The original social media: a world without mobile telephones and all that
By 1987, people listening to and making left-field music found themselves with a choice: to fly with the emerging electronic raging scene or to settle with un-crossed eyes, an absence of life-threatening bladder problems and one’s musical integrity intact in an attempt to keep bands, their fans and their venues alive. At that time I was lucky to find myself in a band (The Fontaines) with four other excellent people after some very questionable ‘previous’. I carried on down the band route, a decision the righteousness of which was only borne out a few days ago watching a film about raging which featured a grown man looning about with a baby’s dummy in his mouth in a hedge and – it gets worse – in Wales. Enough of that.
At that time, gigs for unsigned bands – and there were many in the 1980s, very many more so than now – happened in schools, at colleges, in local nightclubs and in pubs. The first two of these venues paid nothing, the latter very little; if you wanted/needed a PA – which of course you did – then it was up to you to pay for it = out of pocket, but it was worth it, at least most of the time.
The first gig I played (at the age of 17) was one that I organised with the band’s guitarist (my younger brother) and the drummer, his school mate. In a time before rules and regulations relating to organising events/anything stifled everything, we booked the town’s Liberal Hall without issue, some hard-as-nails nutters that we knew ran the bar (they bought the booze from an off-licence and sold it on – and also provided ‘informal’ security). Another friend of ours powered his home-made lighting rig with silver paper from fag packets shoved into plug sockets with matchsticks. He ‘borrowed’ a proper full-on strobe light from his dad, which would now only be used in some kind of warfare. The music was abysmal, but someone from another band said we sounded a bit like Joy Division, which was the best thing anyone could possibly say at that time (1982 or thereabouts). It got better and The Fontaines became quite a good band.
Fronted by someone who could really properly sing, and with the rest of us drawn from other rubbish local bands, the outfit wrote lots of songs, played lots of gigs, made one single and carried on for some years (I left in 1989 to be an archaeologist).
The big challenge at the time was how to promote upcoming events. That said, it was relatively easy to generate an audience for a gig purely by word of mouth. The more you engaged in the local scene, or created it, the more people you interacted with. The first few gigs I played were promoted largely by talking to people, but we also got into that other great medium for bands, posters. Much agonising/arguing over fonts, paper colour and images was involved – this was, after all, the era of Peter Saville. Should we have some band photos taken? Photographs of this kind – taken in the nearest locale that looked grimly northern (back to Joy Division again…) – are often those revealed at 50th birthday parties and funerals to show a past that a quinquagenarian or dead person will have done their level best to conceal from anyone ever.
Posters having been mocked up and then photocopied at huge expense in the town’s library – including the extravagance of at least 10 A3 copies – the time to spread the word had arrived. Fly posting can be enormous fun; often frantic, always clandestine and best of all illegal, ‘borrowing’ someone’s parents wall-papering gear and dashing about town with purpose after dark. A wonderful man, a now deceased artist and lecturer John Vince, broke his leg fly-posting for one of his bands, such was the level of dedication for getting out onto the streets rather than languishing at home staring at a phone in the pretence that something’s happening on the basis of ‘likes’: wake up, it most probably isn’t.
But where to post? The first port of call, somewhat obviously, was to directly superimpose your band’s poster upon that of another local band; the semi-permanent public equivalent of verbally sticking it to other bands – fighting between bands being rare. Easy. Second, put up so many posters that you have the town centre covered in a similar way to which they now are but with surveillance cameras. Third, go – in an ostentatious and pretentious manner – about local colleges and the like putting up posters, making it very obvious and so forth. The following day, and afterwards up to gig day, came the overwhelming compulsion to mince about town stopping every few feet (yes, feet) to effectively pose in front of each poster and of course to see if any other band had found the audacity to superimpose themselves upon one’s own. Feud without substance really… But it bought edginess.
I know some younger folks making music now, who seem to think that they have ‘launched’ or ‘released’ a track/album simply by putting it up on SoundCloud or whatever, and then sitting about waiting for something to happen/people to start paying attention: the ultimate likelihood being that it won’t/they won’t. But Good Luck anyway.
It’s been refreshing to see chalk boards on the streets advertising events, and they seem to work in terms of attracting spontaneous types, but the introspective narcissism of now is killing live music as so many up and coming artists either expect everything to land in their laps while they post their stuff into online nothingness. Much is to be had in terms of public exposure to the huge talent out there by putting down phones, giving two-fingers to vacuous social media, and getting on with the visceral art of Making Music in front of, and for, people.
I’d suggest that all of the above was social media in its purest form.
– Guest blog by Andrew Reynolds, The Fontaines