Distanced Together: Shows in the Age of Isolation

Yuji Aoyama | Content Writer

Live shows, like the rest of the world, are at a turning point. While the digitalization of live music is not by any means new – some people like to call this bold phenomenon ‘the radio’ – it is a different question altogether to be able to replicate the wild tangibility of the mosh pit, to accurately recreate the feeling of seeing an old gig buddy at the bar, or to allow performers a space to jump around express the physicality of their set in. And while the answer has differed over the course of the 150+ live performances I have watched online, I can promise with some excitement that the wildly varying ways they do so are fully worth your time.

The simplest format – though from experience, I can say coordinating people from very far away to be around at the right times is definitely not by any means easy – seems to be picking up a phone and playing on any streaming service. My personal favorites at Specialist Subject Records put on ten of these back in May, with lineups featuring the likes of Andrew Jackson Jihad and Jeff Rosenstock amongst DIY bands closer to home like Fresh and Soot Sprite. Using Instagram as their platform of choice, this was probably my first exposure to the distanced liveshow, and I still think about it often. It felt like getting to watch a cozy acoustic set at a tiny venue (which, to be fair, is not an inaccurate way to describe playing covers in your bedroom), with the option of a small-scale, almost conversational text chat. It is surprisingly nice and heartwarming to joke around and pretend you actually are at a gig with your friends, especially when you happen to be watching at the same time as people you have only met at shows. Proximity to the artist means you can interact with them as well, and even get them in on stupid jokes, like Specialist Subject’s fans constantly insisting on asking artists to eat their plants. Overall, there is a surprising amount of comfort and coziness that can be had in a screen that too often becomes the bearer of bad news. 

On the flip side, if you want the nonstop party atmosphere of a festival, Open Pit’s productions are definitely worth your time. Self-purported ‘leaders in the virtual event space’, they draw heavily on support from the PC music community to host events in the popular 2011 sandbox game Minecraft, creating sprawling virtual worlds for attendees to explore. Their actual sets consist of pre-recorded performances, publicly shown live for the first time on Twitch and their own website while the artists take to the blocky stage to move around and ‘perform’, sometimes using the in game chat function but otherwise generally lost in a sea of Twitch chat style textual chaos. The surprisingly easy conveyance of emotion through virtual avatars and worlds full of interactables and secrets sometimes built by the artists themselves means these events are often conceptually unique and entertaining in every sense of the word. With headliners ranging from midwest emo’s own American Football to pop sensations like Charli XCX and Kero Kero Bonito and even internet staples like 100 Gecs and Parry Gripp, these shows are consistently fervently frenetic, and you can bet on being totally impressed by the quality of their production.

Admittedly, it is a little hard to grapple with the idea that we might not be able to go to shows for a few years. However, that does not mean we should give up on the idea of live music by any means. Even if it only represents a holdover until we get to mosh again, the digital show has already come a staggering distance since its recent inception, and we can still find our fun in them as a totally unique experience. 

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