The observation that the world is fucked and terrifying isn’t a particularly new one, but it’s a viewpoint that has become more unbearably intense recently.
But among the horror and despair of tory austerity politics as a means to combat a generation defining pandemic, one movement has developed arms and legs, and is walking the aisles of our newsfeeds silently between the tiktoks and sourdough recipes.
Of course I am talking about the quarantine livestream gig, which I reckon will be a defining aspect of culture in the time of COVID (when future generations look back and weep).
My first experience with this fledgling genre was Weyesblood’s stream in late March, which came about around the time people started doing zoom quizzes in funny hats and Hinge was telling me that I could still date like I was Phil Dunphy in that episode of Modern Family (what a reference).
As much as I love Weyesblood, there were some kinks in that stream that were common in these early days, the worst being that instagram live would periodically make her look like a character from CounterStrike: Source played on the lowest settings.
However, despite the setbacks, the music was available and it was a beautiful distraction that has preceded the absolute avalanche of livestreams to come.
Before COVID, livestream gigs were practical jokes played by millionaire rappers to reveal versions of their songs that would never be played again, only to be preserved in a 40-second screen-recording on youtube.
Now, the genre is quite expansive with its range stretching from pub-singers covering the .midi classics, to the quarantunes-esque youtube fundraiser and the dnb-mix-in-the-sun streamed from a Manchester estate.
What is striking about the growth of livestreaming is how naturally it filled a need to keep live music going despite the lockdown. It seemed like a shift that needed to happen at one point, as more and more small venues shut their doors. The platform of the internet as a performance space had previously felt like a periphery opinion, but now it’s the only choice we have.
However I can foresee a time coming soon, where nobody will have any money to go out to venues, and bands likewise will not want to have the stress of selling enough tickets to help the venue break even.
So online venues and instagram pages may have to be a temporary way to help musicians get back on their feet, which means we could see donation buttons meant for venues possibly morph into donation buttons to help the actual artists playing the music.
After all, if it works for gaming streamers, then why not for musicians?
Besides this very dystopian outlook of the future, I think there is something to be said for people’s palettes changing regarding streaming live performance.
After this all ends (that is, IF it ever ends), I think the livestream gig will serve as a way to test material, and get live practice to a reliable audience for free. This is to say, I can imagine this as a way for people to play a set that they want to practice to an audience who wants to see early material, without spending hard earned money.
This could also be seen as an opportunity for new bands to get early exposure (a word detested among all creatives) and build a reputation, so that they can avoid the smoke-break room emptying scenario when they come to play IRL.
Plus here’s a dad laugh button, so it is possible to simulate the back-of-the-room middle aged man who laughs at all the shite onstage banter.
Saying that however, I can’t help but feel that allocating new bands to this online purgatory until they’re popular enough to play a real venue feels like missing the point of putting yourself out there. After all, are you really feeling the new band experience if you aren’t playing an unrehearsed set to an empty pub/venue?
What I am trying to express is the hope that this medium of streaming continues, as a possibility to empower under confident performers and negate unpredictable disasters. Likewise, I pray that it in no way becomes a means that outperforms the small-to-medium venue in terms of reach and audience.
I think the last thing those places need is more competition.
However for now, much like the Blitzkrieg Spirit that the nationalists are adamant we retain in these times, the livestream concert is quintessentially doing the most with what we have.