The rapid spread of COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavirus, has forced major cities to put a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people, which means that concerts as we’ve known them have been put on pause for the foreseeable future.
It’s a gutting prospect for touring musicians, who, in the age of streaming, rely heavily on shows as a major source of income. As the pandemic worsens, some artists are turning to online merch sales for financial support; others want the show to go on, but safely. That’s where livestreaming comes in.
To be clear, a streamed concert is nothing new. Coachella has streamed countless live festival performances through YouTube since 2011, to give one obvious example. Pittsburgh hardcore outfit Code Orange, however, are one of the first bands to have streamed their show live in the time of global social distancing.
The band was set to play a packed hometown show at the Roxian Theatre Saturday, March 14, to celebrate the release of their new album, UNDERNEATH, but health concerns led the venue to cancel the event to the public. The band had spent the past seven months – not to mention their album advance – building a live show with animated video sequences by the group’s own Eric “Shade” Balderose. Rather than put their hard work to waste, vocalist Jami Morgan started calling friends to help stage a live broadcast from a mostly-empty venue.
“When we first got the news, it was a gut-check of ‘fuck, we’re stuck with all this shit,’” Morgan told VICE, “but then it was like, ‘you know what....we HAVE all this shit! We can turn this into something fucking insane if we can get everyone on board.’”
The band was put in contact with streaming service Twitch through their label Roadrunner Records. After Twitch agreed to bring the concert to their viewership, a small crew of friends from within the hardcore scene was brought in to the Roxian to handle sound and lighting, and also to cut between footage of the band and Balderose’s CG-intensive animations for the live feed. A few venue staff were on hand, as were a small gathering of family members, who watched the show from the balcony.
The set, which is currently archived through Code Orange’s official Twitch channel, is a surreal watch. It’s one thing to have that FOMO feeling when you’re watching from home as hundreds of thousands of fans cheer on Ariana Grande at Coachella; it’s another to have tuned in to Twitch to see Morgan shouting out mosh calls to an imagined crowd. Code Orange are fully energized and jumping around per usual, but between songs a camera pans to the Roxian’s empty seats. Morgan explains this is something “you’ll be seeing a lot of". It hits home that live music is something we’ve taken for granted. For the time being, it’s gone.
People did, however, tune in from home. As many as 13,000 people were watching according to Roadrunner – many more than the Roxian’s max capacity of 1,470. Thousands more have peeped the archived concert since.
Code Orange isn’t alone in moving live gigs online. Vancouver songwriter Dan Mangan and his band filmed an empty-venue performance at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall on Friday, premiering their by-donation “Show to Nobody” on YouTube last night; English rapper Yungblud just streamed his very own talk-show, which involved live performances, a cooking show segment, and a Q&A using fan-submitted questions; Celtic punk mainstays the Dropkick Murphys will be streaming a zero-audience St. Patrick’s Day performance from Boston.
Zola Jesus has announced that she’s currently in the midst of developing a new independent site called Koir, which will include how-to guides for streaming on various platforms, and an online events calendar. UK artist L Divine kicked off a social media concert tour over Instagram, which will continue on Tik Tok, Facebook, and other platforms through the end of the month.
Between the increase in documented COVID-19 cases, air traffic restrictions, border closures, and the general anxiety around the developing pandemic, Morgan of Code Orange admits it’s a weird time to get excited about seeing your band trending high on Twitter.
Still, Morgan is thankful to have brought the show to a dedicated fanbase “at least once.” They’re recouping what they can via a pay-what-you-want link and merch sales. He hints that an animated film from Balderose and future, less budget-exhaustive live streams could be on the way soon. He also hopes that more artists will be streaming these kinds of shows for fans, so long as their community can still support them.
“If the virus is like it is right now, it’s possible to rent venues out, pay the people who run them, and do these streams,” he said. But if the virus progresses, Morgan says streamed shows might become less possible. “I’m glad we got in while we could do a full-scale production, I [hope] more people can do that.”
It’s wholly messed up and coming under dire circumstances, but we may be in the midst of a cultural revolution for live performance. At the very least, it’s looking like the arts will be providing plenty of opportunities to keep our minds off of coronavirus for even a moment.
“I think that people are resilient and will find a way to carry on, be safe, and be entertained,” Morgan said. “Yeah, we’ll be affected financially, but we have each other.”
This article originally appeared on VICE CA.