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In this new column, Mo Stewart explores the instances where the music’s essence converges with sport’s sweaty energy. This issue, Mo welcomes audiences back to the respective arenas of play.
Music and sport have battled for my attention like squabbling siblings since I was very young. My career path has two distinct lanes, and I’ve constantly been switching; footballer, then rock star; radio DJ, then sportswriter; music writer, then sports presenter/pundit. Mostly I’ve been cruising in the middle, unwilling to let go of either lane. When Bido Lito! asked me to write a column about the spaces where my two worlds collide, I was relieved. This time, I won’t have to choose.
I was also excited because it reinforced what I already knew: I’m not alone. Many of us derive much of the joy found in this life from these cultural totems, often dismissed as trivial in the face of “real” problems. This is how we deal with those problems. We find solace in our favourite game or favourite song. At a time in the world where it’s easy to feel isolated, there’s an undeniable sense of belonging in our shared obsessions.
With the possible exception of New York, Liverpool feels this like nowhere else in the world. Scouse musicians and sports stars have put the city back on the map after a prosperous past was lost in a haze of economic mismanagement at government level. For too long, sports and the arts have been the only tickets available to a better life as a youngster from Liverpool. Hopefully, that tide is turning.
Another slowly turning tide is the pandemic. We are far from out of the woods, but with every restriction lifted, that paradise island called normality looms a little larger on the horizon. In my worlds, the most significant change is the return of the audience. Across the country, skinny jeans have been yanked from the back of wardrobes as bands and fans begin to get reacquainted.
Pictures of raised spirits – figuratively and literally – from May’s test event in Sefton Park sent waves of joy and jealousy coursing through me, and I’m sure my social media snaps of the first two Liverpool home games of the season returned the favour. It’s hard to describe the feeling of a packed Anfield after 17 months away, even as someone paid to articulate my feelings. My voice joined with 52,000 others, and it felt like I was levitating.
Serial giggers will know what I mean. Screaming along to Always Like This or Lie, Cheat, Steal hits me in the same place as singing for Mo Salah or Bobby Firmino. I’m less likely to put my arm around a random stranger at a gig, but that sense of community is still there; I’ll pick you up if you’ve gone down in the mosh pit.
You could spend millions on speakers and never replicate the experience of a song unfolding in front of you. Whether close enough to taste the sweat flicked from a clattering drumstick, or feeling the bass drum vibrating through the floorboards, there’s a physical connection to the action that’s almost primal.
It happens in sport, too. Even as someone who happily sacrifices sleep to watch televised sport at all hours, it’s nothing like hearing the echoing impact of a rugby tackle, a hit for six, or the adrenaline of knowing a ball could be flying towards you. These moments remind us we are alive.
Those feelings are magnified thousands of times over for the performers. My DJ career maxed out at crowds of a few hundred, but I can confirm that as the creator of that primal energy, all bets are off. At that moment, there’s nothing you can’t do. I’m not saying it excuses Steve Aoki standing on tables and throwing cakes, but I understand.
Bad behaviour is expected from superstar DJs, but it’s become sadly apparent that, during lockdown, some of us have forgotten how to act. At football matches both here and abroad, creating a hostile atmosphere for opponents has mutated into hate.
Missiles thrown from the crowd and the assault on players recently seen in France is pretty shocking. The homophobic chants around Anfield only make things worse when violent attacks on gay people are on the rise in our city. Forget what the opposition says about us, we’re better than that.
Speaking of unnecessary disrespect, talking at gigs is back with a vengeance, as confirmed by writer, photographer and scene staple Andy Von Pip. Perhaps people just need time to readjust. Unlike a Livestream, the artist can hear you criticising their outfit and will probably cuss you right back. While holding a microphone.
There are more dangerous elements to gig-going, particularly if you identify as female or queer. In our rush to embrace those lost feelings of freedom, we have to make sure that we’re not encroaching on the freedom of anyone else. Everyone wants to lose themselves in the music and not worry about what’s behind them.
It’s remarkable how much I’ve missed that simple act of seeing people dance. DJing during restrictions was a different and not entirely rubbish experience as it allowed me to dig a little deeper into the bag, but at its core, ours is a reactive artform.
The best night is a tennis match, momentum pinging back and forth. The crowd leads me in one direction, then I lead them in another. Selections become instinctive, like an F1 driver finding the braking zone on a wet track, or a rhythm section locking into a groove. It feels right. The music sounds better with you.
A few rescheduled dates mean there’s more overlap between the festival and football seasons this year. I won’t be indulging in the former because of commitments to the latter, but very soon, I’ll be standing in a room watching live music. I can’t wait.
For an hour or so, every burning question evaporates. I don’t care about grey hairs, terrible Tory policies, or the subject of my next article. This is the strongest connection between music and sport. They are reminders of the capability for magic we all hold. White Denim snapping in sync into a new time signature at breakneck speed gives me the same feeling as watching Steph Curry effortlessly flick a ball into a hoop some 60 feet away.
I encourage everyone to get back out there as soon as they feel safe enough to do so. See it. Feel it. Taste it.
It’s just as good as you remembered.
Mo Stewart is a writer, presenter, pundit, and DJ. He can be found writing for Liverpool.com, presenting for The Anfield Wrap and DJing in Motel on Friday nights.