Live Report – Spotify Wrapped London at Drumsheds

A glitzy yet curiously stilted event...

When Clash emailed me on Monday about covering this event, I was thrilled – particularly because I’d tried and failed to get tickets through the public link two weeks prior. 

Billed as ‘an IRL celebration of all things Wrapped and inspired by the UK’s listening habits and your own 2023 listening habits’, Spotify brought together Charli XCX, Chase & Status, Sam Smith, and several other big hitters under the roof of the newly opened DRUMSHEDS venue in Tottenham Hale. On paper, this sounds like a great night, so even as we joined a significant queue for the single bus that runs to the venue, I was feeling pretty excited.

While a number of guests were invited as press or as label employees, many of the fans that had gathered were the lucky few that were able to grab one of the free tickets that Spotify offered up to the public. I met one pair on the bus that had travelled all the way down from Newcastle for the night for the opportunity to see Charli XCX for free.

Joining the ‘VIP and Guestlist’ queue at the venue, we were greeted with the first problem of the night: DRUMSHEDS simply didn’t seem prepared to handle the number of people at the event. At temperatures of zero degrees, the hour-long wait that followed slowly began to wear down the morale of myself and the various disgruntled invitees in the queue. Rumour has it that the normal queue for the venue was pretty-much nonexistent, but as we needed passes to enter the ‘VIP and Media area’, we pressed on.

Upon finally making our way up the escalator and into the venue – DRUMSHEDS is a converted Ikea, which creates a sense of deja vu – I was struck both by how large the space was, and equally by how empty it seemed. It’s hard to know if the ticketing was restricted to allow for a more intimate viewing experience, or if the wait and the cold simply turned people away. Watching Sam Smith open with a pitch perfect rendition of hit single ‘Unholy’, I felt vindicated: this was worth the wait after all.

I wonder what Sam Smith will perform next, I pondered, as the stage went dark. But then, as the presenters began a spiel about engaging in the TikTok Live chat – the event was streamed to those who couldn’t make it – the nature of the event started to become clearer. Each billed headliner was only to perform their Spotify-topping single, followed by livestreamed intervals with guests who remained penned off in a ‘celebrities only’ box, visible to the main audience through a large screen above the stage. 

This format resulted in a strange, stilted energy to the whole event. You didn’t have time to get into the music, and the performers didn’t have time to get into their sets and loosen up. It felt like the physical manifestation of a social media highlights reel: if you were to watch the event through Instagram stories, it would look like a great time, but there was more time spent on the in-between than any actual music. 

Still, the stars taking to the stage all put on great performances: even RAYE’s pre-recorded rendition of ‘Escapism’ maintained an energy and hold on the audience that was surprising given that it was effectively a huge video screening with a slightly dystopian feel. The set design at times worked well: Libianca’s ‘People’ saw her take to one stage, while a second stage filled with her dancers surrounded the audience. Charli XCX and Chase & Status rounded off the event with renditions of ‘Speed Drive’ and ‘Baddadan’: strong performances that made me wish that we were being given more than five minutes of airtime with each act. 

Even their best efforts, however, couldn’t prevent the feeling amongst the crowd that we were at an event designed for content more than it was designed for the fans. The opportunity to get up close to each performer was an amazing one, but the energy of the event was simply weird. At one point I considered asking a few people behind me for quotes for this piece – I’d overheard them complaining about how odd the format was – only to find out that they were Spotify employees and didn’t want to go on record. 

All in all, the event felt like a pretty depressing summary of the state of the music industry in 2023, so in that sense it did fit the bill of summing up the year. While TikTok has presented the opportunity for otherwise undiscovered talent to find fame, it’s also fundamentally changed the way that music is produced and consumed: it’s more important now than ever before to seek out virality. The event came only a week after Spotify announced their decision to create a royalties cut-off: a controversial move given that the platform has already faced significant criticism in the past for how little it pays its artists. 

Given how much budget they must have funnelled towards this event, it makes you question who really benefits from the new music system. It doesn’t seem to be the artists, and on this occasion it wasn’t the fans either.

Words: Sasha Mills
Photography: Phoebe Fox + Antony Jones

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