are happening naturally.”

With her experience of touring the world with Anteros, Hayden said that she felt especially grateful to be able to exist as an artist given all the financial challenges challenges facing artists and the pressures of grassroots venues closing.

“A lot of emerging artists can fall into the trap of spending a lot of money on touring logistics,” Hayden told NME. “We were really lucky [with Anteros] in that we’d never book a gig that we’d have to lose money on. We’d always make sure we could cover costs.


“There are things that you can do, but you just have to be prepared to budget. Now it’s interesting – in terms of me planning my live show with my solo stuff, I’d have to bring session musicians on board and then the travel would be really expensive. When you spank it all on the first three shows then you’re not going to get to play more gigs. For the live show now it’s just me on stage alone, and we’ve put money behind getting really good mixes on track.”

Hayden added: “Especially with social media, you always have to put on this front that things are going fine. There are a lot of people working other jobs in order to keep doing this. For me, it’s about being really conscious and as real as possible with that. Ultimately, the goal is to do this for as long as possible. I can’t do that if I’m then owing loads of money or constantly at a loss.”

[embedded content]

Hayden also spoke of the health impact of touring – urging artists to focus on giving themselves time to recover as they play.

“I find it really interesting that, especially when you’re up-and-coming, most venues pay you in beer, alcohol and crisps,” she said. “You’re like, ‘Can I maybe get an apple or something that’s not gonna fuck me up more?’ Since Brexit and post-pandemic, touring really is more of a slog than it used to be, but I’ve learned a lot. The first time I went on tour I got laryngitis by night three and still had two weeks to go.

As well as taking time to ensure that her diet and sleep pattern were in check, Hayden said that the most important thing was feeling like touring was a “sustainable” lifestyle so that playing live wouldn’t suffer.

“What matters the most is that time you’re on stage,” she said. “That’s your showcase. I’ve prepped everything around that, basically. It’s not as fun as staying out all night, but it’s not sustainable when you’re touring to do that all the time anyway.”

Looking forward to her upcoming live shows as a solo artist, Hayden described the experience as “really fucking fun and really liberating”.

“My solo EP [‘Girl Becomes’] is almost like a homecoming – about coming into womanhood with this concept of being the girl who would dance in front of a mirror while singing into a hairbrush,” she said. “It’s the thing that none of us ever want to be seen as being, so for me being on stage is really cathartic now. I get to be all the things that used to make me feel insecure. All of my crazy can come out and it’s actually fine and fun. If that encourages other people to let go of the mask a bit, then maybe it can bring out more of them.

“This is a lot more free and loose [than my time with the band]. It’s a bit more scary sometimes. I have to create the vibe on stage and hope for that ripple effect regardless of how many people are in the audience.”

Rising Sheffield artist Gia Ford will be celebrating the release of recent single ‘Poolside’ ahead of a tour with Marika Hackman and a busy summer of festivals by making a stop at London Calling with a set at the iconic 100 Club.

With her alt-folk songs taking on more of “rocky and punk-y energy” on stage thanks to her live band, Ford said her shows saw her “disappear into her own world” adding: “The songs are stories in themselves, so I’d like to be able to transport people into those tales as much as possible.”

Gia Ford and her band attend Choose Love Live! at The Jazz Cafe (Photo by David M. Benett/Jed Cullen/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Gia Ford and her band attend Choose Love Live! at The Jazz Cafe (Photo by David M. Benett/Jed Cullen/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Ford agreed that the most challenging part of touring in 2024 was “the cost and deciding what is the best thing to spend your money on”.

“For me and the band, the more shows we play the better – not only because it’s amazing and so much fun, but it’s such a key component to getting your music in front of people,” Ford told NME. “It’s a bit of a shot in the dark and you have to trust yourself and the people you’re working with to choose those gigs and the right moment, the right audience to put your music in front of.”

“I’m honoured to be able to do this at all because a lot of people would kill to do so. I’m super grateful for it, but you can’t afford to say yes to everything. That’s the main struggle so far.”

The singer-songwriter said that she’d “always known that she would do this and try to make it happen in any way that she could”, and that artists should seize every opportunity they could.

“I haven’t given myself any other option,” she admitted. “You have to make room for that; if you want to do something enough then you just do. You can’t second-chance it. Being the age you are and having the excitement that you do in the moment, you have to take a leap and go for it.

“It’s so fun and a big shot of life to share that moment with the crowd and your band. Being nervous is good for certain reasons, but fear is definitely a bit of a fork in the road for no reason. You’re missing out on such an incredible experience.”

Having come up through Sheffield’s vibrant live scene – and taking a moment to shout out the venue Sidney & Matilda and local band Minds Idle – Ford said that she’d come to learn that live music was the driving force behind why she does what she does.

“It’s such a thrill,” she added. “There’s nothing quite like sharing music with people directly in front of you – especially in this day and age of Instagram and streaming. It’s one of last vestiges of how music has always been.

“Walk the path of the people that you love. Playing live is so important.”

[embedded content]

Having played at The O2, Wireless, Reading & Leeds, Sundown festival, The Roundhouse, KOKO, and beyond, Backroad Gee’s next show will be performing for London Calling at The Lower Third. After featuring on two tracks on Dizzee Rascal‘s ‘Don’t Take It Personal’ – released earlier this month – now Gee was looking forward to a packed 2024.

“This year is treating me well, bro – I can’t complain,” he told NME. “I’m working hard. It’s looking major, man. We’ve gotta hella music on the way. It’s indescribable. You’ve just got to hear it to believe it. I’m working on other stuff outside of music too. There’s a lot to come.”

Looking ahead to his London Calling show, Gee said that fans should “expect energy”.

“Expect something you haven’t seen before and a good time,” he promised. “You won’t be disappointed with what I bring to the table.”

BackRoad Gee performs at O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire on November 24, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Burak Cingi/Redferns)
BackRoad Gee performs at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on November 24, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Burak Cingi/Redferns)

Having pulled off some landmark gigs and guest appearances, Gee admitted that his life as a performer hadn’t been without its challenges – but they were all worth it in the end.

“It’s always hard,” he said. “Everything you do in life is hard. Even you’re at the heights and it’s going well, there will always be barriers hitting you. It’s about how you overcome and rise. The industry is a tough nut to crack. Without getting too deep, you’ve just got to have a civil head, keep firm and keep going – you’ve got to believe in yourself and your end goal.”

As for advice for other would-be artists considering their first foray into live music, Gee added: “Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you really want it then you’ve got to work for it. There was a big gap for me to get to this stage, but I wouldn’t be here if I gave up the fight.”

[embedded content]

NME acts as a media partner of London Calling and the 2024 ILMC alongside the Music Venue Trust (MVT), Mad Cool Festival, Ticketmaster and more.

The ILMC, which began in 1989, describes itself as “the first-ever dedicated gathering of leading figures involved in the world’s concert industry, many of whom had only ever spoken on the phone”.

Visit here for tickets and more information.