You’ve been out, it’s cold and dark, and you’re walking home for the evening.
You approach a pub.
As you near, blue light shines from the grimy windows and a howling guitar riff echoes towards you, just quiet enough to elude recognition. A driving, thumping bassline draws you ever closer, and you trudge through the snowy landscape toward the temple like a devoutly religious zombie. No matter how much you try to continue your journey home, this new sound emanating from the booze hall is so new, so fresh, so compelling, and so different that you can’t help but walk in and discover your new favourite band! An obsession begins which leads you on an adventure of discovery and wonder that fundamentally shifts your perception of the world and music in a manner akin to being a head-tripping acid-sipping hippie at Woodstock 69. Nothing is the same now.
Only kidding. You hurry past the off-tune rendition of Champagne Supernova, half cover band and half pissed up lads shouting half-remembered lyrics, wondering if your walk could be over as quickly as the half-dream of musical intrigue was. Surprise, it won’t be. You’re not even halfway home.
This seems to be a fairly typical experience. Certainly, most of the venues anywhere near my hometown play host to an endless tirade of cover bands, peculiar novelty acts, and washed up rockers trying to recapture that waning glint of stardom which ever avoided their prime yes. Not to be disrespectful, but if I didn’t want to see bootleg versions of Pop Will Eat Itself, Okily Dokily, or Transmission the first time they played nearby this this year, I’m definitely not going to want to see them the seventh time.
Of course, this is not to say that these bands should not exist. If the musicians involved enjoy their performances, and audiences are willing to see them, then the fact that they perform is of little issue to me. Instead, it’s their frequent dominance of local venues which I wish to address.
The pub scene is the lifeblood of the performance of music. New and rising bands live and die by the sweaty, boozy little rooms hidden across the country. Without this scene, the proliferation of underground genres would likely be much lower. So many great acts have made it big thanks to the local boozer, whether through being spotted by agents in tiny venues, or eventually building a fanbase in their area and gaining the momentum to tour the country and garner the interest of larger bookers, small festivals, and bands up the food chain.
While it could be argued that the proliferation of music via online platforms, both social media and streaming services, have enabled such a spreading of awareness of music without the need for these small gigs, I would have a strong inclination to disagree.
Primarily, the notion that these platforms enable growth of barely emerging talent is nearly entirely false. Not once have I seen Spotify recommend bands with songs below 50,000 listens, nor have I seen Instagram advertise groups with small numbers of followers. Their lack of funds makes paid promotion impossible, and lack of size means they aren’t picked up by promotional algorithms. Additionally, many just starting groups don’t even have the means to spread music via these platforms. Recording costs money, even if it is just on a laptop with Audacity in a band members garage. This is unaffordable to most, and the low production values of the majority of these attempts make recordings unpopular with most. As we like to say here at the CUB Magazine Music Section, isn’t it a shame that capitalism exists.
This is very much my experience. Just this Tuesday I saw four bands, having only heard of one, at The Finsbury. I was only there after Dream Wife (check them out) introduced me to the headliners and told me about the gig after I went to the release party for their record, Tour Support Reimagined. Arxx headlined and were a band the internet never told me about, even though their sound is slap bang in the middle of my musical taste. Their stage presence, confidence, and chemistry were of a level you only see in bands that have been through the pub crucible. The support bands, most notable Dutch Mustard, had entirely similar qualities. The energy just isn’t replicable by someone without live experience and is what the decline in many pub scenes is cutting out, leaving those few bands that can break into the public eye to flounder from inexperience and disappear just as quickly.
Of course, this is just my view, from one guy in one tedious pocket of English mediocrity. My experience in London this far has shown me that there is a last bastion for people who want to be heard, scattered across this ridiculous city. The liveliness of London is incomparable to anywhere else I’m aware of, both in and out of the UK (well, except maybe Brighton, but shh). The support from local establishments for all sorts of music is incredible, even more so when most gigs are free, so the venues aren’t directly profiting off of tickets. The Cosmics, Jealous, and Arxx are just the first of many to come.
See below for more by Fin H.B.