Capturing the mundanity of humanity: the rapid rise of live-streaming


Sandi Thom’s “I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair)” was a flop when it was released in October 2005. That it ended up topping the charts after it was re-released eight months later was down to the novelty of livestreaming.

Her 21 Nights From Tooting tour was, as the name implies, 21 gigs performed over consecutive nights from her basement in Tooting. Each show was streamed live over the web, which proved an irresistible gimmick for DJs and news reporters alike. 

It didn’t matter that there was never much proof, beyond the say-so of Thom’s PR team, that her audiences each night numbered into the hundreds of thousands – it was a great story to tell each time before pressing play in the studio. 

This was an era where most British people didn’t have broadband, after all.

Sandi Thom: from one-hit wonder to livestream sensation

These days, we’d call it going viral. Thom pulled off a one-hit wonder by exploiting new digital distribution technology, just as the Arctic Monkeys had built a huge fanbase before the release of their debut album by encouraging fans to share MP3s of their demos. 

Livestreaming: punk or novelty?

Not to say that there weren’t people who saw past the novelty of the livestreams to what was being sold beneath – Charlie Brooker, besides (charmingly) calling Thom “the musical antichrist”, demanded in his Guardian column to know where all these supposed viewers were hiding.“If her sudden rise to stardom wasn’t the end result of a shrewd marketing campaign,” he wrote, “the implications are terrifying.”

They were terrifying, he argued, because “Punk Rocker” wasn’t “art”, it was “content”. Of course, besides this being just a standard old-man-yells-at-cloud argument against anything not to one’s own personal taste, it does misunderstand why the idea of streaming gigs was such a compelling one for so many people (even if they didn’t end up ever watching them). 

They were an intimate thing, directly accessible by anyone. The quality of the song was besides the point.