Are Drive-In Gigs The Short Term Future Of Live Music?

With gigs and festivals off the table for the foreseeable future, there's a big push to get drive-in shows up and running.

drive-in gigs photo

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With gigs and festivals off the table for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19 lockdowns, promoters and bands around the world are faced with a curious question: How do you put on a gig when no one can be within two metres of each other?

The obvious and immediate answer, of course, was to livestream them — and there were plenty of great examples, from Lime Cordiale’s short-and-sweet Junkee gig to Mark Ronson’s epic Love Lockdown set, which saw Mallrat jump on to eat noodles. But livestreaming is just an unfulfilling solution: the sound quality is never great, and, try as they might, artists can never fully replicate the feeling of a live gig.

But now, a new lockdown trend is emerging: the drive-in gig.

Last month in the Denmark town of Aarhus, an ingenious muso called Mads Langer jumped on stage in front of a stack of socially distanced cars to perform. According to Forbes, the sound was transmitted through an FM radio station, which attendees tuned to inside their respective cars.

“At first, it felt extremely awkward,” Langer said in an interview with triple j. “I realised onstage that I was performing to four people times 500, rather than 2000 people.”

Apparently, the audience applauded by honking their horns and using their windscreen wipers — and Langer would communicate with them via Zoom and a huge screen onstage.

“I would talk to them, what do you do for a living? How are you affected?” He told triple j. “It actually ended up being a really intimate setting even thought it was a big venue.”

The event piqued interest around the globe, and in the weeks that followed a number of similar gigs popped up — including some car raves in Germany.

Now, there’s a push to get them happening here. Lauren Sherson, a board member of Self Employed Australia and former Liberal candidate for the seat of Melbourne, and local music curator Suzi Q P Dohl, are currently lobbying the Victorian Government to allow drive-in gigs to happen.

“We have a strong local line-up for our first proposed concert, which seeks to give back to emergency and front line workers who have kept our community functioning during the pandemic,” Sherson told Music Junkee. “We have more artists interested than available stage time right now, and our line-up is dependent on the stage location and conditions that Government approves.”

There are numerous benefits in hosting drive-in gigs, says Sherson. It adheres to social distancing rules, it offers paid gigs to artists who have lost their income due to the lockdowns, and allows some form of arts and entertainment to return to the public sphere.

Sherson says she and Dohl were meant to meet with the Victorian Creative Industries Minister Martin Foley, but it was cancelled and never rescheduled.

“We have not yet received the support the Arts economy needs from Victoria’s State Government to start and progress conversation on recovery projects,” Sherson says. “Until Victoria’s State Government gives the approval to start conversation on new projects, Council events teams are unable to begin planning. Without the planning conversations we are unable to secure a location, and without a location the production crews cannot develop specific operational plans.

“We need the Arts economy moving for our mental health and we need to be talking innovative recovery initiatives right now, not start those conversations when first productions could be operating.”

Dohl and Sherson have set up an organisation, Drive-In Gigs, and have a petition on the go to place pressure on the government.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a three-step plan that would be the country’s roadmap out of the COVID-19 lockdown. Under that plan — which is subject to the discretion of the state governments — gatherings of up to 100 people would be allowed at stage three.

While this is great news, it still leaves gigs in doubt — most venues would be over that capacity, and couldn’t afford to put on gigs for such few people. As Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy previously flagged, gigs and festivals would almost certainly be out of the question until a vaccine is found.

Which makes the need for a live music solution all the more pressing — could drive-in gigs be it?

Photo Credit: Mads Langer/YouTube, G Flip at Laneway Festival/Belinda Dipalo for Music Junkee