As easy as it’s been to blame the live-music industry’s well-documented struggles on the COVID-19 pandemic, the lowly Canadian dollar, or the seductive pull of The Last of Us, there’s evidently another factor at play.
Taking a lesson from two studies from the U.S., Gen Z is ruining, well, everything.
How? That would by refusing to buy into the notion that nothing improves a night out with Dummy, King Hannah, or They Are Gutting a Body of Water better like hitting the dance floor six sheets to the wind. Or, if you prefer, loaded, hammered, shitfaced, plastered, blitzed, bombed, blotto, or fucked up six ways to Sunday.
Last week veteran Canadian music journalist Alan Cross unearthed a couple of surveys from the University of Michigan and Berenberg Research which suggest Gen Z has failed to embrace an enduring idea: alcohol is fun.
You’ll get no argument on that front from those who’ve come before them. From the greatest generation to the Silent Generation to Boomers, Gen X, Y, and Millennials, alcohol was the magic elixir that made everything better. At least until you crashed the car, got fired from work, or ended up on a fantastically entertaining trainwreck on Intervention.
Nowhere was that more true than in the clubs.
Sure it might have caused the odd fist fight or bout of projectile vomiting, but booze was also the magical ingredient that made for some of the greatest shows your great-great grandparents ever saw in Vancouver.
Like the Replacements somehow managing to perform an hour-long set at the Town Pump despite being almost too drunk to stand.
Or Iggy Pop in a hail of flying beer cans at the Commodore in the early ’80s while standing centre stage like Christ on the Cross.
Or Ween ripping through two 40-ouncers at the Starfish Room in the mid-’90s, pausing between songs to slur “We’re getting slowly wasted really quickly”.
And Country Dick of the Beat Farmers being carried to the bar by the crowd at 86 Street, where he proceeded to, lying down, knock back shots of tequila placed between his cowboy boots.
Or ...And You Will Know Us From the Trail of Dead literally dismantling Richard’s on Richards while the bouncers frantically fought them in a losing battle.
And, well, you get the idea... And don’t worry—you’ll have your own memories to hold onto. Like that time you almost saw Pop Smoke in Toronto.
Back to the two surveys. The upshot of them was that Gen Z, and the millennials who identify with them, are drinking up to 28 percent less than previous generations.
The University of Michigan study concluded that “Fewer college-age Americans drink alcohol, compared to nearly 20 years ago.”
The Berenberg study reported that:
- Respondents in their teens and early 20s were drinking over 20% less per capita than millennials did at the same age.
- 64% of Gen Z respondents said that they expected to drink alcohol less frequently when they grew older than today’s older generations do.
- Gen Z respondents said they drank less because of health and hangover-related concerns as well as because of worries about being judged by friends or parents, according to Berenberg analysts.
- 16- to 22-year-olds apparently just don’t think drinking is that cool anymore.
While health concerns were a factor, other reasons include there are now easier ways to get oneself into a gloriously altered state when going out to catch a sensitive singer-songwriter, nu-metal band, Atlanta rapper, or unrepentant laptop jockey.
In the olden days you—usually stupidly—primed the pump for a night out by shotgunning a six pack of Black Label, thinking that would make you drink less when you got the club. (To the detriment of your head and wallet the next day, that usually ended up only greasing the skids for full-blown booze debauch.)
The University of Michigan survey stated that use of marijuana had increased in Gen Z compared to past generations. Today, concertgoers are more likely to cultivate a buzz with Willie Nelson's favourite greenery, with edibles a viable alternative when smoking isn’t allowed. And because smoking, as you know, is basically allowed nowhere except in the middle of the street, it’s all about the edibles.
How is this hurting live music? As easy as this is to sometimes forget, Adele, the Black Keys, Lady Gaga, and Travis Scott didn’t start out their careers headlining hockey rinks. Their first few times through Vancouver audiences caught them at venues including the Red Room, Pic Pub, Richard’s on Richards, and the Waldorf. (If you missed all those shows, don’t worry, you’re not alone. And we—ha!—didn’t).
You know how bars keep the doors open so the mega-stars of tomorrow have launching pads today? That would be liquor sales. They are, after all, “bars”, even when they are called clubs, lounges, or ’20s-inspired speakeasies.
Traditionally speaking, promoters and artists benefit from ticket sales and the haul at the door, the bars benefitting from those who show up ready to hit the dancefloor while lovingly embracing their inner Keith Moon, Darby Crash, Amy Winehouse, or Al Jamieson from the Bludgeoned Pigs.
The more drinking takes place, the healthier the bottom line. And the longer bringing artists to a backwater like Vancouver stays viable.
When the liquor isn’t flowing? That’s when the Town Pump becomes Sonar.
Who’s to blame for today’s rough times in a live-music industry where club-level margins have never been tighter, and even established artists like Santigold have questioned the viability of hitting the road?
Evidently, you can start with Gen Z. Which is smart enough to know no one wants to go to work with a screaming Jagermeister hangover after a night at Trapland Pat, Jockstrap, or Ripped to Shreds.
And by no one, we’re not talking you. In fact, unlike Gen Z, you deserve a fucking medal. Your liver might hate you, but at least you’re doing your duty to keep live music industry afloat.