Is live music being ruined by endless reunions?

With the Libertines becoming the latest band to reform for lucrative summer festival appearances, is the trend for endless nostalgia destroying the music scene?

YES: Richard King, author and co-editor of Loops

The feedback loop of a band breaking up – in admission of defeat or virulent acrimony – to a band reforming, for one visit to the festival trough, is getting shorter. Last summer Blur managed six years before regrouping, this year the Libertines will reconvene for £1.5m and 80 minutes each at Reading and Leeds, having been out of one another's company for all of five and a half years.

One of the saddest aspects of this further chapter in authorised nostalgia is that it marks a bland corporate footnote to an otherwise incendiary, ramshackle, anti-career. The Libertines aren't even headlining Reading/Leeds, settling instead for last-band-but-one mediocrity. Whatever you think of the Libertines – their music, criminal records or choice of drugs – they breathlessly caught the music industry napping. While the major labels were either mired in litigation with the architects of web 2.0, or agreeing marketing budgets for the New Rock Revolution, the Libertines experimented with ideas that have now become the established pattern of breaking a band: unannounced gigs in unusual locations, semi-authorised leaking of songs, instant dialogue with anyone who is interested. They were the first band in generations to break down the hierarchy between audience and performer.

The results were chaotic and viscerally beautiful. Above all, it was all incredibly messy. You may have been too old, too young or too uninterested to witness any of it. But it was a spectacle on its own terms and span out of control accordingly; a moment of fissure now gone, and, like many of the best things in life, unrepeatable. Instead, the Libertines will produce a facsimile of themselves, a download in human form, for two nights in August.

Reading was the site of the last concert by the Stone Roses, one of the few bands who, despite rumours of six-figure offers, have so far demurred from reuniting. Their final performance was an out-of-tune dirge with only two of the band's original lineup remaining. As depressing as only the commuter-belt drizzle and the unmistakable musk of onion rings in a damp Reading can be. People were in tears, appalled at witnessing the real-time demise of a once heroic band. But what are the chances of that happening again? Nothing so unpredictable would be allowed access to a live sector that is focused, like the media that sponsor these events, on streamlined content delivery. Spandau Ballet aside, bands eschew recording anything new when reforming for the comeback circuit. This is both an acknowledgment that their best work is behind them and that the culture of the playlist is in command. In exchange for a high-price ticket, you'll hear all the right songs, just how you like them, in just the right order. Instead of new work, they'll perform a whole album in its entirety, as long as it has been afforded canonical heritage status.

This is music as vintage, a nicely weathered accessory to a boutique lifestyle. It's a culture where live music – the most visceral, wayward and communal of exchanges – is now curated. Curators used to fill galleries with art; they now fill O2 academies with package tours for an alternative comfort zone. These artists and records might have been considered groundbreaking first time around, but they now exist in an entirely risk-free environment, upgraded and calcified for our consumption. Whatever else it might be, it certainly isn't rock'n'roll. Thanks for the memories.

Loops is the bi-annual journal of music writing published by Domino records and Faber & Faber (

NO: Sam Wolfson, NME journalist and student


Richard King and Sam Wolfson

The GuardianTramp

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