These artists and venues are getting creative to keep the music scene alive
The doors to our favorite clubs may have closed IRL, but the music scene is here for us during self-isolation and has never been more online.
As the COVID-19 virus has spread across America this past week, millions of people have seen their incomes evaporate. The entertainment and hospitality sectors have been hit particularly hard; in New York City half a million food and service industry workers will soon be without a paycheck. SXSW, the nation’s highest grossing film, tech and music festival that attracts around half a million people to Austin every year, was cancelled. Soon afterward, other festivals began to fall like dominos. Within a week, the majority of live events throughout the country were put on hold. Social distancing and staying home is the new normal.
There have been numerous Instagram posts suggesting that art will flourish over the next few months, but it’s important to acknowledge that creating art right now is a privilege that many can’t afford or sustain. Everyone has their own needs; for a lot of people community outreach, financial aid and having time to process the current situation is their main priority. For others, living in self isolation simply means they now have time to socialize online. Not a day goes by where someone isn’t “going live,” and we’ve seen the insides of too many people’s homes.
But even during a time like this we still need to celebrate the inventive things people are doing to uplift others. Across the world, thousands of musicians have been live streaming from their bedrooms and some venues have even started broadcasting their weekly programming online. Venezuelan electronic producer Arca launched a Discord channel, where her fans can congregate and share space with one another. Miami pop duo Magdalena Bay have asked fans to submit videos of themselves singing along to their song “Stop & Go.” When they have enough submissions they’re going to combine them into a music video. Brooklyn-based producer Caroline Sans (aka Sur Back) has an Instagram thread where people can contribute a lyric and write a song together, which she’ll turn into an actual song. In Los Angeles, DIIV guitarist Colin Caulfield launched the second season of his Instagram Live show Gardening with Colin . Episode one is aptly titled “Gardening Under Quarantine.”
Some of our favorite celebrities have also found ways to inform, entertain and educate us (and themselves). Last week Charli XCX and Diplo hosted a live workout session on Instagram. Miley Cyrus has started her own DIY talk show called Bright Minded. So far, she’s hosted a recycling and repurposing session with Jeremy Scott, a makeup tutorial with Hailey Bieber, a discussion about creating your own drag identity with Trixie Mattel and live-streamed several other enlightening conversations with her famous friends.
Each of these initiatives shares the same community-building spirit. Seeing major celebrities and independent artists alike all acknowledging that we’re in this together has been the bright spot we needed this past week. Celebrities, they’re just like us.
Justin Carter, who owns the NYC venue Nowadays, says that the community they’ve built was front of mind when he was forced to close on March 15, letting go of 40 staff members. The idea of losing friends and disengaging people who rely on the space was truly devastating. While en route to the venue in Ridgewood, Queens last Wednesday night, Carter spoke about what the night spot means to those who frequent it. “There are a lot of people who rely on us for income, but there’s also a lot of people who rely on us providing a place where they can go and feel safe, and to meet new people who they can collaborate and just be friends with,” he explained. “That’s special and worth saving.”
It was that feeling that drove Carter to call his friend Francois Vaxelaire, who owns The Lot Radio, a Brooklyn-based online radio station. Together with a team of helpers, they converted Nowadays into a totally virtual venue, with the ability to livestream DJ sets and workshops, and to collect donations via Patreon and Venmo. Those who tuned in between 8pm and midnight last week were treated to live sets by Jasmine Infiniti and Gia, DJ Python and Aurora Halal, and Carter’s now legendary Mister Sunday session. They plan to go live each night, with an impressive lineup to boot.
Not all venues have been able to make such a pivot, but they still need support. The owners of Mood Ring, Heaven or Las Vegas, Birdy’s and Bossanova Civic Club are asking for donations via Venmo to help their staff. House of Yes has set up a gofundme. Trans-Pecos and Market Hotel are also exploring fundraising options and have set up a Venmo to collect donations. Our favorite artists and nightlife spots need our help most right now.
On Friday, Nika Roza Danilova (Zola Jesus), musician Devon Welch (ex-Majical Cloudz) and web developer Erik Zuuring launched Koir, a one-stop shop for musicians wanting to learn how to livestream. “It’s something I think the music community has needed for a long time, but when this thing happened and everybody had to cancel tours it became really paramount that we had a resource for musicians to learn how to livestream,” Danilova told i-D. “I want [Koir] to be a place for musicians, it’s a musician-first platform.” Along with tutorials, Koir has a gig guide that connects fans of daily live-streaming events happening across the web.
In LA last week, a group of musicians who were forced to cancel their entire month-long residency at the popular Frogtown venue Zebulon chose a decidedly more old-school (and very LA) way to perform from an acceptable social distance. Celia Hollander, Ben Babbitt, Jeremiah Chiu and Booker Stardrum had people pull up to a supermarket car park then tune their car stereos to the same radio frequency. The four of them performed in a nearby van and broadcast the whole show using a shortwave FM transmitter. The hyper-local event was designed to mimic the experience of going to a drive-in movie theatre.
“Live-streaming and doing Instagram live concerts is always an option, but I really wanted to pursue an alternative where people could share space and time in a safe way,” Hollander explained in a group chat. “I have been doing performances with car stereos since 2017 and this was an idea that I’d had before but had shelved, because there is no way around how it just reinforced the social isolation that is really a flaw in LA. But when the show [at Zebulon] was postponed, I thought this would be a good opportunity for it. The timing of it was right and I think it resonated with a lot of people.”
The first experimental drive-in event attracted about 100 people. Now the quartet are considering if they’ll do it again (stay tuned to find out!), and how that will look and feel. “Just hearing that transmission and being able to look out the window and see the source of it, people were definitely getting out of their cars, but in general people came and they listened,” adds Babbitt. “It sounds very different. A radio broadcast through your car stereo sounds very different to a live Instagram video through your phon;, it is a better sound quality even though there’s still some radio crackle, line noise and hum, and the transmitter heavily compresses the signal. It has a grain to it that transmits a different feeling.”