A brief history of play-back

The year the band of the Auserón brothers and Enrique Sierra published The law of the desert, the law of the sea, an album where this brilliant and ambiguous song called Historia de play-back appeared, which functioned as a diatribe of love as well as a metamusical exercise, there was a television with two channels and not many programs that bet on live performances.

There was The Golden Age and before Musical Express, but little, very little else. Seen from today, when the use of accompaniment tracks or backing tracks with bases, voices and pre-recorded arrangements, is assumed by the majority of the public and standardized by the different agents of the live music industry, it might seem that the play-back debate and what we understand by a concert is part of the past, isn't it?

"In the eighties there was a scene of television programs that we would like to have today," explains Ana Curra, a member of Alaska y los Pegamoides (1979-83) and Permanent Paralysis (1981-83). She refers to the aforementioned and others, such as the initiatory Popgrama or Caja de Rhythms, where a take of each song was recorded in a studio and then, during the production, that recorded version was used exclusively for the program. Opposite these spaces, there were others aimed at large audiences. "Those were our first performances in play-back. We felt a little ridiculous and we had a feeling of cheating. To avoid this fraud and have fun, we changed the instruments and thus passed a little the modesty that gave us to falsify", he recalls Curra. Asked what the live concerts were like at the time, she points out: "In those years a concert without really playing or singing was inconceivable, people would have thrown everything away, they already spit on the punk groups by themselves". And she concludes: "For canned music there are records and videos."

José Battaglio, a member of the group La Frontera, formed in 1984, believes: "The maximum transmission capacity of music is manifested live. However, since the appearance of rap, the use of bases has been generalized to other styles. pre-recorded that allow, with smaller budgets, to obtain very good results". His experience in a successful group made him know this television dynamic well: "I never liked it too much, although I understood that it was necessary for promotion. In addition, to make a good live show, a technical and human equipment was needed, which was not always the programs had.

Coinciding with the end of the 1990s, the practice of false direct was implanted in other environments. From television galas, he went on to hotel galas. This is how Juan Salvador García, with more than forty years of experience in orchestras on the Costa del Sol, relates it: "It started about twenty years ago. At first it only got involved in rhythmic parts. Then, it began to become practically complete because there were companies that dedicated to making them from the songs that hit", to which he adds: "When you have had two drinks, people don't care if the music is live or not, what they want is to dance, participate and have a good time". This reality of a mature audience enjoying the show, not caring if the music being played comes from the instruments in front of them, is not too far from the way in which a large part of the young audience relates to live music today.

Since pop is pop, it is also imposture, a subtle business of emotional sleight of hand to turn illusion into euphoria and euphoria into money, by means of an apparently simple formula: verse + chorus + marketing. If we add to this the multiple technological advances to help musicians in their work and give the live presentation of the various musical proposals more packaging, the controversy is served. One of the last ones was carried out by the young urban artist Quevedoauthor together with Bizarrap from Quédate, who, when a video went viral that implied that his vocal qualities were not those that would correspond to an artist of his position, received harsh criticism from the El País journalist Fernando Neira.

But, what happens when, from the artistic questioning, one passes to the questioning of the show? Neira himself, through a Twitter thread, started a bitter debate about the performances offered by Rosalía during the presentation tour of her latest album, Motomami, which, despite being highly produced and full of nuances, featured a minimalist staging in which, apart from her, on stage there were only dancers, a pianist and a cameraman following her everywhere. "At what point in history did we decide to consider a show without a single musician to be a concert? This was invented before and has another name: karaoke," Neira wrote. From there, rivers of digital ink flowed.

Another recent controversy was born from a tweet, this time from YouTuber Music Radar Clan who, about a video of the Korean boy band BTS, wrote: "This is not a concert. It's a joke." The reaction of the large and enthusiastic K-Pop fan base was immediate, unleashing a string of comments in which they defended their idols at all costs and questioned the criteria of the popular youtuber, who, on the other hand , has continued to echo the information circulating about the sinister working conditions in which these artists develop their careers. Regarding this, Olaya Pedrayes, singer of the group Axolotes Mexicanos and a fan of Asian pop, points out that "the groups are formed in academies where the kids are interned giving singing, dancing and acting classes. All the bands are run by companies that are very strict" and, finally, regarding the show commitment of this popular Korean sub-genre, he adds: "The level is super high. The concerts are long and full of complicated choreography. It is practically impossible for them to sing while they dance.

It seems that there are still some red lines regarding what a concert should be, at least for the generations formed around cultural phenomena of the 20th century such as rock, where a lot of importance has traditionally been given to instrumental expertise and versions in straight. "It depends on the type of music. It is not the same for a pianist to move his hands pretending to play as for a rapper or a reggaeton player to play the song that his audience has assimilated and encourage people. That is part of his show and creates a different motivation than that they are doing it to you live", explains Recycled J, an urban artist whose songs accumulate millions of listeners. "It's important not to confuse it with shooting a track with voices underneath. I don't have a backing vocalist. What we do is export a version without the main voice, but keeping that type of support. There are those who don't know and may think that it is being done play-back, even if it isn't," he says. The rapper from Madrid acknowledges that nowadays it is common on the scene to play a song and sing along with it, and that even the greatest exponents of the genre do so, although in the origins of hip hop culture it was not always like that.

The empire of backing Tracks has been consolidated and, as its technology has been developing, it has become a constant. Today it is a fundamental tool in almost any concert. This is confirmed by Raúl Lorenzo, a direct sound technician with extensive experience: "From Manolo García, Ketama or Marta Sánchez to metal groups or consolidated indie formations". José Lanot, a technician at the Sol room, agrees with this: "Many people have done it and have always done it. In a rock group they serve as support, in other music it is already almost 100%".

There is a figure, the musical director, who is the one who launches different backing tracks with the clapperboard so that everyone goes to the rhythm or, even, who can modify the tonality of the autotune. All urban artists with a band wear one and are usually pianists, like Rosalía's. About the debate generated around his Tour, Lanot is clear "For me it's the same because for them it's the same. They don't go out to clown, they go out to act and sweat the same. So, for me this is a concert? Yes".

If punk was, to a certain extent, a satire of the great farce of rock'n'roll. "Be childish. Be irresponsible. Be disrespectful. Be everything this society hates", as the Sex Pistols manifesto said, some of the genres currently in vogue could be interpreted, from a distance, as an acceleration of this mockery more or less consciously, when they dispense with aspects that until now gave popular music 'authenticity' and a certain artistic entity, even if it is from perspectives more related to business or entertainment.

"People care less and less if everything is happening live or not. They are going to see the artist who is the hype of the moment," says Raúl Lorenzo. And it is quite symptomatic how, in a moment of creative exhaustion and retromania, digital natives, who do not perceive the dilemma between the world outside and inside the screen, but rather as an extension of each other, seem to have assimilated a new paradigm of musical consumption that, beyond the platforms, implies other ways of conceiving the live performance, where the performance acquires special relevance and, propitiating small simulacra within a broader cultural simulacrum, force us to resignify the very notion of what a concert is right now.

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