Gig-Goers Of The Future by Kate Hennessy
Last April, during the pandemic’s most dire and uncertain weeks in Sydney, I interviewed Tash Sultana for NME magazine. Tash gave their longest interview yet. I toyed with being flattered until they said: “If I weren’t in isolation right now, I wouldn’t be doing interviews.”
Other music journalists were experiencing the same. Musicians who’d usually be touring, recording, or feeling too fried from late nights and jetlag to talk – or talk for long – were locked down with time to burn and writers could push back on the publicist’s standard offer of a 20 minute ‘phoner’. Chalk it up as a pandemic perk.
On those long calls, the stories we heard were not of ubiquitous despondency. Some bands had just returned from a successful tour with plans to regroup or song-write anyway. Others acknowledged only a global shutdown would bring them the break they really needed. Blessings in (pandemic) disguise.
For other musicians, the rug had been yanked in unfathomable ways. Literally unfathomable, because the pandemic had snatched things that couldn’t even be quantified.
For artists just starting out, it was all the things that could have happened on that canned US, European or national Australian tour. The Bigsound that didn’t happen. The album release starved of its launch gig. All the lost opportunities they couldn’t even mourn because their shape was unknown. While the pandemic took its pound of flesh from everyone in the music community, it was the dreams of young artists – in life years or in music career-years – that were most affected.
Young music fans, too. If you’ve racked up a few decades since your debut gig season, it can be hard to remember how thrilling that time was and how it both sparked and cemented your existence as a gig-going human.
I started going to all ages metal and punk shows when I was 15-years-old in the Blue Mountains. After that, train trips to the city to youth centres in Newtown and Manly, and festivals such as The Big Day Out, Alternative Nation and Livid. It felt like forever but all of those seminal shows happened in the space of two years. In that time, going to see music became who I was forever. Later, it became my career.
In Christmas 2019, I gave my 16 year-old twin nephews tickets to see Tame Impala and Stormzy. They’d saved up for a few shows in 2020 too. They are HUGE music fans but haven’t completed the circle between Spotify on bluetooth speakers blaring at every waking hour, to taking that up a million notches to a live show. 2020 was going to be the year they skidded down that life-changing hole; the year that live music became what they did.
Only it didn’t. They’re turning 18 in April. They’re resilient and fine and have been doing a lot of shifts at KFC. We’ve been so fortunate in Australia – they have not prematurely lost their grandparents as so many teenagers around the world have. They’ve found other ways to spend their weekends but every now and then the disappointment wells up. Maybe for me even more than them. Because like the young bands, they don’t know the shape of what it could have been. But I do.
As live music’s wheels are strapped back on, the industry must support young fans as well as young acts. Many more all ages shows are needed, of all genres, to re-fertilise the gig-going generation of the future.
Kate Hennessy is a freelance arts, music and travel journalist based in Sydney. She tweets @smallestroom
Image | Kate Hennessy. Photo by Morgan Graham.