Tour complete – now for the critique.

We’re just back from shows in the USA, and we thank you for coming to see us. With Canada earlier in the year, we feel we’ve made a solid attempt at greeting North America in person. The shows were well received (the usual audience photos will follow soon) and in the larger cities the combo of Front 242 and ourselves sold out venues.

2017-09-19 20.43.15

Vincent the rat holds court in NYC

A debrief comes at the end of every tour. The previous visit was exceptional just because it happened at all: we were in the garbage bin for decades, then unexpectedly rescued. This time it had to be special for other reasons, and it was partly so.

GOOD: We were able to perform a wider range of songs from videos completed between 2015 and 2017. Generally the videos are of higher quality – each represents weeks, sometimes months of work. We were constrained by my catching a throat cold in NYC, but were able to patch around this with the greater repertoire.

BAD: But they are the same material drawn from the earlier albums, presented in much the same way as before. Despite our adding all these songs you might have thought the show was the same as the last time. We need to think about the staging of any future appearances. Most of the ‘industrial dance’ bands we align with have stage shows involving costumes, radio microphones, masks and fog. We’re never going to take that up (not being an ‘industrial dance’ band) but the dynamism of the stage needs addressing.

To perform in the USA costs international airfares and the wildly expensive P1 visa process. Carting our bodies across the planet uses up money that could fund a stage show. And that’s maintaining the bare minimum – two people with suitcases, borrowed equipment. Unless our income jumps dramatically, we’re in a bind where the show has reached a production cost limit.

Puppets

Right now we prefer that people look at the video and not at us. We are the puppeteers, and the puppets are the show. But it may be time that the musicians enter the screen, and are visible as part of that virtual space. That way we can be seen to perform on all the weird and wonderful instruments we simulate on computers now, as part of a coherent presentation filling the audience viewpoint.

This has some difficult implications: the video has to be live, in real time on stage. We have to be able to position ourselves in a virtual set, but won’t know the stage beforehand. The process has to be fast, minimal latency. The system has to tolerate human errors.

The advantages are many. Two of the players can be present, others could be remote, recorded or simulated, so that you can have a full band. In some case all the players could be remote – although that leads to “where’s the beef?” problems where the audience needs meat on stage to feel fully satisfied. But that meat could be made in the USA – a local operator not needing airfares or a P1. After all if it works for Gorillaz & Daft Punk why not us?

Remote performance means latency and the risk of drop outs. I feel it can be done through something like Vimeo Live, Stewart is more knowledgeable and has doubts, and we will have to do some experimentation.

Then there’s the aesthetics. What would you see? Would it be based on the static clips? Would the show be one space or a space for each song? How much room is given to the performers? Does that change based on the size of the venue? It really is a rocky business, but I feel we’re at the point where it’s got too comfortable. That’s not our purpose.

Future Proof

Right now there’s a resurgence of interest in all things late 20th century, from film sequels to goth bands. That’s understandable given the uncertainty of a new century, but of course the people of 1917 only pined for La Belle Époque for a while before new culture took hold. I would not bank on aging electronic bands too much longer. Two years from now we cannot just pop back up again with the same old. Even if this project fails, it seems a better bet than expecting everything to stay the same.

It also aligns with Sevcom’s other aspirations in immersive media and therapeutic environment design. Not just a matter of neatness – also a matter of the amount of time we have left.

As always your comments appreciated.

20 thoughts on “Tour complete – now for the critique.

  1. Tom-
    It was a pure delight to finally bare witness to your work being delivered live. I have waited for that moment since the 80’s and to have seen you and Front 242 on the same bill in LA was worth the 800 mile drive. Thank you for reforming and coming back to treat us with your music and visuals.

    I recognize that you are not a dance band, despite having quite a few tunes that fit into that category. This is one of the things that drew me to your art so very long ago. You are quite adept of bridging the gap between what you perceive you do and what your audience perceives you do. I have always been fond of the esoterica and humor of your lyrical context, and sonic landscapes of texture and colors that pairs extraordinarily to the presented visual assemblage. It always leaving me wanting more.

    I really enjoyed the set you two played in LA. It was a great compilation of quite a few of your most known pieces. Again, it left me wanting more. I was very hopeful you would have played some of your punkier tunes such as “Here Comes Your Fire”, “Piggy Smack”, or “Snuck”. I was a bit surprised you didn’t perform “First Steps” as you had the video already generated. I was also confused as to why you didn’t play anything from Rhine, since it is a strong album, full of Ellard-ness. I do hope you consider bringing some of the aforementioned tunes into the fold if and when you make it back stateside.

    Please, do not think that I didn’t enjoy your set. I most certainly did! I simply wanted more, and that’s on me, I suppose. After waiting such a long time to witness a live set I wanted the option of you and Stewar to be my personal jukebox. Hopefully that isn’t off-putting. Your art means a lot to me as a consumable and an inspiration.

    Thanks for the amazing night! I and my wife will always cherish the experience. We look forward to your return to the USA.

    Cheers!
    ~Matt

    • – Could not do 1st Steps as throat cold was bad, sorry.
      – To perform some other songs we need video. Videos can take 1- 3 months, and so a decision has to be made which tracks are priority. Main consideration is how many people would appreciate each, and the disco guys are numerous.
      – Ideally a situation where any track could be performed with generic visuals are still relevant would be great, but not sure how.
      – We agree we’re a bit over the disco. It’s hard to know beforehand.

  2. I don’t think of Severed Heads in terms of other bands, except for how you’ve influenced many over the years. It’s more of a standalone, un-definable thing and any equivalence is false. I loved both of the shows since the Severed Heads’ “rebirth”, and for different reasons. The first one at the Elbo Room was very personal, sometimes to the point of being heartbreaking. The show at the Mezzanine was thorough and left me wanting more. Your video design made it disorienting, the music was perfect, and the commentary made me chuckle a few times. Here’s to you sticking around for a few.

  3. A fully-formed idea will hopefully be forthcoming (due to being on holiday and surrounded by little people), but one idea might be the performers-behind-a-half-opaque-screen thing: Where n “real” performers are behind the screen and ‘the rest’ are virtual projections.

    Or, since everyone and their dog (likely) has a phone with AR capabilities, you could – perversely – encourage the hold-the-phone-up crowd, by forcing them to use them for the performance. Yeah, OK, I’ll see myself out…

    On the subject of latency etc I have no suggestions right this minute – a lot of it depends on the network in between and the infrastructure at each venue. Obviously it’s the 21st century now, but we all know each venue has it’s own idea of present-day tech, so this is the random factor.

  4. Hmmm. Food for thought there. You may or may not recall that years ago the laptop performance thing was a bit of a hobby horse of mine. I always felt that the performers needed to not “hide” behind laptops but be seen to be performing in some way. Yes, I know you (and other laptop artistes) *are* performing back there; it’s all about how the audience perceives it.

    Hence my limited shtick of standing beside the laptop, using some other prop (bass guitar). Now, where I fell down was lack of material but that is surely a problem you don’t have. So my first thought was perhaps you needed more performers with you up there on stage. But you counter argued against that pretty convincingly.

    I am really divided about the “entering the virtual space” idea, and not just about whether the technology is up for it. On the one hand it is a clear progression of what the band has been about for so long.

    But on the other hand, I am unconvinced that even a new technological marvel will be sufficiently engaging to an audience going out and cramming in somewhere sweaty and looking for a *physical* experience. I recall you commenting many times to audiences, directing them to pay attention to the videos and not the players. I’m not sure that a more modern visual image will satisfy those that want to see the real people doing something live.

    I guess I’m saying that you may put a lot of effort into something new that will generate pretty much the same response: a fair degree of interest no doubt, but for other people it’s just another backdrop. But perhaps the process of conducting that experiment is reward enough?

    • Experiments have unknown results if they really are experimental. So, yeah, who knows.

      But we have a big problem with costs, which means no more than 2 people on planes, hotels, VISAs etc. and I don’t think we’re ever going to increase our meat count. I absolutely agree about audiences wanting meat, but the meat need not be the real thing, hence Daft Punk.

      • In regards to Daft Punk and real meat, I’ve mentioned this before but in 1998 the sci-fi surf band Man or Astro-man did “clone tours” with different people performing the music other than the actual band members. There was an Alpha clone batch, Beta, etc… a Gamma batch was the all girl version. So they could tour different parts of the USA simultaneously. The clones were controlled via a “satellite” link by the real members. The audience could decide if the clones were doing well, if not they did push ups and assorted other punishments.

  5. Just bring the laptops, controllers and Stewart, project the video, add some Rhine tracks and I’ll buy the ticket.
    As you say we’re running out of time.
    No time to over think it! 🙂

  6. Adding to my melatonin-fueled middle-of-the-night diatribe on FB, I would point out that Meat Beat Manifesto addressed this somewhat on their tour last year by placing a see-through screen at the front of the stage that allowed projections from behind as well as somewhat of a view through of them performing. It kept the visual focus up front, but didn’t totally disengage them from the audience. It gave a pretty cool “wizards behind the curtain” effect.

    • There’s certainly some interesting things you can do with scrim (translucent screen). But MBM are residents of the USA. There is another layer to the questions here – how is it possible to virtualise the performance so that we can expand the number of performers and/or transmit data, not meat?

  7. A real mix of excitement and worry about what might be, but I’m thrilled at Sev’s new accomplishments and fully boost what’s to come!

    Thanks Tom for grappling with these compelling ideas — there’s ancient Ralf Huetter interviews, his claiming Kraftwerk would be performing in this manner by the 2000s, even 90s. Ha!!! They still persist as traveling meat with some mannequin accessories.

    I believe you’ll find some talented and fantastic American collaborators for a joint-virtual live show of Sevs material. Beam into Detroit someday, please. The city relates to that feeling of being rescued from the trash bin.

  8. There is only one answer and I have it. You must rename yourselves Hammy Sagar and cover the complete collection of Sammy Hagar electronically. Then you should be able to play nearly 30 state fairs across the USA. Must include girls dancing in bikini’s. Must be able to yell, “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” after each song and then slam a Pabst Blue Ribbon or Budweiser or Miller (depending on which state you are in) on your forehead.

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