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WHAT’S BEST? GIGS OR RECORDS?

Elviscrop MOJO’s Danny Eccleston used to think it was records. Now he thinks it’s gigs. Elvis Costello agrees.

Click MORE for his flimsy argument...

Last week, Elvis Costello told MOJO magazine that he was thinking of giving up making records. For him, it had ceased being an economical way of disseminating music, and besides, he’s bored of it.

“I’m not of a mind to record any more,” he told our Phil Sutcliffe. “There’s no point. In terms of recorded music, the pact’s been broken – the personal connection between the artist and the listener. MP3 has dismantled the intended shape of an album. And then everything is leaked, everything is stolen. So I play live, it happens in the moment. If I do a new song I might never play it again, and if you’re not there you fuckin’ miss it…”

Then this week, Madonna announced she’s deserting the record industry’s sinking ship to join bigass concert promoters LiveNation in a deal that will score the latter a cut of the entire Madonna pie: that’s her records (getting poorer and poorer, selling fewer and fewer) and her shows (always a pop culture event, whatever her sales figures). The balance between gigs and records, once weighted toward records, now heavily favours gigs.

Now I used to have my “issues” with live music. I’m aware that, for a music journalist, this is an unusual position, but consider the “facts”. There’s the inconvenience; the gauntlet of late-night public transport (the eerie realm of the mentally ill); the elbow-jogging proximity of other people, especially – and I accept this is my particular experience – fans of indie rock with their array of irritating affectations and poor standards of personal hygiene. Throughout my twenties I was also obliged to accompany the gig-going experience with numbing/reality-warping quantities of alcohol or, if lucky, drugs. Hence what memories remain of the perhaps world-changing shows I attended, are sketchy and unreliable. For instance, I’m aware that I witnessed Nirvana’s legendary Reading Festival performance in 1992, and Oasis’s imperial turn at Knebworth in 1996 – I have the ticket stubs – but if you asked me what it was REALLY like to be there, your reply would be slack-jawed, vacant-eyed silence or a barrage of stitched-together lies and/or journo flannel.

Records, on the other hand, offered the communion I craved. Communion with my bedroom, myself, and the artist who’d made the record, unshared with the great unwashed.

However, I was recently rocked by a conversion as profound as that of Saul to Paul – except his was unlikely to have been effected at a London show by Vancouver heavy-psych mindbenders Black Mountain. It is a truism of the ongoing so-called crisis in the music business that gigs are becoming the events and records the pale mementos, but it so happens that my own experience appears suddenly to be following the curve.

The ritualistic elements of “the gig”, once so irksome, I now find exciting – not because I attend fewer (I probably attend as many and certainly remember rather more about those I do attend) but because it is, at least, a genuine ritual, with sights, sounds, (mostly horrible) smells and a properly physical encounter with the music. By contrast, the act of communion with records has become compromised by circumstance and technology. IE. No more the mysterious crackle and anticipation-filled pause between needle-impact and sonic assault. No more the thrill of the solitary freak-out and the transportation to a solipsistic nirvana. Now the recorded music I used to treasure blasts out of clothes shops and web sites and TV advertisements. It has become endemic, undervalued, crassly social, and available, whether you like it or not, 24-bleeding-7.

Now I’m aware that, conceivably, I could lock myself pointedly in the shed, dig out the vinyl and party like it’s 1989, and yes, I’m weak and lazy and tired and old to allow myself to be bullied into using music the way prevailing popular culture subscribes. But dammit, I’m a late-thirtysomething parent, with fewer and fewer opportunities to immerse myself in records at home – certainly not at the volume that the teenager-who-lives-in-my-head still demands, at a level loud enough to drown the clarion call of diapers, admin and broke stuff that needs fixing.

But when you’ve got your head in a bass bin at the Metro Club, London W1, and Black Mountain are belting out Druganaut so hard their Marshalls look set to melt, that clarion call is but a whisper to be gleefully ignored. You’re right here in the everlasting now. Just try to forget that the last tube leaves at 11, and the loonies await...

Danny Eccleston

Posted by Danny Eccleston at 04:11PM | Categories: Opinion


Comments

Respectfully disagree. I don't think that technology can be blamed for killing the industry. Not now, not ever. To me, it looks more like a suicide than a homicide case. When the majors start shifting their business to producing gigs, there's something (still) seriously wrong.
Gigs are fine, but records are even better. Especially when they're not live.


Posted by: Gerson Costa | 19 Oct 2007 18:54:27