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Notes From The City

By Londonist_Laura Last edited 119 months ago
Notes From The City

Notes From The City

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I've discussed my disinclination to leave my house to see live music in this column before, along with the irony that I expect others to do the exact same thing to see me play. What can I say, I'm a fickle artist! It's not that I don't love and appreciate human beings making music right in front of me, but that there are so many factors that can get in the way of my enjoyment.

I can't decide whether smoking or talking are the worst sins a person can commit when they go and watch a show. I have no time for the smokers who claim that the carcinogenic fumes they expel from their yellow, rotting lungs add to the atmosphere of a gig, that if you're banning smoking you may as well ban drinking and having fun and who say "What? It's a gig!" - yeah, smoking is SO rock 'n' roll. And musicians love having smoke blown in their faces, especially singers, because they don't care about their health or being able to breathe well enough to perform for you.

However bad smoking is, we only have to put up with it in venues until June 30th. Talking will be much harder to combat. I'm obviously not referring to the excited aside from a fan turning to their equally excited friend between songs to exclaim "Wow, this is so cool!". It's the constant simmering and swelling of banal, pointless chatter that sounds off from when the venue doors open and ends only when everyone is on the tube on the way home. It's as though the venue becomes one giant water cooler and everyone launches in to a giant tirade of neverending office gossip.

I saw Blonde Redhead recently (review here) and had been told by a friend beforehand that whenever they'd seen them play the crowd were silent, almost transfixed between every song. Not at Koko! I think there were some people there who just thought the stereo was up really loud, not seeming to even look up from their pint and their catchup chat with their mates. Each to their own, of course, and everyone enjoys a gig in a different way. But talking all the way through a gig might be even more anti-social than smoking because, like smoking, it directly affects everyone around you, some of whom might just be trying to listen to the band, but also because it's blatantly obvious that you have no respect for the fact that people are performing music to you. Right in front of you!

In Europe the attitude towards live music is vastly different. People get excited when you tell them you're in a band, if they come and see you they watch and take it in, even if they don't really like it. The atmosphere at festivals is different, more charged up. It's like a mature student who messed around during their A Levels but went back to college in their mid twenties because they really wanted to learn. In the UK I can't help but think a lot of people who go out to see big gigs are doing it so that they can tell people they were there. In the same way that the teenage craze for videoing gigs on mobile phones for You Tube upload detaches them from the environment, turning them into passive observers instead of active participants, going to a gig and spending the entire time talking to your friends stops you from engaging in what is ideally supposed to be an uplifting, important slice of timelessness. Can we really be so immune to live performance? Have we let TV ruin it for us? Isn't that really sad?

Gigs I've been to this year that were ruined by people talking all the way through: The Shins at The Astoria (where the talking was actually louder than one of their quiet acoustic songs), Scott Matthews at Islington Bar Academy, Blonde Redhead at Koko.

If the band you've gone to see suck, that changes things - I'm the first to get irritated by bad noise. I played a solo gig recently opening up for three rock bands, two of which I'd seen were really good at soundcheck. The other band went on after me and 10 seconds in I knew that they were quite possibly the most annoying, tuneless, personality-free zone of a group of people I had had the misfortune to witness in some time. Added to that they were incredibly earnest about their music, which was even more irritating. And yet I felt forced to sit there watching them with a passive expression on my face, being polite because I'm a musician and I respect other peoples' performances. And I actually do respect everyone who performs, I'd just rather not listen to most of them. What intrigued me was watching the rest of the audience. I don't think I was imagining that most of them seemed to have adopted the same neutral expression as me, though they were more generous and actually clapped between songs.

Fear gripped me - did they only clap between my songs to be polite?

This Week's Five

1. Who's Got A Match - Biffy Clyro

2. Reading In Bed - Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton

3. Icky Thump - The White Stripes

4. 3's and 7's - Queens of the Stone Age

5. Dinosaur Egg - Scout Niblett

Last Updated 10 June 2007

Hugh

I am hugely looking forward to the smoking ban - it will make such a difference to my gig-going.... I used to go to gigs on a very regular basis - I do a lot of gig photography, and for a while last year, I was shooting 2 or 3 gigs a week.... I would always get home, open up my camera bag, and have a wave of smoke-smell wafting over me. I've cut down on the gigs in recent months, but after this summer, I plan to get it all going again, in somewhat nicer environs...

Have you ever told us which band you play in, or where you're playing? I've been reading your column for a while now, and would love to hear the music behind the writer.....

Mark

Like Hugh I am also a concert photographer who is looking forward to the smoking ban. I've been doing regular gig photography for 6 years and in that time I have now developed hay fever - a coincidence maybe but hay fever and smoke filled rooms do not go together.

I'm also with you on the talking at gigs. Even though I don't pay for most of the gigs I go to I still get annoyed by people that talk the whole way through a gig. If you want to go out for a chat go to a bar.

Mark

siany

I don't think talking at gigs is deliberately rude... I think it's just a case that some people see the band as 'background' music... but I don't mean that in a rude way. It doesn't mean people aren't enjoying the music just because they're talking.

Talia

I think it's rude to the other gig-goers more so than the band (but it must be horrid for the band). But yes, I guess a lot of people see going to a gig as a fun night out with their mates more than going to seriously listen to music. We need to be divided into sections! :)

Brett Anderson was practically begging people to stop talking at a recent acoustic event I went to.

Lau

I knew this one would get people talking! Hugh, I have mentioned my band in this column before but I'll let you look back in the archives to find it... ;)

Mark - you are right, they should go to a bar! It really isn't just a little murmur to a friend it's constant chat all the way through. Drives me nuts!

Siany, I'm sure you're right but while they may still enjoy the gig and like having the band as background, for the people who want to engage properly with the music and actually get their twenty or thirty quidsworth it's pretty irritating! People are so selfish!

Trixie, I heard about that. Acoustic gigs are the hardest because often the crowd is louder than the sound you're getting back in your monitors so it makes it very difficult to perform well. And shushing crowds from on stage rarely works unfortunately.

Thanks all for reading, more grumpiness next weekend I'm sure ;)

siany

To be fair, most of the bands I go see are actually playing in pubs and bars... I probably would feel differently if I'd have paid that much... but sometimes I do go to bars with bands to 'see if there's anything good on'... if there is we'll listen and dance, if not then we may just carry on chatting... but we usually don't stand at the front of the stage and do it!

Hugh

Or I could just be cheeky and look at your "Staff Profile"...!

I like the music.... Will definitely keep an eye out for more central (Soho/Kings Cross/Camden) gigs.....

As a photographer, I do often wonder what people think of me up at the front during the gig... At bigger gigs, it's limited to the first 3 songs, but in smaller venues, I'm able to take photos for the entirety of the set... I do try not to - if it's a band I know well, I'll know when to take photos and when I can just sit back and enjoy the gig (and let everyone else enjoy my absence)

What's your take on this as a band?

Laura Kidd

I don't mind photographers at the front as long as they aren't constantly in my face. When there isn't a big crowd it's more off-putting because you can feel like a bit of a twat semi-posing for the camera, and it's really weird when people who look 'professional' take photos then don't come up afterwards to let you have a look at them. Apart from that, it's fine by me!!

Hugh

Fair point - I've occasionally had the opposite experience - I've been at a gig to shoot, say, the headliners, and I have, as I always do, shot the support acts too - I always try to introduce myself to them (if I can), but on more than one occasion I've been completely blown off by them - probably because they've already got loads of photos, or someone who shoots them on a regular basis....

Also, as a photographer, I sometimes don't want to show my photos immediately - if I know I've got a lot of crap on there, I'll give the band my card and ask them to e-mail me and I'll let them see the best of the photos. Very rarely do I ever hear back from them when I do this, though....