Walk off the Earth announce the end of music


There was a time when music was something very special in our lives. 

Music was so great, and so unique, that entire sections of world history are now inevitably tied to a specific genre, or song, its lyrics echoing in the collective unconscious as the myths of old. For years and years, what we learned to call the music industry freely exercised its authority over popular culture, spawning icons and legends in a way that perhaps only Hollywood could rival, and it commanded fear and respect, and it taught us something deep about ourselves.

Then a couple of things happened: the MPEG-2 Audio Layer III and Steve Jobs. If the technical innovation helped usher in the era of musical abundance, the tech guru became history's stagehand by giving everyone a digital receiver for the torrent of songs unleashed in the communications network. When they were done, both of these elements had changed how we listened to music, where we listened to it (which made a huge difference), and what we thought about it.

Then, on April 10th 2011, something else happened.

 

Walk off the Earth is a band from Toronto whose members are all extremely gifted multi-instrumentalists. According to an early interview, they realized that in order to gain some traction and attention from their target-audience, they should start covering pop hits on YouTube, strangely honoring a very ancient musical tradition. And this they did.
At least that's the official version.

What really happened was this: Walk off the Earth begun to excel at producing one-take videos of their supreme ability to choose the right songs from pop music's immense repertoire and then transform them into timeless and mesmerizing performances. 
Further, each time they do it, they deconstruct the song to such an extent that only its primal elements remain, and when they put it all back together, it's not only a better work of art: it is no longer a song. Walk off the Earth produce visual reenactments of that ever-fleeting and rapidly swinging collective mood called popular culture.

Even though their YouTube channel goes back to 2009, history really begins in 2011, with Adele's "Someone like You". The video starts with a caption taken from a comment thread, asking the band to do the cover, and adding that they are - at that point - winning the site. When Sarah Blackwood comes on, looks straight into the camera and says "Hi YouTube", you know the tide has turned, that the band is now one with the fans and their chosen digital platform. Her voice is flawless, thick with emotion and yet aware of the many tasks she has to complete in the video. Joined by ringleader Gianni Luminati and the unflinching Ryan Marshall, Blackwood then switches from the piano to a flying ukulele that is thrown at her by some invisible hand (a trick often repeated in future videos), her bandmates doing a similar switch with the double bass, all this leading to simply the best Adele cover you will ever see.

The former aggregate of talented musicians were now en inexorable route to becoming the world's first post-musical band. In July, they followed suit with an inspired rock version of Rihanna's "Man Down", and on January 5th 2012, after what by this century's internet standards could already be considered a long career online, the band finally emerged from the underground onto the mainstream's awareness with their golden version of Goyte's "Somebody that I Used to Know"

The performance, with the five band members playing together on a single acoustic guitar, would go on to garner over 130 million views, revive the Belgian artist's career by turning him into a ringtone kingpin, earn them a stint on American national television, and transform them into a global phenomenon with a Columbia record deal.



Walk off the Earth are now on a very successful world tour. It must be said that when they play their original material, the band is mostly average. No offense, but their blend of college FM rock is not new, has no distinctive features, no inner flame, and only reminds the listener of how good they are at their other activity: the destruction of music as we know it, and its crafted metamorphosis into the new thing. Once you've seen it, you can't forget.

The band is iconic, a symbol of the post-musical future, not because they are the only ones adept at demonstrating the supremacy of image over sound, but because they are the best. Video didn't just kill the radio star, it gave birth to Walk off the Earth.

Most people today, especially the kids, don't listen to music. Not really, not like in the old days.  People who still listen to music are the same who watch French movies from the 1960's, who still read newspapers and like to complain about Rihanna's latest single. For the rest of us, life in the matrix is now made up of an endless progression of jump-cuts between the multiple cultural scenarios available on the network, and music just happens to be one of the many ambient textures of that environment.

An interchangeable background, a few million files in your pocket, a throbbing super bass half remembered from last night's club adventure: there is no music. There is only light.