Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The new old reliables

A few weeks ago, at the Future of Music in A Digital World conference in Dublin, one of the speakers, Andrew Dubber, made a great quip about the live business industry. The best way to ensure a successful live career …

Mon, Jul 26, 2010, 11:50


A few weeks ago, at the Future of Music in A Digital World conference in Dublin, one of the speakers, Andrew Dubber, made a great quip about the live business industry. The best way to ensure a successful live career for your band, he said in response to a question from the audience, was to have had a hit in 1985. Cue mass outbreak of the chuckles amongst the conference-goers and Twitter feed readers.

Having spent the weekend checking out the fare at Italia Wave, though, you have to concede that Dubber’s smart comment could well be a mantra for the current age. Of course, the likes of Groove Armada, Faithless and Underworld were not knocking out the hits in 1985 (the latter were then operating as Freur, having failed to set the world alight when they had a squiggle as their name), but fastforward to 1995-99 and those acts were very much in their pomp. Now, some 10 to 15 years later, they are the old reliables on the festival circuit, the acts who, along with the Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, can make a decent living every summer hitting the big tents, football stadiums and racecourses around Europe.

Sure, all of ‘em are still cranking out new material every few years and there is every chance that they might score another sneaky hit (look at The Prodigy, for example, and that decent last album “Invaders Must Die”). But the audiences aren’t there for the new tunes – they want a fix of the nostalgic good vibes when the bassline thumps and you get to hear “I See You Baby” or “Born Slippy” again. The bands give the crowds what they want because those tunes still work wonders, the reviews are glowing and the agent gets a call on Monday morning with a rebooking for next summer. Everyone’s a winner.

It makes you wonder, though, where the next batch of old reliables are going to come from. While you could argue that we’re doing fine with Kings Of Leon (pigeons-permitting), Coldplay, Muse and Snow Patrol, what comes next? Where are the next batch of headliners to follow those acts when the pigeons and Freddie Mercury complexes take their toll? And, more importantly, how the hell are they going to rise to the top? After all, the majority of the acts mentioned above benefited from that old traditional model where hit songs ensured major album sales which led to a growing audience and thus higher live fees. Now that that model is looking a little green around the gills (certainly the relationship between the first two components anyway), is there another way for acts to go from playing a small stage in year one to a bigger one in year two?

Of course, that transfer process still exists – look at Florence & The Machine, for example, between 2009 and 2010 and we will probably see the same thing happen between 2010 and 2011 with Mumford & Sons – but it remains to be seen if the momentum will be maintained to the same extent as before with the same amount of acts going from next big things to headliners to old reliables. The proof will only come 10 to 12 years from now when and if OTR’s equivalent is reporting back from Italia Wave 2022 on headliners Florence & the Machine, Mumford & Sons, Two Door Cinema Club and The Coronas.

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