I don’t know about you, but thumbing through the sermon of click bait evangelists, I feel like it’s harder than ever to establish what new music is worth my precious, 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, kit and caboodle. I just don’t think it’s sustainable.
There’s an awful lot of conjecture today about the way in which we can consume music and, I guess, the way in which we consume 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.
Meanwhile – and I don’t believe this has been fully realised yet – the cultural gate holders, those who formerly dictated the material itself, now dictate the value of our expediency. Those old school writers, the NME lifers who told us what album we should be losing our shit over, are now finding new life in telling us what constitutes novelty today. The only thing we have left are the accidents that can’t be scheduled by record companies. The magic of a moment un-Photoshopped, unplanned, unprepared: capturing a live music experience that happens all at once, and once only.
The only thing we have left is the live music that happens to us before it is sanitised by retail.
I still remember heading to the Cardiff Barfly one Friday night, ready for another identikit set from Mike TV (I swear I could write out his whole weekend playlist for you to this day). I got 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 they 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.
Nonetheless, it was a Damascene moment for me, because it held that precious moment that remains untethered to industry: chance. 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 ideas about the relationship between music and commerce 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 share with our friends. Just look at 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.