On June 19th, Yahoo! Screen streamed the first date of Vans Warped Tour 2015 on its Live Nation Channel from the Fairplex in Pomona, CA. The live stream kicks off a hugely important festival for the “underground,” but it also kicks off an important question: Do live concert streaming and hard rock shows really belong together?
We’re all used to seeing live performances on TV by now. Come the Super Bowl, the halftime show is all that matters for many viewers. We watch televised performances from the likes of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, The Oscars, and nightly programs like Jimmy Kimmel Live and Conan. While broadcasted musical events have become commonplace, live concert streaming takes the concept to a next level and thus raises next level questions. When a -core band’s show inside a local venue becomes easily viewable from remote locations, is it just cool or does it take something away? When you can watch Stick To Your Guns play a set from your laptop in bed with some hot cocoa, for example, it inarguably changes the experience. But is it for the better?
Vans Warped Tour and Stick To Your Guns aren’t the only examples of streamed shows, of course, and Yahoo! isn’t the only platform for this market. (Others include IROCKE and ConcertTV & Concert Window, for instance). Various acts from genres all across the board have dabbled in the new digital music phenomenon. Bands like The Ghost Inside, Falling In Reverse, Chelsea Grin, August Burns Red, and Bayside have live streamed their shows via Yahoo!, as have acts like Stone Temple Pilots, Infected Mushroom and Meghan Trainor. On one hand, you might note how fair the platform is to music of all types. Heavy bands aren’t usually deemed noteworthy enough to appear side-by-side with ultra-famous pop singers or widely-known psychedelic trance groups. Alternatively, though it may be nice to see your favorite bands emerge from the more shadowy corners of the music world, there is something about watching their performances from a computer screen that can justifiably raise an eyebrow or two.
I’ll admit, the first time I heard about live concert streaming, I thought it was pretty freakin’ awesome. “No way!” was followed by “I’ve gotta try that!” was followed by “I’m totally living in the future right now!” I actually tuned in to a couple of shows to see what it was like or to see how the bands actually performed live. Each time, I stared at my computer screen allowing that exact same train of thought to pass through my brain…for about 60 seconds. Then I got over it.
Then I started thinking, That’s cool. I’m sure the people who are actually there right now are having fun. Because although being able to watch a live show from your couch is admittedly a neat trick, the initial magic wears off rather quickly. Sure, with pop acts and more mainstream sounds it’s probably a bit different. After all, watching Super Bowl Halftime shows is always fun. But pop, hip-hop, and stadium rock acts are what the doorman of Oz would call a horse of a different color as compared to a hardcore outfit. Those streamline genres are more tailored to broadcast performances. For the most part, vocals are really most of what’s going on in a pop act, and the audio engineers are well-adjusted to those kinds of smooth vocals. But introduce some screaming and growling into the mic, some double bass pedals alongside intense cymbal work, and some crunchy guitars and most live music coming from your home speakers sounds crappy. Even though the actual live show at the venue could be insane, a live hardcore band will never sound as good over your internet connection as it will in person. As it always has with this kind of music, it comes down to the live show, and the thing about live shows is you should probably be there when they happen.
Half of hardcore is the live performance. The recorded tracks are what get you interested perhaps, and they’re definitely what keep you going, but the live show is what it’s all about: being between a certain set of a walls with a certain set of people playing your favorite set of tunes. You go to your favorite venue with familiar graffiti impetuously scribbled on the walls. You stand in a crowd of 50, 100, 500 people wearing shirts of bands you’ll be seeing next month or whose CD you have laying around your car. You get pushed around, jump up and down, thrown front to back, toppled, drowned in the sweat of strangers, get a beer spilled on you, and get close enough to the band that the spit as their screaming flies past your eyelids. To use precise terms, there’s a vibe, an energy you get from the sense of community and from the charisma of the musicians striking chords you’ve heard alone in your room a thousand times. You go to a show to not be alone in your room anymore. You go to a hardcore show because there’s nothing like being at a hardcore show.
True, live streaming can allow you to virtually attend a show you otherwise might not have been able to attend. Boiler Room streams music events from all around the world, making it possible for someone who lives in New York City to “attend” a concert in London. Live streaming also may introduce you to new bands before you decide you want to spend your money on a ticket. However, you don’t get an accurate depiction of what the band in question is actually like because you’re not physically in the space, and you could end up hating a band you might have otherwise loved.
Am I standing atop a hill with a torch in one hand and a mace in the other shouting, “Down with the internet!”? No. Is live concert streaming a terrible development in technology? By no means. However, does it make sense for genres that have historically and culturally found a home in dingy basements and mosh pits? Not in my book.