The Resilience of the Shared Experience

by Emmeline Rodman, Event Production Course Leader, ACC Bristol

[Photo Credit: Gareth Williams]

If you wander down to Bristol harbour (pre-lockdown) on the right night, you’d encounter a group of people dancing without music. Under a shimmering disco ball on wheels, they dance, they laugh and they pay nothing. That’s because it’s a free, silent disco. Silent discos aren’t new on the event scene, although they’re a great example of an experience which can adapt to any size crowd, always creating an intimate and unique party.   

Post Covid-19 events may look very different to the ones we’re used to. But something that will never change are audiences’ desire for creativity and a sense of exclusivity. During lockdown nowhere has felt as exclusive as our front room, and artists have found innovative ways of performing to us online. I’ve personally enjoyed open mic comedy gigs and bands going back to their acoustic roots, often from the new found stage of their bathrooms.  

When we’re not online, the world is moving towards more distanced exchanges, something all gig-goers (especially crowd surfers) worry about. But togetherness can take many forms. The way we continue to enjoy collective experiences may simply be a matter of events being nomadic, finding an outdoor space of their own. So what space is there left to occupy between a venue gig and a festival?  

There have been reports of drive-in gigs and large-scale film screenings popping up across Europe. I wonder whether sitting in a car is really the future of going out whilst staying in? Let’s think again about the potential of spaces. Could our gardens become grassy stages for live comedy? Could streamed events be embedded in our local parks and streets? Should we embrace virtual reality as a real alternative to the long queues and pricey cloakrooms of clubs? 

Another pressure on the industry, is the environmental impact of touring live music and the long term sustainability of large festivals. Could our desire for these types of events fuel a more regional approach to how we follow and support live music? This brings us back to the renewed importance of more intimate types of events. Here in Bristol, the independent venues, smaller scale festivals and the absence of a dedicated live performance arena is the embodiment of what it means to be a grassroot music city. It’s something Bristolians are passionate about preserving, though it may not last. In recent years there have been heated discussions about plans to build a very non-intimate 17,000 capacity arena in neighbouring Filton. Perhaps these types of ventures, fostering only corporate togetherness will take a back seat post-Covid, and the city wll once again breathe a sigh of relief and live for another amplified day.

Despite these unusual and uncertain times, I’ve not forgotten that feeling when those long-awaited gig tickets arrive in the post, or when my festival wristbands finally fray after a long summer. Who knows what the future of events may bring. What I do know is, no matter how silent the disco, I’m there.