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Why I Love... Listening Parties

Michael Denny By Michael Denny
Published June 2021

One of the most important aspects of live music has always been the sense of community between the artist and their audience. Hearing your favourite songs performed live, surrounded by fellow fans, can be a unique, overwhelming and emotional experience. With the live music industry on pause, artists have had to find new ways to connect with their fans. Cue Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties...

The concept is the brainchild of Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess, and the premise is simple: “We listen to albums with the people who made them. Join us.” To elaborate, at a scheduled time each day, music lovers across the globe listen to a given album while the artists, producers and others involved in its making post tweets offering insights into the process. Since the first lockdown began in the UK there have been over 700 listening parties, with participating artists ranging from industry legends Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and Blur, to cult classics including all of the British Sea Power albums to date, and special releases including the aptly titled It Won’t Be Like This All The Time live album from the Twilight Sad.

In the current climate social media can be exhausting, but the overall positivity surrounding the listening parties has been a blessing. The listening parties have provided an exciting medium for artists and fans to engage using social media to generate meaningful conversation, spark friendships and discover new music. I have found it fascinating hearing further context and insight into the inspiration, meaning and creative decisions associated with the album‑making process, particularly with some of my most loved records. A couple of years ago I wrote the article ‘Why I Love... The Album’, in which I encouraged the reader to “take the time and effort to listen to albums as they were intended”, and the listening parties have provided an extra incentive to engage with and cherish the LP format.

The listening parties have also offered artists a lifeline, helping to promote new releases and encourage purchases of vinyl. For those interested in owning the albums featured, listeners have been encouraged to shop at independent record shops to support the sector in these unprecedented times. I believe the listening parties have also made an impression on the charts, with a number of indie and alternative bands seeing increased interest in the album format. This is particularly evident with the likes of Mogwai scoring their first number‑one album with the stunning As The Love Continues while Maxïmo Park could also be found riding high in the charts.

I have rediscovered albums in my collection and have grown even closer to some of my all‑time favourites.

In a time of great uncertainty and distinct lack of normality many of us have been feeling reflective, and I believe our need for comfort and escape has heightened our nostalgic tendencies. Through the listening parties I have rediscovered albums in my collection and have grown even closer to some of my all‑time favourites. Outside of the listening parties I have been inspired to work my way through my own CD and vinyl collection, posting my ‘Lockdown Listening’ on Instagram.

As a composer I have found the listening parties to be inspirational when it comes to my own creativity during lockdowns, and they have made me consider how I approach writing for the album format. I was recently commissioned to compose a soundtrack for Aerial Festival, the outcome is a concept album titled Imaginary Mountains. The piece combines musical compositions and experimental sound design with a spoken‑word narrative from writer Simon Sylvester, using crowd‑sourced responses about the shared experience of all citizens under lockdown.

Ultimately the listening parties have provided us with experiences we can remember and look back on in the same way we once did, and soon will do again, with live music.