Goodbye, Dance Punks

An end of an era.

After almost three decades of music, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, more popularly known as the duo Daft Punk, have decided that it was time to say goodbye.  The French dance music legends disclosed their decision to split up in a video released just this Monday, February 22.  

Titled Epilogue, their farewell video shows both of them donning their iconic robot helmets walking in a desert.  Soon, one of them realizes that he no longer wants to continue the journey and eventually explodes with the help of his friend.  By the 5:04 mark, an excerpt of Touch, a song from their last record Random Access Memories, enters the scene, giving the last few minutes of the video a hopeful yet bittersweet atmosphere. 

Got a bit teary-eyed while watching this and I’m not even a fan of Daft Punk! 😦

While I may not be a fan of Daft Punk, hearing the news still saddened me somehow.  After all, some of their earlier works accompany memories of my younger self like One More Time and Around the World, the song that introduced me to the duo.  I will always remember the time seeing Around the World on MTV often: I didn’t quite like it immediately, but it was so catchy that it would often get stuck in my head.  The music video, too, wasn’t my cup of tea, but I could not help but finish watching the entire thing! 

As years passed, I got acquainted with their music more mainly from the singles that they released like Harder Better Faster Stronger, Technologic, Derezzed, Digital Love, and their collaborative works Get Lucky, and Instant CrushSomething About Us, however, is their song that I’m most fond of.

Towards the end of the video, we see de Homem-Christo continue walking all alone into the sunset.  Is this indicative of his interest or plans to go on working in the music industry as a solo artist or somewhere behind the scenes?  Or is it merely a sign of him going to wherever his feet will carry him?  That is uncertain, but what is definite is that Daft Punk will be missed.  The art that they have created have left a big imprint not only on the dance music genre but to the whole music industry as a whole.  Not bad for these guys whose music was once considered as “daft punky thrash,” no?

The Shows Still Go On… Somehow

It’s not like I haven’t watched livestreams or pre-recorded studio shows with no audiences before, but I guess what makes digital concerts now seem different is having the feeling that this isn’t how it should be. 

Exactly seven years ago, last January 21, the French quartet Phoenix visited the Philippines for the very first time as part of their Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix Tour.  A couple of months before the concert, I was already thinking of what to wear on that night, the reason I’d write down on my leave form as to why I’d be absent for work on that day, when and where I would meet my friends, a plan on how I could possibly bump into the band hours before the concert, among many other things.  If it isn’t obvious enough for you still, I was so excited about the whole event; my plans went beyond just taking myself to the venue and not forgetting to bring my ticket with me.  Most of the time, this was how I would get ready for concerts.  Last year, however, I watched three shows, and they were absolutely not like the way I used to watch one.

Unless you have been living under a rock, 2020 was a year of tremendous and unprecedented changes.  The COVID-19 pandemic altered practically every aspect of our daily existence.  The live music scene naturally wasn’t spared from this; in fact, it was one of the most badly hit industries as holding physical concerts was no longer permitted.  But you know what they say about shows: They must go on.  Well, at least they did… virtually.

Indeed, technology plays a significant part in helping live shows survive.  It has enabled artists to bring concerts to the audience in the comfort of their homes and away from the crowds.  Watching online concerts actually has a lot of pros.  For starters, it saves people a lot of time: no more queuing, no more travelling to the venue, no more waiting for your companions to arrive, etc. 

Digital concerts are also way cheaper than physical concerts.  For example, when I watched the livestreams of Nothing But Thieves (NBT) last October, whose proceeds benefited the band’s crew, by the way, three unique shows cost only £28.  That is roughly ₽1,700, which is the equivalent of an average Gen Ad ticket (a.k.a. the farthest seat in a venue) here in the country.  On the other hand, when I watched the 20th anniversary show of Urbandub last December, it cost me only ₽500.  That’s just double the price of a bar gig.  And oh, Urbandub’s livestream (+ Q&A with the audience) was almost three hours long!  Another show that I watched was the late night concert of Miriam Bryant last June and it was streamed completely free.

Another positive point is that you get the best view of the stage every single time.  You no longer have to adjust your position to get a good view of the band or avoid tall people in the crowd.  There is no longer a need for you to endure watching the show from the screen of an inconsiderate person in front of you, recording everything in his/her phone either.  You also don’t have to deal with boisterous people or those who think that concerts are wild karaoke competitions. 

Finally, some concerts give multiple access.  In the case of NBT, for instance, all the sets were replayed and were still available two days after all of them had been aired.  It was perfect for those living in other time zones since some of the set times, when converted locally, fell on inconvenient hours.  As for the livestream of Urbandub, since it was done on FB live in a private group page, the video is still up until now.  Miriam Bryant’s video is also still available in TV4 Play’s website.

Online concerts may have numerous benefits, but it does have a few shortcomings.  First, it simply cannot deliver the right atmosphere.  The energy of the venue where thousands or even dozens of people are converged (if this is just a bar gig) already can make you excited—the play of lights, the buzzing of people while waiting for the lights to fade out, the appearance of the crew right after the opener ends his/her set, the turning off of the lights and the entrance of music to indicate that someone is about to set foot onstage, etc.  All of these things that spark the mood of a concert is either absent or scant in a livestream show.

The way you can express how thrilled you really are is likewise restrained during livestreams.  I remember before watching the first set of NBT, my companion and I turned off the lights and attached a speaker to the laptop.  When the show began, my companion, who was the real NBT fan, let out a controlled cheer.  She then looked at me and we both laughed.  It was just weird for her to scream at the top of her lungs at home unless she wanted the neighbors to think that something bad had happened, or at least disturb the other people staying in the other rooms. 

Finally, when you are at a live show, there is an exchange of energy between the artists and the audience: the more energy the audience radiates, the more the artist will be motivated as well and vice-versa.  However, since there is a barrier between the two, well, there isn’t just any exchange happening, is there?  At the beginning of one of the NBT streams, there was a part there where immediately after they played a song, there was just complete silence.  It was a bit awkward for me, and it made me think how odd that silence was.  Coincidentally, vocalist Conor Mason, commented how it felt weird for him, too.  He said, “Normally, we can tell what the reaction is by the crowd, so this is also very strange for us.”  He then proceeded to show what their guitarist Dom Craik made on the keyboard before the show: crowd noises to “inflate (Conor’s) ego.”

With the number of COVID-19 still on the rise in many countries, live performances like the ones we used to have still don’t have a clear future.  For now, while quarantines and social distancing are still in effect, drive-in concerts,  bubble concerts, performances to an audience-less venue, and most especially digital concerts may well be how live music can go on.

Nick Cave on Grief, Love, and Communication

Since yesterday was All Saints’ Day and today, November 2nd is All Souls’ Day, I would like to share a letter written by Australian artist Nick Cave to a fan who sent him a question related to death and communication.  Cave, best known for being the front man of the band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, has a page where fans can ask him any questions that are not merely centred on music or any of his artistic endeavours.  The topics of the queries sent to him on his page called The Red Hand Files touch on his personal life, politics, history, philosophy, and even hypothetical situations and challenges.  Cave’s replies are beautifully and gracefully written.

I am sharing one of Cave’s responses to a fan question, which I came across last year. I thought it might be something fitting to share today especially since November 1 and 2—at least here in the Philippines—are a time to remember the dearly departed.

Issue #6 / october 2018
I have experienced the death of my father, my sister, and my first love in the past few years and feel that i have some communication with them, mostly through dreams. They are helping me. Are you and susie feeling that your son arthur is with you and communicating in some way?
Cynthia, shelburne falls, vt, usa

Dear Cynthia,

This is a very beautiful question and I am grateful that you have asked it. It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal. That’s the pact. Grief and love are forever intertwined. Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves. We are tiny, trembling clusters of atoms subsumed within grief’s awesome presence. It occupies the core of our being and extends through our fingers to the limits of the universe. Within that whirling gyre all manner of madnesses exist; ghosts and spirits and dream visitations, and everything else that we, in our anguish, will into existence. These are precious gifts that are as valid and as real as we need them to be. They are the spirit guides that lead us out of the darkness.

I feel the presence of my son, all around, but he may not be there. I hear him talk to me, parent me, guide me, though he may not be there. He visits Susie in her sleep regularly, speaks to her, comforts her, but he may not be there. Dread grief trails bright phantoms in its wake. These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility. Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption. Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed.

With love, Nick.

The Red Hand Files