The sound man is chewing his gum. He is sitting to the left of you. He is browsing the Internet, looking for a birthday present for his new girlfriend, or else is trying to shrug off his sleep. His control desk looks like an abandoned tomb. The sound quality is piss poor; you’re getting a feeling there are thousands of wasps playing detuned, distorted electric guitars. Ear-flogging. Then there are all these girls. The girls are ready to dance to anything, even to Mozart’s Requiem. The girls are having fun, you can’t blame them. The person sitting with you is shouting something into your ear, but he might as well be shouting filthy insults: you can’t hear him. You’re looking at the bass player; you’re afraid that if he moves to the left he might actually kick the vocalist off the stage. The vocalist who is already sitting on the cymbals, not allowing the drummer to show all he can. You think you’re going deaf, because the break-filling “Twist And Shout” by The Beatles sounds like a barely audible lullaby…
It might sound weird, but in a music club you admire the bad bands. The ones who can’t write a tune and come up with a half-new riff and make you hit a dancing girl because you can’t see the whole stage. You admire them. The good ones? Not so much, because however good they are, they are still quite bad. You are all right, boys, and your covers make sense, but sorry, I don’t have time for you – see you later when you are through with your apprentice job.
But it’s the genuinely awful buggers who you admire. The ones who look like clueless victims of a wicked cut-and-paste game involving random copies of several music magazines. But their looks are still the last thing on your mind: in fact, the more preposterous they look, the better (total absurdity might bring some edge to the whole proceedings). So why the admiration? Well, the bassist is doing his job; the guitarist can play a muffled solo or a muffled riff as well as anyone under the circumstances; the drummer is ravishing his kit like there’s no tomorrow; the vocalist has half the microphone inside his mouth. They are clearly giving it all – I almost want to cry. They don’t have time for drugs, to say nothing about finding birthday presents for their girlfriends – they are forever stuck in their rock’n’roll basement jamming or composing or just blasting well-tested covers. I love them. Because they are no good but refuse to believe it. Because they still think some godsend manager is sitting in the darkest corner of the club looking for a band to sign. Because, as Martin Amis put it in London Fields, you never write for no one. There’s always somebody watching you: mother, God, Shakespeare, friend.
So what are you expecting when the doors shut behind you and you enter the dim playground for those who want their music in the rawest form? A Tom Waits impersonation? A band ripping off The Zombies? Brit-pop revivalists? The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t really matter what you’re expecting. You are not going to get it anyway. There won’t be any subtlety, mercy, or clarinets ; amazingly, there won’t be any difference between Waits-worshippers and an Oasis tribute band. Music club sound is not for your ears: it’s a punch in your stomach, it’s a kick in your teeth. They’re all well-rehearsed Jackson Pollocks of modern rock, and there’s a big possibility they will all sound like fucking Evanescence.
But music clubs are still worth it, and you’re always glad to be there. Waiting for a miracle, for a revelation, willing to take on the Devil himself. I know: they will come, they will make a brief soundcheck, they won’t say a word, they will play your new favourite song. And the sound man will choke on his gum, and his girlfriend will dump him. And those girls, what about them? Oh let them dance. I want them to keep dancing. Even to Mozart’s Requiem.
After an eventful few hours in a music club, you walk home shattered, broken, wanting more – but definitely not now. Not today. Sometime in the future, maybe, when a Luke Haines will hit the stage to be cherished by all those next generations to come.