Encores, Band Tours and Sticky Floors
Oct 04, 2019
Everyone has a favourite album, where songs flow perfectly from start to finish, like a magnificent story-book. But if you were asked to name your perfect album to witness live, would you say something different? Would you swap melodic guitar lines for flame-charged power ballads? Or synchronized synths for an industrial-level EDM rave? There’s a lot to think about when it comes to live music… the band… the crowd… and of course, the venue.
Venues can become symbolic in themselves, with artists actively seeking out specific spaces to complement, enhance, or replicate their sound. In fact, when London’s Plastic People closed its doors in 2015 after 20 years of proud homage to electronic music; collaborators, fans and performers were quick to leave their tributes. DJs from across the country had plied their trade there… Daft Punk even performed their first London set there… and generations of fans paid their respects to a club that got that unmistakeable party atmosphere so right. A lot of that was down to the constant investment in quality sound equipment – founder Ade Fakile recalls;
But when we talk about venues, there’s more than just the quality of equipment. It’s the atmosphere, the ambience, the audience participation, the legacy of those ‘I was there moments’. And there’s a bigger emphasis than ever before for artists to pull off a truly hair-raising occasion. But in the days before Spotify and Apple Music, one band in particular wasn’t afraid to ditch the screaming crowds in favour of a new song-writing process; one that would change the industry as we knew it…
One of Liverpool’s most popular attractions is Mathew Street, the birthplace of the Cavern Club; otherwise known as the underground, claustrophobic and dingy foundation for The Beatles to go on and conquer the world. Although the original site has been knocked down, the new one has lost none of that unmistakeable juxtaposed raucousness and intimacy. Of course, as Beatlemania exploded across the globe, the band found themselves on bigger stages, most notably New York’s Shea Stadium in 1965, in front of 56,000 fans and a din so deafening, the band couldn’t even hear themselves play.
This spelled the beginning of the end for the band’s globe-trotting tours – butthat switch from stadiums to studio-influenced song-writing brought about classics including ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, ‘Revolver’, ‘Rubber Soul’ and ‘Abbey Road’ – which featured breakthroughs in techniques such as sampling, reversed sounds and tape manipulation. These were songs that would never really be truly replicated in a live setting, and perhaps rightfully so – the prospect of songs such as ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and ‘A Day In The Life’ could never be captured effectively in a live performance at the time of release.
But stepping back onto the hallowed stage of guitar solos, peace signs and encores, how does a venue really impact the music on show… the science behind it? Well, the acoustics of a room play a big part in how sound travels, at what pitch, and after-effects such as reverberation. Venues invest a lot of money in adapting a space to deliver the best acoustical performance – and Suzanne Rolt, chief executive of St George’s Bristol, actually published an article with the Guardian in 2015 looking at the best ways to achieve the perfect performance in sound. Aside from the obvious points like shutting off noisy AC systems and sealing off any gaps… paying attention to the finer details is key – like materials that will reflect sound, such as stone and concrete… or absorb it like carpet and curtains. Even logistics such as the slant of the floor and the width of the room play a huge part in containing, reflecting, and projecting sound. But interestingly, what gives St George’s Bristol such a unique advantage is the architecture – with the former church’s high, narrow ceilings, lack of soft furnishings and specific plasterwork all making a positive difference.
And this notion of unusual venues has really started to take off – whether it’s up-and-coming musicians hoping to reach new audiences, or established names looking to escape the din of the arena to enjoy a smaller, intimate environment. Sofar Sounds, an events start-up company founded in 2009, began with the idea of bringing musicians and audiences together in intimate venues previously off-limits to musical expression. Now with representatives as far as Paris, New York and LA, venues range from residential living rooms to village churches – with appearances from the likes of James Bay, Hozier, Robert Pattinson and Wolf Alice. Sean Davis, event MC of Sofar Sounds Newcastle, believes it offers an experience unlike anything else in the industry; “Each time is a completely different experience, with new venues, new people, and the bonus of helping fans discover some great new artists, which hopefully raises their profile.”