Collabavirus… making music in the digital-only world

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Those more au fait with binary code know the above tells an undeniable truth about the 2020s. It’s a truth that is becoming more evident to more people as every hour of lockdown passes, and one that could influence policy debate across the decade.

And that’s because the level of data exchanged grows exponentially: Zoom meetings feature hilarious backgrounds, Houseparty Friday drinks include digital parlour games, and Instagram live gigs throb with adoring teenage fans.

Mostly, those digital events all rely on material created before quarantine. Friends need old in-jokes on Houseparty like bands need songs they wrote in 2010 for Instagram live.

However, once the coronavirus opened Pandora’s digital box, it couldn’t close it. From 2020 onwards, we’re only going to see more of our lives moved online permanently – including creative pursuits.

Whilst top-level artists have been able to collaborate via the web for some time, the DIY spirit engendered by trends like #DontHateCreate gave rise to grass-roots online collaboration.

One such project is Collabavirus 2020, which was established by Jay Plent, a 23-year-old new-Mancunian originally from Cambridge, who sought to turn a negative situation into something positive.

“Everyone and their dog has got a recording interface that you can plug a mic or guitar into. Everyone makes music on their laptops.”

With his idea formed, a Facebook group quickly sprang up and attracted 50 members. In Jay’s welcome message, he encouraged the musicians to share ideas with the hopes of making a EP.

He initially thought that was ambitious, admitting he would be “happy if one song came out of it”.

To his surprise, samples started flooding in, and despite some issues with communication, six songs were in development and some were nearing completion just a fortnight later.

Those songs are not only well-crafted, they also feature a variety of musical backgrounds and approaches. There’s the humorous track featuring an “amusing” angry break-up email by Theo Sayers, and Liam Taylor’s electronic instrumental Blue Altar.

In fact, that angry email song started out life with musician and music educator Liam’s work.

“It was really fun to see Theo put something together which used a double bass line I’d made five or six years ago and done nothing with. Of course he went in a completely different direction to what I intended it to be used for.”

The diversity of genres being emitted from Collabavirus is perhaps a reflection of its membership. Whilst Theo and Liam both hail from Cambridge like the group’s founder, artists from across Europe are part of the fledgling community.

The pair believe community is what makes the project a success.

“It is not as risky trying to [feed off others’ energy] over Twitter or Reddit because I’ve got the trust there,” Liam, 30, explains.

“There’s a group of people who can bounce ideas back and forth, I don’t need to worry if I’m not able to take a song to completion.”

Trust is a valuable commodity digitally, and something that many social media spaces lack. Theo had not “really engaged with online communities in a big way” before the project, but now sees their potential and finds them appealing.

“I’ve been given an opportunity to connect with other musicians who I wouldn’t already be collaborating with.”

Theo, 26, additionally found Collabavirus to be “important to my well-being in this crisis”, a sentiment Liam echoes.

“Now that I can’t go out into the world, I don’t have the same ability to just make stuff. That’s also something that hadn’t occurred to me before.

“It’s really scary, actually.”

Well-being was on the mind of Jay when he started the group, who says he wanted Collabavirus to be “something that helps people unwind, helps them relax, helps them get excited about stuff again” from the outset – so it appears that job has been done.

The history of the 2010s is still yet to be written and the themes of the 2020s are yet to be determined. One thing is for certain, and that’s Covid-19 will have a huge effect on our lives in the 2000s’ third decade – and its leading everyday impact will be the further digitisation of our lives.

Collabavirus is, in some ways, a glimpse into the future of trust, creativity, and diversity in a world where, more than ever, we live by 0s and 1s.

Main image courtesy of Hannah Gordon-Smith, with thanks.

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