Re-formed acts: must the show really go on?
Words: Phil Dudman. Tickets for his 2022 come-back tour are now on sale.
Illustration: Graham Samuels
We’ve all been there. That frantic, last-chance saloon, paying through the nose for tickets on eBay to see our favourite dance act’s glorious finale. We’ve all bounced off the ceiling shouting, “Yes! I got tickets to their last ever show! It’s going to be legendary! They are NEVER EVER going to play again!”
There’s sadness when your favourite act breaks up, and it’s not just because the music’s over. It can mean a big change for us, the fans, as well. Swearing pledges of love and loyalty to musicians, DJs and producers is something that defines our identity and soundtracks important chapters of our lives. Being a real fan can be a full time commitment: lapping up every album, remix and rare EP: coughing up for gig tickets, T-shirts and posters and getting your body parts signed at every opportunity. And what about the digital side? Following them on Twitter, signing up to the Facebook group, arguing on the Mixmag Facebook about whether they’ve ‘sold out’ and writing homo-erotic fan fiction on an anonymous blog (OK, maybe that one’s not quite so universal). Believe me, being lucky enough to work in music journalism doesn’t make you immune. ‘Never meet your heroes’ is good advice, but ‘never meet your heroes at 5am, backstage at a festival’ is even better. If I had a penny for every time I shed my urbane, professional journo persona to start babbling “I love your music, man” and how, once again, I’m wearing my smiley yellow ‘Mr Happy’ T-shirt “just for you guys”, only to be looked at like a complete penis and have a little piece of me die inside, I’d have enough money to pay for that cognitive behavioural therapy I clearly need.
Truth is, being a fan is something special. And quite rightly, it tends to have a shelf life. As soon as you make that commitment – by getting a twattoo of the act’s logo, or simply looking forward to their new album so much that you burst into tears or utterly freak out at how shit it is – you run the risk of your world collapsing when the object of your obsession decides to call it a day. The time will come when you’ll wish you could travel back to the glory days – like when Hervé made fidget house, or before Faithless toured ‘To All New Arrivals’.
So why, when so many dearly departed acts reunite, does it sometimes feel so empty? That has a lot to do with the music industry: with fewer records sold, gigs are the best way to make money. But while I don’t begrudge anyone a living, the sheer glut of bands back on the trail, all hugs and smiles while the blood still seeps from their break-up stab wounds, does dilute the romance. A little bit of chaos can make it feel more authentic – like Stone Roses, whose recent return gig in Amsterdam saw the drummer piss off home before the encore, leaving Ian Brown to explain, “I’m not kiddin ya, the drummer’s gone ’ome,” before getting wound up by the boos and calling Reni something unprintable.
There have been other welcome returns: New Order, The Happy Mondays, Bloc Party and the reconciliation of Liam, Keith and Maxim that gave the Prodigy a kick up the backside before ‘Invaders’. And this current trend gives you the chance to see artists you thought you never would, like the amazing Nile Rodgers with Chic, or the mighty Orbital.
The problem is, it’s getting to the stage where news of any act breaking up is starting to sound a bit like that shop on the High Street that’s been closing down for three years. Some ‘break ups’ seem a little contrived, like the Swedish House Mafia breaking up into, er, three Swedish DJs, or Pendulum cutting a new moniker as Knife Party. Then there are those ageing acts that jump on the ‘reunion’ bandwagon only to leave everyone wishing they’d stayed in retirement. Take 808 State playing ear-bleed noise to a bunch of fighting arseholes who stopped listing to music in ’92, or the live PA from Snap closing Glastonbury 2010 that could’ve been upstaged by an Argos karaoke machine. Put simply, cashing in on nostalgia is not enough. The only reason bands like Orbital are back is because they can still smash it live every time. But if I’d broken the bank to pay to see the Hartnoll brothers’ last show, the news that they were touring would leave me a little confused. You see, being a fan may be a bit of a one-sided relationship, but like any relationship, it needs trust to blossom.
The break-ups, the rows, the messy musical divorces – they all add to the story. If acts are going to get it together again after going out in a blaze of glory, they need to make sure: a) that they’re just as good, if not better, and b) that anyone who saw their so-called ‘farewell appearance’ gets a free ticket for the comeback. In which case I’ll see you down the front. I’m the one in the yellow T-shirt.