There’s been a definite increase over the last couple of years of brands bringing out bands (say that five times fast!) as part of a marketing strategy. The most recent of these was this weekend’s 5 Gum Experience, which saw Brighton indie kids, The Kooks, gracing our shores.
I’ll start off by saying that it thrills me to no end that we are suddenly getting to see smaller indie acts that I had never dreamed of seeing, at least not in this country. It just doesn’t make financial sense for entities like Big Concerts to bring out someone like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah or The Kooks, as much as I wish they would. They’re a business and they’re looking for acts that are going to fill a stadium, I get that.
So, it’s happy dances all round that someone else is stepping up to the plate, and bringing out the less mainstream acts so that we can get our indie on, right? Well, mostly. Except that after Friday night, I am left with the distinct impression that these events are not about the music at all, for most of the people involved anyway. It’s a marketing ploy, I do understand that. I watched 5 Gum’s number of fans on Facebook climb exponentially over the last few weeks as people clamoured to win those elusive tickets. Because of course you can’t buy tickets – that would just be too mainstream (hats off to Adidas for actually selling tickets to their events). There was a lot of backlash from those who didn’t get tickets, and it does seem unfair to the genuine fans who would have paid anything to see The Kooks, but hey, you know what they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. I don’t know how many extra packs of gum they sold in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the winners – I bought three to get the necessary barcodes for myself and two friends, and I don’t even eat gum, so another marketing success I suppose, if you’re happy to only think about short term gains.
The event itself was something of a logistical nightmare in parts. Hosted at a secret location (obviously), we had to park our cars at the Bree Street section of Oriental Plaza and catch buses that we were assured would run constantly from 18:45 onwards. We can’t blame 5 Gum for the fact that the weather had suddenly turned Arctic and the rain was pelting down – the proverbial cats and dogs on steroids. But organisation was a tad shoddy. By the time we got to Oriental Plaza just after 8pm, the parking was full, there was utter chaos as people tried to figure out where to park instead, and the queue for the buses, which had only just arrived (over an hour late) stretched for kilometres. We took all this in our stride, being massive Kooks fans, and immune to a bit of concert-going hassle. So we parked and we trekked back to the queue and we stood in the rain for two hours while we waited for space on a bus. And there were people in that queue who had never heard of The Kooks. Ah, gig tourists, you really have to love them. Would I queue for two hours in the rain to see a band I had never heard of? The fuck I would. But for me it’s all about the music, and as this night highlighted, for the vast majority it’s not about that at all. 5 Gum is selling an experience, and we certainly got that. The venue, when we arrived, turned out to be under a bridge. Yes indeed. The cool factor is obviously high with a location such as this, but as a music lover, the WTF factor was even higher. You see, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the sound under a bridge is not going to be that fantastic. In fact, it’s going to sound like the bands are playing in their bathroom. And given that we were ankle deep in rain run-off and drenched from our wait for the bus, it kind of felt like we were in the shower anyway, so perhaps this was fitting. The stage was also set up in such a way that if you weren’t in the first couple of rows, you couldn’t see the band at all. I suppose there’s only so much you can do when you’re setting up under a bridge. As I stood there wondering who on earth comes up with these ideas, I really had to just accept that it’s not all about the music. In fact, for the brand and for well over 50% of the people who were there, The Kooks were incidental. The brand wants to do something that will have people talking about them for as long as possible, and the people who attend want to be able to say that they were at a crazy, exclusive party. And oh yeah, there was this cool band playing. Who were they? Not so sure, but I think I’ve heard that one song of theirs on the radio before.
The Kooks, of course, were fabulous, even if they did sound a bit like they should be wearing shower caps. Even cutie pie frontman, Luke Pritchard, commented on how surreal the location was. And I guess there must be someone at these companies who at least knows their music because they do bring out some very cool bands, even if the execution lends itself more to the party vibe than a decent gig. Do I want them to stop? Hell no, because no one else is going to bring us the indie kids we love to love. Would I have gone on Friday night if I’d known I would get soaked to the skin and have to razzle under a bridge? Hell yes. Because even if it isn’t for anyone else, for me it really is all about the music.