Which up-and-coming artist will play a humble set in Your Kitchen? Will your favourite band headline The Living Room? Has the online gig bestowed the power of the dream festival line-up into our hands? Or could a weak wifi connection be the new “Sorry, no the night pal”?
The feeling of attending a gig is an unparalleled experience. The sticky floors, whirlpool mosh pits, and audiences drunkenly singing along to their favourite songs are things you just can't replicate. With online gigs taking centre stage, how will the music scene survive in a post-Covid climate?
To some, online concerts may seem pointless. Why bother researching and paying for content when there are millions of free recordings easily accessible on YouTube? Granted, online music can never replace the unforgettable sensation of live music pulsing through your body. However, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the value of kindness, self-care, and solidarity.
The emergence of such online events has continued to provide support, enjoyment and a sense of normality in a world that has been turned upside down. According to the Office for National Statistics, 96% of UK households currently have internet access. Theoretically, this could mean that now almost everyone can be part of virtual experiences like the Manchester Pride Festival. Mark Fletcher, the Manchester Pride chief executive, has emphasised the importance of virtual events. He explains he is “proud that [we] are still in a position to deliver this much needed celebration of LGBTQ+ life” through the streaming of live music performances, archived shows, as well as workshops hosted on YouTube.
Online gigs like this have the potential to reach out to new demographics whilst also creating a much needed supportive and familiar environment during these unfamiliar and trying times. Not only can people attend virtual concerts hosted from locations around the world without the trouble of travelling, but they can enjoy it from the comfort of their homes.
Yet it remains unclear if virtual music will become a prominent part of festivals in the future. Whilst virtual concerts are innovative in nature, they can’t begin to fill the gap that the pandemic has left in the music industry. Local music venues have been hit hard. Despite pleas from several famous musicians for the government to act faster the lack of business has caused irreversible damage. The £1.57bn grant pledged by the government to the arts sector may not fix the repercussions for independent venues.
These independent venues and the underground music scene in Glasgow is what makes Glasgow’s music so diverse, current, and vibrant. Three local music venues, who are well known for supporting the underground music industry, hosted a weekend-long virtual festival towards the end of June this year. Pop Mutations fused together a mix of international and local music and performative streams into one event. The Flying Duck, Mono, and Stereo were there to represent both undiscovered and world-renowned acts after the plug was pulled so suddenly on an integral part of Glaswegian culture.
Although many events over the last few months have been advertised as free, there is an underlying issue with the growth of such gigs. It is important to recognise that being able to access online music content is a privilege that not everyone has. From outdated computers to a lack of equipment, many homes (both locally and globally) simply do not have the financial capabilities to access music festivals online. For those who share a computer with other family members, accessing virtual festivals may not be something they can prioritise and find time for.
As lockdown restrictions have been eased, socially distanced events have been quick to get underway. It’s another appealing alternative to live concerts. Sam Fender’s recent Newcastle gig set Twitter alight, as a viral picture depicted the audience seated in their own squared-off areas. Many users praised the chance to sit during an outdoor gig and compared it to a personal “VIP experience” with friends. Others commented on more serious advantages afforded by the distanced gig, such as the decreased chance of groping during gigs and the user-friendliness to those with crowd anxiety.
It can’t be denied that these advantages are a huge attraction of online concerts too. Online gigs are a great way to keep a positive vibe going through these uncertain times. At its best, it’s about having the opportunity to share the experience with people from all over the world – all whilst sipping on a cheap, cold cider, rather than an expensive, lukewarm beverage from the venue bar.
But could these gigs be the future of a new music era? I hope not. The virtual experience will never be able to do live concerts justice: standing in a room full of strangers that, after a few hours of singing along with the artist, feel like they’ve known each other for years. This is a connection that is too sacred to be replicated through a screen. I do believe, however, that the idea of online concerts shouldn’t be dissolved as soon as it’s safe for live concerts to proceed. Live music, concerts, and gigs should reclaim the spotlight when guidelines permit that it is safe to do so. This isn’t to say that there is no room for growth in the way we all access music.
Perhaps the online gig should remain as the support band, providing a musical taster before the main act.