It’s the 2nd of April, and Swedish rapper Yung Lean is performing to an audience of thousands from the back of a truck parked in a darkened port. Inside, it’s decorated like the sitting room of an eccentric – dream catchers dangle from a potted tree, and the whole space is bathed in an eerie orange light. Under regular circumstances this would be an interesting gimmick, but the catch is that Lean is doing this completely alone. The only hint of life is when the camera pans outward and we catch a glimpse of a train in the distance – his audience is made up of avid fans who have tuned in on YouTube during a time where live performances might as well be a thing of the past.
In times like these, the music industry appears to be in a position as precarious as ever. With the indefinite shutting of pubs, clubs and a myriad of other venues, all gigs have been cancelled and, perhaps optimistically, rescheduled. For the first time in its 50-year existence, Glastonbury has been completely cancelled in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. World tours have been pulled back, album releases have been delayed and musicians are generally facing a massive, unprecedented bump in the road. Despite this, it appears that regardless of the extremely negative circumstances, musicians are having an opportunity to connect with their fans on far more personal levels than ever before. Instagram’s live function has never seen as much use, with artists of all stripes playing for their followings whether large or small, continuing to relentlessly self-promote and even simply allowing fans to have a glimpse into their personal life – a humanisation of those that may seem unreal at times. Foxing’s frontman Conor Murphy balanced this admirably, with a tender acoustic set in front of a comically placed forest background before he pivoted to playing through Resident Evil 2 on the live-streaming platform Twitch. The impact and widespread use of social media makes once unimaginable possibilities a reality, and in this somehow makes it easier to handle the chaos that is unfolding worldwide. For some, knowing that everyone’s in the same boat, even those you may idolise, is a comforting notion.
Anamanaguchi and American Football have teamed up to provide a complete musical concert inside the space of Minecraft, cleverly named Nether Meant after the alternate dimension found in the game and the infamous American Football song. Potential viewers can either jump into a server and view it through the eyes of their in-game avatar or simply watch the available livestream. Festivals are slowly being replaced by online gatherings with live chat functions, adding a completely new dimension to the live experience. Rather than being disruptive, their opt-in nature instead allows for users to feel a sense of community as they see the reactions of others in real time. This is in the case that it does not degenerate into walls of spam, an event that regularly occurs during streams. One of Reddit’s largest music communities, Indieheads, staged their very own festival with a raft of emo revival heavy-hitters including Remo Drive, Dogleg and Oso Oso. A community made up of volunteer moderators and average users managing to organise an event this impressive would be worth writing about in regular times, but in the middle of a pandemic this becomes a truly excellent endeavour on both the part of the organisers and the artists who took part in it.
With the chances of large social gatherings being allowed in the near future being profoundly unlikely, the power of the internet has never been as important as it is now for allowing musicians to continue furthering their art while simultaneously building rapport with their fanbases. By the time this crisis ends, there will be a veritable archive left behind by these performers that was never there before – and not just typical deep cuts, but material that shows a more intimate side of those we spend hours upon hours listening to than ever before. There is also an argument to be made that this newfound ease of access also removes the potentially prohibitive factors of going to see an artist at an actual venue – with vast amounts of people stuck at home and venues shut tight, properly scheduling to make sure you can see a show is no longer a concern, and with massive amounts of free live shows becoming available to the public through the sheer goodwill of artists, ticket cost is also removed as a potential barrier. While one may argue that they’re not truly the same as a proper gig, they’re the best we can hope for until the shutters come up again and the pints start flowing.
Matthew Derwin – Music Editor