So last night The Filthy Spectacula had a gig, first support at a venue in Brick Lane (hipster central, I’m assured) for a slot on a mini UK tour by an Austrian indie rock (their description) band with a first album to promote.
After the fairly red-blooded rock-n-roll atmosphere of the Good Ship in Kilburn, it was actually a little bit of a shock. Firstly, a fair bit of the audience space was taken up with leather sofas. Very nice but not very live gig to my mind unless it’s going to be sort of vocal-lead downtempo jazz or something. Second and much more surprising, almost all the audience stayed seated on those throughout our set, which I think counts as an act of self-control with not just our musical style but us barking at them to drink and dance at intervals! – some apparently engrossed in their phones and one in the front couch row pulling out a magazine.
The second support were more or less the full band version of a singer-songwriter, very earnest young man stuff, not particularly striking to me but probably very much in tune with the venue and location. They certainly seemed to have brought a moderately substantial following. Shock number two: by a couple of numbers into the following set, the entire second support band and almost all of their fanbase had left, seemingly choosing an early night or at least an early exit over getting their money’s worth on the door charge or actually hearing the headline act of the night.
This was a shame, as I personally thought the headliners Charlywood were a lot more fun, more stylish and generally better. Their initially fairly straight-down-the-line indie sound moved quite quickly to incorporate large chunks of funk/soul and glam/cock-rock, and was all the better for it. Nonetheless they played their closing couple of numbers to the sound guy, the bar girl, their frontman’s girlfriend, and the rump three of the Filthy Spectacula entourage (me, our bassist and his wife). Which was a shame.
One of the real problems of live music at the moment is a difficulty getting people out of their homes away from Netflix, cable TV and supermarket-price booze and into music venues with a door charge and expensive beer in plastic cups (on any night, never mind a Wednesday). The lure of live music and loyalty to the idea of going to a gig don’t tend to do it unless it’s to see an act who were big stars when you were in your teens or at uni; the stronger bond of going to support your mate’s band is often what tips the balance. This is only reinforced by logical and practical but not very artistic commercial practices like demanding each punter declares an affiliation to one band on the bill when they arrive so that the door take can be split accordingly. But of course the result is that the mentality is not so much ‘I’m going to a gig’ as ‘I’m going to see Jack’s band’ – and the interest in getting there before Jack’s on or staying after he comes off is correspondingly reduced, as is the engagement with any other acts you may be around for. Evidently east London was a bit far for anyone to come from Austria.
I was going to go on a rant about how the Brick Lane experience indicates most gigging bands (and in fact a lot of other musicians, as profit share arrangements are increasingly common in barely-money-making classical music as well) are paid not according to their musical ability but their marketing skills. But actually that’s in the right direction but not quite on target. Since getting people you don’t have a personal link to into your gigs is so difficult without real reputational pull, marketing activity can be very low return on investment. All too often, the real aspect of an act that determines the size and enthusiasm of the audience for their set, and probably the financial take (depending on the arrangement for the event) is simply how many of their friends are within range and sufficiently emotionally dependent …
Please will you be my friend? … :-p