On The Viability of Live Music
When’s the last time you went to a live music show? It must have been months because of COVID. Do you remember when you were corralled into a concrete warehouse with hundreds of other participants, allegedly for the benefit of “enjoying it together” but most definitely to maximize the amount of dollars gained with each body that enters the venue? Do you remember the bars that lined the sides of this space, ready to sell you bargain bin alcohol for top dollar, but not too ready—you’ll still have to wait ten, twenty minutes behind a line of others just so you can get your fix. Lines! Lines outside leading in. Lines entering and getting to the stage. Horizontal lines, gaps to fill in. Lines to the bar. For the shorter, sight lines to the stage. Find your place to “enjoy it together”, but line up to do so.
Some genres even adapted themselves to the cattle drive that is so much of modern live music. Metal, punk, anything rough and harsh—audiences smash themselves against each other, as if seeking validation by breaking down personal boundaries with strangers. Festival dance music! Unless you stand a mile away from the stage, you’ll needlessly bounce against fellow patrons. And again, this is about “enjoying it together”, right? Not some desperate attempt to block out the vagaries of overpopulation, to be okay with the masses of people that pile on each other so they can get a better view of some light show?
Why should I apply cynicism to such a fun pastime as going to live music shows? What, do I not like artists getting paid, venues patronized, and “enjoying it together”? Do I just want all live entertainment personnel put out on the street? I got a little peeved about a so-called “movement” for the entertainment industry in the United Kingdom, a movement sparked by COVID’s near-destruction of all commercial shared spaces.
“#WeAreViable”, seeking to open up live entertainment by working with government officials, non-profits, mental health specialists, and doctors. Reasonable enough.
Then the stinger in #WeAreViable’s manifesto: “Imagine a world without live entertainment.” The horror! What can we do without the weekly cattle drives?
You know how your nephew wants to do his flute recital at home because school recitals are cancelled? Well, here’s how #WeAreViable can help: First, they will design a COVID-19 Event Safety Management Plan (ESMP), which incorporates Risk Assessment & Method Statements (RAMS). Once the ESMP and included RAMS are established, #WAV will go through tabletop exercises with Public Health England, MPs (medical professionals I assume), and local Safety Advisory Groups. They will conduct a test event attempt to scale up a previously 100-person live music event to a 1000-person event. Then they will aim for 10,000, which they think will be even more attainable with rapid COVID testing administered through partner organizations. “All stakeholders will be party to a transparent way of working,” so your nephew better take a few days off school to attend the test events.
This is all to “preserve our incredible culture for generations to come.” You see, our culture is now held up by massive live entertainment events and acronyms and collaborations by local, state, and federal authorities—how could you think that culture is simple? Your nephew wouldn’t even be playing the flute if it weren’t for millions of dollars of art-funding within the education sector—so he needs to put up or shut up with what makes culture keep spinning—and viable.
Bedroom producers and pop icons alike are bemoaning the state of the “live entertainment industry” as if it were the be all, end all of livelihoods for artists. And through their efforts, they might succeed in forcing such a fantasy into a reality, shoving art and entertainment further down the commercial hole it’s been stuck in since the advent of recorded music. #WeAreViable asserts that our apparently valuable “culture” is reliant on mass-scale live entertainment experiences, and without it we would be sent back to the dark ages where hobbyist guitarists played for their friends and neighbors. Where individuals were satisfied expressing themselves with art without the chasing the carrot of human scale that can catapult their enjoyment of performance into a “career”.
I only made the effort to check out this hashtag-movement because it used a keyword that should be taken much more seriously than it has been so far: viability. Viability is in fact an opposite descriptor of the “live entertainment industry”, which must constantly race and one-up itself to attract larger audiences, using up more resources, personnel, and artists to fuel its needless growth. Whereas “live entertainment” is easily viable because it can be organized and conducted in one’s home for one’s friends and neighbors, the “live entertainment industry” is wholly unviable because it requires so many disparate resources that a single pandemic can topple it. You cannot call yourselves viable when your are propped up by so many arbitrary governmental, social, and financial statutes that can so swiftly fail you when a situation turns.
I am a huge fan of dance music, of DJing, of dancing, but none of these loves of mine are predicated on concrete warehouses, the “live entertainment industry”, ESMPs or RAMS or MPs or Public Health Officials or viruses, because the spirit of dance music is built on the ability to make anyone move, anywhere—friends and family and neighbors in homes and basements and backyards and forests and deserts. It is a sad day when protecting our culture “for generations to come” means to protect the industries that have sapped all spontaneity, all Nature from music and art. A tangible solution for “live entertainment experiences”: the home.