CMU Weekly Editor's Letter

Editor’s Letter: Live for the moment, not for YouTube

By | Published on Friday 9 March 2012

Andy Malt

I saw Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox performing under his solo moniker Atlas Sound once. It was one of the most fantastically boring performances I have ever seen. I only mention this to give you a reference point for my complete turnaround this week. I wish, more than anything, that I’d been at his gig in Minneapolis last Friday night.

The show, by all accounts, had a strange air from the start. Cox arrived on stage wearing a black ski mask, but nonetheless enthralled the crowd with his loop-embellished acoustic songs. But at some point, the mood changed. Someone in the front row shouted out for him to play The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’. Cox obliged, though more so than anyone could have expected.

“The transition was stark and instant”, wrote Sally Hedberg for City Pages. “He employed his looping skills again, picking up different instruments along the way and inviting the openers to join him onstage. But it morphed into something bizarre, an unending cover that rivalled the length of a Phish concert”.

It wasn’t quite “unending”, but Cox did play ‘My Sharona’ continuously for an hour, so I can see how it might have seemed that way. As that familiar riff rolled round and around and around again, Cox invited the requester on stage and ordered him to strip, informing him repeatedly that “this is what happens when you make requests”. He then ranted on a range of topics and dedicated the performance to “the death of folk and the birth of punk”.

I think that sounds brilliant, but Hedberg presented the show as a disaster, where the audience left scared and confused, as if they had watched a man in the throws of some kind of mental breakdown. Those were claims Cox subsequently denied in a 27 minute statement issued by phone to Pitchfork, though that response didn’t entirely help the case for his mental stability.

He began his diatribe: “Horror! Horror! Terror! Suck! Horror! Suck! Terror! Cryptic! Cryptic! Fuck! Shark! Sharks! Horror! Terror! Terror! Fuck! Crap! Terror! Suck! Photoshop! Photoshock! That’s the first section of my statement”.

Pointing out that he was eight songs into a normal Atlas Sound set (ski mask excepted) before the first notes of ‘My Sharona’ rang out, he also said (somewhere in his rant): “It was a very natural show and the people that didn’t like it can suck my dick. They got the full fucking set of emotional fucking sincere whiny white people music. And then they got fucking ‘My Sharona’ as interpreted by Faust. It was like a death trance”.

And that does sound like a pretty balanced show. I’d be happy with that. To be honest, I’d take just the hour of ‘My Sharona’. I don’t want to see bands just running through the songs on their album; I want a gig to be an event, something special that sticks in my mind. I want to see someone drill through the stage. I love it when musicians approach their performances and recordings as totally separate entities – like the complete contrast between Jamie Lidell’s live vocal looping and retro soul recordings.

Those performances are the ones that stand out. They’re the ones that give you a story to tell afterwards. They’re the ones that give you the joy of a collective experience between you and a few hundred other people. Except these days it rarely is between just you and everyone else in the room. Some people there will back out of the here and now experience altogether, choosing instead to save it up for later in the form of a shaky video filmed on a mobile phone, as at least one person did at this week’s Atlas Sound show.

Which takes us back to Cox’s monologue, where he added that the only reason his show was now being presented as such a disaster online was because three clips of it had been posted to YouTube, which allowed outsiders into it, but without the context of the full performance. “It’s unfortunate the narc that videotaped everything didn’t get all the best parts”, he said. “There was this really great chord with harmonic undertones”.

Further more, he continued, most other artists these days don’t have the courage to do something off the wall at a show for fear of it turning up online and making them look like they’re losing they minds. He said: “The saddest thing is that nothing can happen for an audience of 400 people any more. Now it has to be on the internet and it has to be broadcast so widely. That intimidates people. Maybe that’s the issue that makes people want to be more inhibited onstage. It makes people more self-censoring. That’s the reason people think I’m a nutjob, because I don’t give a fuck who reposts or how I sound”.

Whether other artists really are increasingly playing it safe for fear of what will show up online, I don’t know. I do know that a lot of performers, from across the entertainment industry, not just music, hate their material showing up on the internet like this, particularly if they weren’t at their best, or if they tried something a bit experimental that didn’t work. Or sometimes just because the sound and picture quality of those videos is never very good.

How many performers feel this way and on what grounds I can’t say for certain, but what I can tell you with absolute certainty is how much I, as an audience member, also dislike the phone filming phenomenon. I hate it when those bright screens rise up in the air while I’m trying to watch a gig. Partly it’s because they’re a distraction that pulls me out of the action, especially if someone plays a hit, which half the audience seem to feel the need to photograph or video. Partly it’s because those people are missing out on the experience of a live performance.

Some things should only exist from the point at which they start to the moment when they end. Some things are meant to be temporary. Gigs are one of those things. Whenever someone near me at a show whips out their phone to take a photo or record a video I want to grab them and scream: “This is happening right now!”

I mean, when do people watch these videos and look at these pictures anyway? I can’t imagine when you would. The motivation can’t always be YouTube hits, so what is it? I once sat at the back of a venue and watched someone take photographs zoomed in on the singer on stage at such a distance that they were nothing more than a blob. But that person took those photographs for the entire set. Clearly they liked the artist, but they experienced almost nothing of their show. Neither did I, obviously, but that’s beside the point.

So, if we can just agree that everyone will stop photographing and videoing gigs on their phones, then that’s all sorted. The story will always be better than the picture anyway. I probably enjoyed the story of this Atlas Sound show more than I would have enjoyed actually being there. But in my head it is now the best gig of all time. And I have absolutely no desire to taint that by watching some wobbly video shot from halfway across the room.

A man in a ski mask played ‘My Sharona’ for an hour. Just think about that. And don’t go anywhere near YouTube.

Andy Malt
Editor, CMU

This week’s podcast makes full use of the ‘explicit’ tag it carries on iTunes, it featuring a few sustained bursts of swearing. So you’ve been warned. In my defence, we did discuss something which, if you’ve read the above, you will know annoys me quite a lot. There is also some shouting, but that’s mainly when Chris explained how the three-strikes system of deterring illegal file-sharing works. It’s often referred to as the ‘graduated response’ system, though perhaps in future we should call it the ‘graduated shouting’ system.

Anyway, as the more astute amongst you may have ascertained, on this week’s podcast we discuss BT and TalkTalk’s second failure to force parliament to rethink the Digital Economy Act, and Bradford Cox’s recent dissection of ‘My Sharona’. As well as that, we talked about licensing gripes of various kinds made by RadioCentre boss Andrew Harrison at the Westminster Media Forum, The Wanted and One Direction’s non-feud, and Atari Teenage Riot’s mega-feud with Sony.

Listen to it all here later this weekend.

So, the Digital Economy Act – you all remember that, right? It’s that slightly controversial law that, in part, makes provisions for the setting up of a three-strikes anti-piracy system in the UK. As yet, that system isn’t up and running, because there are still lots of questions about quite how it’s all going to work. But while OfCom tries to sort it all out, BT and TalkTalk have been trying to get the whole law sent back to parliament for a rethink. Last year their first attempt to get the courts to do a judicial review of the Act was refused, and this week it was refused again at appeal. Both ISPs say they are now considering their options.

Elsewhere in UK law, the Live Music Bill became the Live Music Act, removing some of the bureaucracy attached to gigs in smaller venues, much of which was introduced by the 2003 Licensing Act. Meanwhile, the Scottish Parliament is introducing new rules which add more bureaucracy to gigs in small venues North of the border. Silly Scotland. Artists in Edinburgh have planned a day of protest on the issue next month.

Earlier this week it was rumoured that digital aggregators The Orchard and IODA were planning to merge. Then the very next day, as if by magic, The Orchard and IODA announced plans to merge. The merged company will operate under The Orchard’s name and will be run by The Orchard CEO Brad Nevin. Some people might say that sounds like more of a takeover than a merger. Not me though.

Elsewhere in digital news, virtual DJing website reportedly has a licensing deal in place with EMI, with others from Sony and Universal expected shortly, leaving just Warner and the independents for the digital venture to chum up with. Meanwhile gig recommendations service Songkick announced that it had secured another £6.3 million in investment in order to “continue to innovate”. There were also other bits of news relating to Spotify, VEVO, Google, and Audiogalaxy, which you can read about here.

There’s nothing like a good musical feud, so we were pleased when The Wanted apparently started one with One Direction, saying that while they are serious musicians, 1D are just a bunch of pretty-faced no-hopers. But then Max George of The Wanted said they’d been misquoted and that there was no beef at all, which is no fun whatsoever.

Thankfully, other artists out there in more alternative circles do have gripes they want to get off their chests. Ska punk band Streetlight Manifesto asked fans not to buy any of their records because they weren’t happy with the idea of their label, Victory Records, earning any money from their work. And Atari Teenage Riot revealed that they had donated royalties earned from a Sony advert sync to an organisation which provides legal support to arrested members of hacktivist group Anonymous in retaliation for something the electronics giant did back in 1999.

This week we launched a new series of articles providing tips and insights for people who work in the music industry, beginning with some intellectual property basics. As well as that, we had all the usual features, which this week culminated in an interview with Frankie Rose, a playlist from Soap&Skin, Eddy Temple-Morris looking back through the history of drum n bass, Miley Cyrus debating science and religion with her Twitter followers in the Beef Of The Week, and our daily festival line-up updates.

Over in the Approved column we had new music from 2562, Lilacs & Champagne, Bleeding Heart Narrative and Bernice. Plus elsewhere in our news coverage we had streams, downloads and videos from artists including Björk, Bobby Womack, Beach House, O Children and OFF!