Is It Too Real for Ya? The Mic enters into a world of virtual reality as Dublin post-punk goliaths Fontaines D.C. take over an empty O2 Academy Brixton.
Nothing beats live music, but this year many of us have had our gig thirst left unquenched. To say covid has had a huge impact on the arts would be an understatement. The effect of the pandemic has been so major that the government suggested that those working in the arts, including musicians, re-train with their controversial ‘Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.’ ad. However, something that Boris Johnson & Co overlooked was how the Arts industry could readapt. Basically, virtual reality gigs are a thing now.
Fontaines D.C. are a group that have jumped onto this virtual reality train. The Dublin band have had a shining year; their 2019 debut album, Dogrel, brought about sold out gigs, a multitude of festival slots, and numerous award nominations. Whilst a mere pandemic didn’t stop them bringing out their Grammy nominated sophomore album, A Hero’s Death, in July of this year. But of course, what the pandemic did stop was a chance to perform the newly switched-up sound of Fontaines D.C. live. Fast forward to this week however, and the band have finally been able to showcase new tracks such as A Lucid Dream and Televised Minds to an audience, all thanks to live-streamed virtual reality.
‘There may be no sticky bodies and wet air at this gig, but instead there’s an opportunity to get up-close and personal with the band.’
There’s a few notable differences between a pre-Covid gig and a virtual reality one; the usual overpriced pints are swapped for a nice cuppa, and the only crowd are myself and my housemate. What hasn’t changed however, was the band coming on later than expected (old habits die hard) and that bubbling elation you feel when the music first kicks in. The stage at the O2 Brixton Academy lights up, and the sound of A Lucid Dream fills the room, courtesy of a Bluetooth speaker on my desk. What is clear from the very start, is that the band have had time to perfect performing the new album.
Going home to create A Hero’s Death and taking time to process the chaos of the past year, has certainly worked in the band’s favour. The set moves through two of Fontaines’ new tracks, maintaining the melancholy euphoria of the newest album. It’s easy to forget that you’re not in the familiar setting of Brixton Academy, surrounded by its Grecian pillars, but in a student house in Nottingham instead. There’s a short pit stop at the band’s earlier work, with an energetic performance of Chequeless Reckless and Television Screens, before progressing onto a handful more tracks from the lurid new record.
Something striking about the performance is not just the noise, but also the silence. The quiet in between each song acts as a reminder that this isn’t an ordinary gig, feeling instead like an ode to the absent fans that would usually fill every nook and cranny of the previously sold-out venue. However, the lack of audience makes the slower songs, old and new, shine through the most, with Love is the Main Thing being real evidence of this. The sullen reverberations of the guitar and the dark vocals of frontman Grian Chatten echo through the silent room – encapsulating the introspective essence of Fontaines D.C.’s discography. The quiet venue and VR also allow the viewer to better see the band at work and appreciate the workmanship that goes into a performance. There may be no sticky bodies and wet air at this gig, but instead there’s an opportunity to get up-close and personal with the band, including a newfound ability to admire guitarist Carlos O’Connell’s funky zebra print shoes.
Then the gig picks up, gone are the moments of melancholy as the audience is thrusted into the realm of frustrated adolescence witnessed in Fontaines D.C.’s first album, Dogrel. Too Real plays out, its youthful lyrics, feverish tambourine bashing, as well as red and blue flashing lights demanding your attention. Despite being on a screen, the band’s spirit infiltrates it entirely, leaving you with no option but to join them in their resentful hedonism. Whether it’s part of the mystery of the band or because they felt awkward speaking to an empty room, Grian Chatten remains silent for most of the gig. That is until the end when he thanked the fans for tuning in, adding how they appreciated “you all not telling us to go fuck ourselves.”
‘In-person gigs are on hold, but Fontaines D.C. are certainly not.’
The final songs are played, including A Hero’s Death, with its droning repeated lyrics “life ain’t always empty” feeling particularly poignant in the empty room. The final sounds of the closing song fizzled out, the band left the stage, and in aptly dystopian style, the viewer was taken to a screen playing space-y music with the message “Thanks for Watching” printed in bold letters. While live music has been practically written off this year, virtual reality gigs are potentially the light at the end of the tunnel. It isn’t a typical gig experience, and naturally some of the magic is lost when you are watching through a screen. However, in a time when we are forced apart, livestreaming is a way of bringing fans and artists together in an intimate way that’s long been off limits for the past eight months. Fontaines D.C. shattered all expectations, performing with a ferocious energy that made it impossible not to be pulled in. In person gigs are on hold, but Fontaines D.C. are certainly not.
Written by: Izzy Felton
Edited by: Dom Allum