European Report #6: Round(about the)Houses and Online Concerts

Back where this whole European trip thingy got going for me, at The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm. The famed North London theatre and live venue, after suffering through years of neglect, recently underwent a £35,000,000 makeover and is now once more hosting concerts and other performances. I was fortunate enough to attend one of the opening events on September 29 (read review here) and came away convinced that the Roundhouse, with its noted history, fantastic sightlines, new bars and cafes, pristine sound and lights – not to forget, of course, the Big Top nature of its circular layout – would quickly regain its former reputation as the kind of venue at which even superstars beg to perform.

Thanks to the BBC’s first ever Electric Proms week, that’s exactly what’s happening. An astounding array of rock, pop and dance talent is making the journey to Chalk Farm this week. Among the artists are many that (i)Jamming! Types grew up with: Paul Weller, The Who, James Brown, and Billy Bragg. Alongside are some of the currently trendy new bands that may or may not prove to have similar longevity and influence: Kasabian, The Magic Numbers and The Zutons. These are the kind of concerts we all want to attend.

Several iJamming! regulars have managed to secure tickets, and have already begun posting their reviews in The Pub. The rest of us can tune in via the BBC, who boast that the Electric Proms will prove how “Live music on radio or TV can still feel, well, electric.”

Carl Barat of Dirty Pretty Things joined Paul Weller on stage to perform ‘In The City,’ a Jam song that dates back to when The Roundhouse was in its lates 70s glory.

And so it can, though the Beeb’s little online plug there fails to take into account that many of us will be listening and watching online, not through our radios or TVs. The BBC has made every single one of the Electric Proms performances (and that includes those at other Camden venues, like The Klaxons at the Barfly or Basement Jaxx at Koko) available for online viewing and/or listening, for a full week after initial broadcast. I am, as I type, trying to figure how to watch Electric Proms on my computer screen while simultaneously writing about it on my computer screen.

Ten years ago, as the World Wide Web gained a foothold in computer-savvy households and offices, some of us were dreaming of this moment. It seemed a long way off. Just six years ago, I hosted a multi-media performance of my novel-then-in-progress, Hedonism, on the Pseudo network, an event that was webcast worldwide. Unfortunately, back then, very few people had anything like what we now so readily call ‘broadband’ and the process of tuning into, let alone trying to watch, something on line was so laborious and thankless that few people bothered. The well-intentioned Pseudo Network was one of the many infamous busts of the initial boom.

Now we find ourselves living in an internet information overload world where almost every event ever filmed has found its way onto YouTube, where almost every band in existence hosts a MySpace page with free video and music, and where a “live broadcast” no longer necessitates the listener arranging their schedule around a radio or television, but rather, accessing the performance from their laptop anywhere they can get a wi-fi signal.

Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon unleashed their new project The Good, The Bad and The Queen at the Electric Proms. Simonon formerly performed at The Roundhouse with the Clash, almost 30 years ago.

Watching and/or listening to clips from these Electric Proms on my computer makes me wish I could have attended. But while I’m blown away by the BBC’s offer of so much free music, I won’t pretend I will take advantage of it all. I agree with the BBC copywriter: “Live music on radio or TV can still feel, well, electric.” But watching a live concert on a computer screen for more than a few minutes is to waste what the world (and the World Wide Web) has to offer. To those of you who got tickets to any of these shows – you’ll know that the best live music is best enjoyed in the flesh. For the rest of us, there’s always a gig going on down the road.

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October 2021