Broken Circuit (part two)

Here’s a brief exchange that took place in a German venue on the recent Bedlam Six tour. I think it goes a long way towards summing up one of the crucial differences between our attitude to music in the UK and its counterpart in continental Europe:

Promoter: Thanks for playing, I really enjoyed your show.

Me: It was a pleasure… amazing to perform on a stage that once hosted Nirvana.

Promoter: Huh?

Me: I only just found out that Nirvana played here.

Promoter: Oh yeah, but that was ages ago…

What is surprising (and refreshing) is the man’s utter confusion at me attaching such significance to some historic moment of comparative irrelevancy.

And he is right to be confused. His job is to organize successful concerts and carry on doing so long into the future – I imagine he hopes that I share a similar motivation as a performer. The fact that my footprints are now mingled with those of Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl had absolutely no bearing on the ninety minute show that had just taken place – I had not been endowed with greater stamina by the gig-spirit A-List, I was not given extra reserves of strength and agility by the ghosts of my musical ancestry like some noble brave in a Native American folk story. It was just a show that happened to contain all the necessary ingredients that make up a successful live event (see previous post).

My problem? I have been conditioned by the British live music industry to keep one eye on the past.

Which begs the question: How has such a bizarre and restrictive mindset been so effortlessly coupled with an economy that deals with the intrinsic value of the immediate and the unique?

The music industries have never been talked about as much as they are today, both the internet and traditional news sources are humming with discussion about future distribution methods, copyright law and all sorts of other hot topics. The live sector, however, is wallowing in nostalgia, venues are booking themselves out to new bands as though they were theme park rides or role-play games. In the “how to get a gig here” section of most venue websites rookie bands are enticed with tales of how “The Clash played here” (London Borderline), “Blondie played here” (Barfly), “Radiohead played here” (Manchester Academy 3) and if you can get fifty people to come along then, by Jupiter, you can play here too!

We’re now in the second decade of the twenty-first century, it’s over ten years since mp3 downloads irreversibly changed the way we think about music and this is how we sell the live experience? This overwhelmingly huge area of the market – the Yang to the recording industry’s Yingare we REALLY supposed to believe that THIS is the best way to do business?

Here’s an example taken from the very same street as last week’s bridge-burner: the bar/club next door (in which pretty much every Manchester musician I know has at some point had the privilege of playing to the sound guy before being harangued by the promoter for not bringing more friends along) has a marketing spiel almost solely based on the fact that about twenty years ago Shaun Ryder pointed a gun at Tony Wilson in there. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve already applied for blue plaque status. I mean… REALLY?

Now let’s zoom out again.

You are probably aware that the UK has recently become the fourth largest music market in the world, after a report published by the IFPI last month announcing that its previous ranking of third place (behind the USA and Japan) has been taken by Germany.

Coincidence?

FIRST PUBLISHED APRIL 2011

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