Updated: May 26
Words by George Mitton
There has always been two kinds of musician: those who lament the changing times and those who embrace them. Take Cry Club, the incredible power-pop duo whose recent headline tour was cut short due to the Coronavirus. With a new single (called “Obvious”, absolute banger) imminent, they supplemented the traditional single launch tour with an online listening party on Facebook, meaning even those who never got out to see a show were in on the party. It’s no wonder that an amazing, forward-thinking band like Cry Club is killing it in the merch game - they engage with their fans on multiple levels, both in person and online, and that is the only way forward as people continue to isolate themselves. Both bands and fans need a place to come together, and presently, that’s not in person.
Image and Illustration by Harry Starick
As a performing musician as well as an avid music consumer, the Coronavirus terrifies me. Beyond the usual fears experienced by all Australians in confusing times like these, there are very specific reasons why the music scene is in dire straits. Self-isolation is nothing new: if anything, it’s a trend that’s been the music scene’s biggest thorn in its side for years. In decades past, local musicians may have had to compete against more famous bands for a piece of the pie but only now is it becoming more and more common for potential fans to forego a live music experience altogether in favour of staying in, with Netflix, Youtube and even Spotify keeping fans indoors.
I usually go to three or four gigs a month, not all of them well-attended, and I felt a wave of shock and sadness as I saw event after event being cancelled in the last few weeks, from the massive (RIP Download and my emo dreams) to the local (sleep tight, Brunswick Music Festival, I’ll see you next year). But what can I do? The advice from the medical community (whose word I tend to trust just *slightly* more than the punks in the comment section saying “fuck it, let’s party on”) is to stay indoors and limit the spread as much as we can. When people were already self-isolating voluntarily before COVID-19, the societal mandate to keep to ourselves feels overwhelming.
What’s been inspiring is seeing the ways in which people are stepping up to the plate in order to help others out in their time of need. As if any proof was needed, the response from the music community to last summer’s bushfires was overwhelmingly generous as musicians donated their time and skills to raise money for those affected. But now, with gigs dropping like flies and streaming services like Spotify paying pittance, what can we do to keep Australia’s local music scene alive?
Thank god musicians are, by necessity, creative people. A trend on the rise is the online concert. With Instagram, TikTok and Facebook Live bands can perform directly for fans, and smart bands are taking advantage of these new mediums. Garage rock duo Debbies, in lieu of any upcoming shows are playing an acoustic set online this Thursday (19/03). Angie McMahon is doing a covers set via Instagram on Saturday (21/03). Some studios, such as Van Leucia Productions in Sydney are offering free studio space for bands to stream live directly to viewers at home. Legendary punk label Snapshot Records SHC are moving upcoming gigs online in a bid to keep the flame alive.
One such creative musician is Grace Snow from Melbourne-based band Barefoot Bowls Club. In the absence of upcoming gigs and in the face of an uncertain future, she’s staying positive and finding new and creative ways to spend her time in isolation.
“We have kinda flipped not being able to play gigs into recording and experimenting time,” she says. “A few of us (members of Barefoot Bowls Club and fellow band, Clean Cut Society) are coming and going from my house and playing with pedals and recording tunes and also perfecting what we already have. We are getting footage to post and keep creating content, just because gigging and live performances are under the pump, doesn’t mean it’s an indefinite halt for musicians to make and create.”
There are already centralised spaces popping up to consume online concerts, apart from just following the bands you love directly. A Facebook group entitled Covid Concert Series has 3000 members and growing and is essentially a continuous live concert from bands all over the world. It is very encouraging to see musicians and fans who are geographically disparate as well as self-isolating finding new ways to connect with each other, forging relationships that would never have existed prior to the virus.
As a fan the best way you can support your favourite artists right now, apart from streaming their music and buying their merch of course, is engaging with them online. As more and more gigs are cancelled bands will be moving their performances online and it will be easier than ever to catch a sick band, from the comfort of your own home. Grab a glass of wine, tell your friends to join you online and show your support for your favourite musicians, who need you now more than ever. Physical isolation may be the name of the game at the moment, but we can’t let it ruin live music. And artists, instead of despairing at what we have lost, we need to embrace the future and adapt to it, so we still have a music scene on the other side.