Thumbing through the sermon of clickbait evangelists, every chapter purporting to herald the century's most dazzling young innovators, I feel increasingly pressured to establish what new music is worth my precious time. I know what I’m supposed to be excited about, which is everything: Kendrick b-sides, YouTube mash-ups, Sade reissues, witch house, Simpsonwave, K-pop, grindcore, Mark Kozelek, the whole shooting match. It's exhausting.
There’s a lot of conjecture lately about the way in which we can consume music and, by proxy, the way in which we consume as a society in general. The consensus seems to be that duration is flattened by expedience. Albums can no longer be sold without an advance mp3 download of the ‘single’ (a concept that now necessitates inverted commas), and the rest follows: TV, food, sex, romance, friendship and so forth are now perishable items, to be swallowed and excreted before any digestive period is allowed to interrupt the process. None of this is particularly new in a larger critical sense, of course, but music's constantly shifting modes of consumption render it unique within the discourse.
Meanwhile – and I don’t believe this has been fully realised yet – the cultural gatekeepers, those who formerly dictated the material itself, now dictate the value of our expediency. Those old school writers, the NME lifers rendered impotent by the internet age, are finding new life in telling us what constitutes novelty today: the millennial battle cry of first, first, please god, first. Stereogum runs a 'Premature Evaluation' feature the minute someone can cough out the cultural touchstones of an album, because who cares what some dude in Brooklyn thinks about a record that everyone's been listening to for three days now? The increasing number of high-profile artists choosing to beyoncé their new records has had an oddly democratising effect on review culture, and now the only thing hype journalists can trade on is the fact that they got in there a split-second before you.
What's left? Only the cracks in the mirror. Only the magic of the unpracticed, the unplanned, the unprepared; an experience that happens all at once and never again. The accidents that can’t be scheduled by record companies or Hootsuite. All we have left of the night are the moments that happen to us before they are sanitised by retail.
I remember walking into the Cardiff Barfly about ten years ago, stamped in early for the club night by Stacey, only to find some band of nobodies finishing off their set. Who were those nobodies? The Cribs? Arctic Monkeys? (Not quite: the night Alex Turner's lot were playing in 2005, I left for Clwb Ifor Bach, the unexpected queue proving unreasonable.) It was The Organ, a Canadian post-punk band who were subsequently annexed by indie history as ‘cult favourites’ of a scene that was just getting tired of miserable kids writing songs about car crashes.
Everything about them was, in the best possible sense, a stroke of luck. I walked in on “Steven Smith” being inexpertly thrashed out by a gang of rookies, poses perfectly unpracticed, chords perfectly half-fretted, hair perfectly sheveled. Nothing happened that night to change music forever, or even for a week. But they spat their fucking heart out to a room full of ten or twelve kids, still smoking at the bar then, and while I'd like to think that everyone present went on to form a band, or start a club night, or spew out half-baked essays on the perils of consumerism for Bristol music blogs, I suspect everyone carried on their night more or less the same.
We talk about the fear of missing out, but why? Not because we are afraid that we will miss out on something incredible, but because we have been trained to be afraid of missing out on something valuable, to be elsewhere for a commodifiable experience that we will be unable to relay afterwards - or at the time. At some point, every one of you will have been subjected to a grainy video of Arcade Fire playing some cattle shed in Newcastle, the song a barely audible thrum punctuated by a young woman screaming every three seconds. "Look," they implore you, "I was there!" The performance is secondary to the cultural cachet of the event, £45's worth of Facebook likes and shares. Just think about the way that word ‘share’ has been co-opted by social media: it suggests something that should belong to a wider audience, not of friends, but of contemporaries, co-workers complicit in a narrative that values shares like a stock market.
My experience of catching The Organ that night remains ecstatically unbridled to any rock hagiography, any important discussions of what it meant to be half-drunk and alive in 2005. It will not even be considered as a forgotten aside from that time. Stuart Maconie will never be a talking head on Channel 4 discussing where he was when it took place. It belongs to me, and perhaps a few others. And that is why live music – and not in any bonus-disc, bootleg, corporate reappropriation of the term – remains vital to me. Because, at its purest distillation, it retains the opportunity to be unsold.