Live Music in and after Lockdown

In the middle of March, hardcore punk and industrial metalcore outfit Code Orange released their third studio album Underneath. They had invested all of their time and money over the past year into this album, in which they pushed their sound further than ever before. Talking with music critic Anthony Fantano, vocalist Jami Morgan said: “every single dime of [our] budget went towards this record”. But, almost hours after the release, it became clear that live music as we know it would be put on hold indefinitely. The band pushed onward and streamed their album release show on Twitch, where they played to an empty venue. For people in the hardcore community, in which live shows often have as many audience members on as off the stage, this loss was deep and tangible. It signified a loss across the whole music industry, in all genres and communities.

Live music has been a central part of the experience of music across the whole world arguably since its creation. As methods of recording sound were only invented in 1877 with the advent of the phonograph, up until this point music was only experienced when performed live. It even precedes the tradition of written music: music traditions around the world were performing songs long before they were transcribed in any form. In most parts of the world outside of Europe and China, music was not performed by and for the elite, but was instead an important medium of communication used by all members of society. Music, especially live music performed for all people, has been such a crucial part of cultures around the world for so long that it is no wonder its absence is felt sorely.

But what is the future for non-recorded music in the world in which we live now? Code Orange pioneered the live-streamed concert particularly in the hardcore and punk community, but in other genres, this trend has caught on.

In fact, in the world of PC music and hyperpop, live-streamed concerts existed long before the pandemic. The band 100 Gecs rose to prominence through a virtual concert featuring the likes of Charli XCX and others that took place on, of all platforms, Minecraft. The group Open Pit has been organising Minecraft concerts since 2018, according to Pitchfork, and in April hosted a charity coronavirus relief concert headlined by the genre-defining emo band American Football. The event was called “Nether Meant”, a play on the band’s most well-known song. I attended this, albeit briefly, but it was surprising how immersive the event felt with a virtual mosh pit and even merchandise stands too.

This is not the only area in which virtual concerts have existed for a while. Filmmaker Sunny Singh has been recording videos of live concerts in hardcore punk and adjacent genres since 1993 and posting them on YouTube. His YouTube channel has become so popular that to be featured on there as a band is considered a significant achievement in the hardcore community. Since it is a one-man operation, it takes Singh some time to edit the videos, meaning there is a decent back-catalogue from recent years as well as some classics that he also releases. Uploaded videos are voted on by his viewership, and the operation is as community-driven and decentralised as possible. The channel has provided people around the world with access to high-energy live music for years now, and continues to do so throughout the pandemic while maintaining a high number of views. The videos are all available to watch for free online, and Singh intends to keep it this way. If you want to check out his work, you can do so here.

There are clearly many ways in which musicians are keeping the spirit of live music alive through the current situation, but where are things likely to go from now? Artists are preemptively scheduling concerts for November and onwards now, but at the moment it is uncertain whether these will be able to go ahead depending on the situation closer to the time – particularly in countries such as the UK and US. In fact, in China, the situation with the pandemic had improved to the extent that the emo band Chinese Football were able to perform at the end of June. In other countries live concerts are being scheduled again, and this certainly helps the spirit of optimism in countries where the wait may be longer.

If there is anything that the pandemic has shown, however, it’s that music is a key part of so many communities across the world, and musicians and fans alike will do whatever it takes to keep music alive in these uncertain times. I can only hope the wait until live concerts are possible will be filled with all the Twitch and Minecraft concerts imaginable.