Todd Durrant’s Random Thoughts
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Follow-Up About Conventions

I appreciate the feedback I received from some of you on my blog discussion of synthpop or electronic music  conventions.   It looks to me like the formula for a successful convention for a specific genre is still unclear.    I still believe that it is possible to have a convention worth traveling to attend as long as it has a lot of different activities and opportunities that couldn’t be experienced elsewhere– bringing together people who share a love of a certain music genre for a fun weekend.  But there are those who feel strongly that the main attraction still must be on high profile live bands (something I’ve seen as “music festivals” more than conventions).   No big bands = no excited attendees.   But the high price tag of high profile bands is prohibitive and has also been the financial downfall of past music festivals in our scene.

I had to smile at one suggestion that a successful synthpop convention would have to have somebody like Depeche Mode play on the first night, New Order on the next, and then maybe somebody newer like Wolfsheim on the third (or maybe it was Beborn Beton that was mentioned).  Well, realizing that Depeche Mode already tours the world, packing arenas, there isn’t really a way to get them to just show up for a convention, especially one that could never pay them what they make on a single night of their own tour.   New Order?  Well, high profile, but also not doing much lately, and certainly wouldn’t come without a huge price tag.   Wolfsheim…again, expensive, but also, they broke up.   Beborn Beton hasn’t exactly been active for years, and I wouldn’t exactly call them a “big name band”.  Not to shoot down the “idea” entirely, but there are many more complications when trying to lure “big name” bands to an event than just throwing names on the table.  Sure, we’d all love to see a show where our dream lineup is playing, but the chances are highly unlikely that it can be done both logistically or financially.

But as another reader commented, maybe our scene isn’t the kind that lends itself to the kind of “other activities” that would make a convention appealing.   Other than listening to bands play, what else is there?  People aren’t prone to dress up, aren’t necessarily into gaming and roll playing like we see at other kinds of successful conventions, and maybe we’re just altogether too boring to make our own good times when pulled together in one place?

Let me describe one more scene before I drop this topic for today.   Having hosted some music festivals (semi-conventions, if you want to think of them that way) and having attended others in our scene, I have seen a big difference in the “party attitude” at the events.   If we’re really coming together only to watch a few bands play live shows, then why do we see so little general excitement from the audience?  I’ve seen the small audience basically just STAND there, clapping politely after each song.  Yes, there were four or five real screamers whooping-it-up in the audience, singing along, and dancing like a crazed fan, but generally speaking, the audience is mostly standing, maybe swaying, and giving a polite cheer now and then.

Now, compare THAT to what I have seen a couple of times while attending a relatively small anime convention in Boise, Idaho (by “small” I mean around 500 people, which is bigger than many of the synthpop events I’ve been to, yet small for an anime convention).   Two of the years I attended, they’d set up a band from A Different Drum’s label to play a live show as part of their Friday night dance.   In both occassions, here is what I saw.  I saw an audience that new absolutely NOTHING about the band, could not sing along with any song by said band, but acted like it was the party of the year.   They came in costumes, they waved glow sticks, light sabers, you name it, while dancing, doing the limbo, hopping around the ballroom in long trains, shouting and screaming during the songs, encouraging the bands, and begging for more.  Heck, one of those bands only quit playing because the singer had to pee so badly he couldn’t physically stay on stage any longer!  Otherwise, the audience wanted more and more.   They didn’t want the party to end!   You see, those folks got together at their convention FOR A GOOD TIME.   They didn’t politely stand and stare at the main attraction.  In fact, I don’t even know what the main attraction was at the convention (only a couple minor voice actors were announced as guests), but they had paid for a good time, and they were going to have one!

Are we just too cool to get together and party?  That’s the question.  And by “party” I don’t mean to get drunk, sit around in our buddy’s hotel suite until we pass out.  I mean, to get together in large groups and have fun with the music we love, even if it isn’t a big name band on stage.   That is the real question.  I, for one, am getting older, and don’t have that crazy party spirit that I had when I was 18.  But I do think I’m capable of having a lot of fun even without Depeche Mode.  In fact, I’ve said before that my favorite part of most festivals I’ve attended have been the “hanging out with friends” parts.  It has been the stuff besides the show that I remember most.  For example, when I attended “Synthpop Goes the World” in Toronto (perhaps the biggest collection of modern synthpop heros in a single location, with the liveliest crowd and most energy), I got to see bands like Mesh, And One, Assemblage 23, Red Flag, Cosmicity, etc. etc. all in three nights.  But what do I treasure?  It was things like ordering Chinese food at 2AM with a dozen friends and having an improvised picnic in the park across from the hotel in the middle of the night.  We laughed, ate, and enjoyed being together so much that it was hard to wake up the next day to go see more shows.

Ah, memories.  How many more such memories will there be when it comes to this scene?  I hope many, but the barriers seem to be rising, and hopes diminishing.   I am reminded that there are long-lasting, successful music festivals in Europe every year.   Those do encompass a much larger audience, blending gothic and industrial music along with electronic dance music in general… more like “alternative” or “dark music” conventions.   I think that helps build a larger audience of cross-interests, but there also is the geographical factor:  Most places in Europe, even across country borders, are only a train ride or drive away.  It’s a big deal to fly across the USA, or drive for two and three days just to get to a convention, and thus, harder to find ways to lure attendees and build something successful.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for being a friend and supporter!
-Todd

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2 Responses to “Follow-Up About Conventions”

  1. Synthpop festivals in the US are such a difficult proposition for the reasons you’ve described, and there seems to be no magic formula for a successful event. SGtW was a financial disaster for the promoter, but was one of the most memorable concert experiences of my life. Having been one of those dozen people eating Chinese food at 2AM, I can say that it is these little moments that make events stand out in memory almost a decade later. Even when I attend huge events like ComiCon in San Diego, I find that I later remember meeting people and hanging out more than the panels I was originally so excited to see.

    It seems that the closest thing we can come to is riding the coattails of other, more successful gatherings: anime cons, gaming cons, etc. A crowd with no expectations is the easiest to please. Fans of synthpop (and related scenes of EBM, Industrial, Goth, etc.) are very demanding of their live acts, and thus seem unable/unwilling to simply enjoy music they may not be familiar with, or music that doesn’t fit their exact taste.

    SGtW is another excellent example of this; while some groups received a hero’s welcome, others played to small, polite crowds. The worst for me was Red Flag. When they finished their set, the crowd almost immediately left the floor. The guys came out to play an encore of “Russian Radio” to a group of 5 people milling around in front of the stage. It broke my heart to see one of my favorite, and formative, bands thus slighted by synthpop “fans”.

    I could go on and on, but you’ve already heard and digested it all. Thanks as always for your continued commitment and dialog.

  2. You said it Donovan…exactly! Yep, I remember seeing a couple “I’m really bored with this” reactions to a couple bands at SGtW, and it was sad. Heck, how hard is it to dance even if it isn’t your favorite act?

    Then again, it was so HOT in that venue that people took any opportunity to vacate to the patio.

    -Todd


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