The Hydro Is A Damp Squib.
On Monday evening, I paid my first visit to Glasgow’s newest music venue. When I say I paid, I mean it – tickets were about fifty quid with booking fees. With a capacity of 13,000, the bands playing there are able to variously charge between thirty and ninety pounds for entry. It is not a cheap night out.
I have seen Depeche Mode before, and this was my fourth time. They were best – and the atmosphere the most enjoyable – in Manchester, where I saw them in 2006. I also saw them at Wembley Arena that year, and in Glasgow’s SECC in 2009. The first Scottish show they had played in two decades, that gig was comparatively disappointing. With the promise of a new venue, and with people I know going to see them for the first time, I had high hopes for this year’s show. Well, up to a point.
Some of my family had already experienced the Hydro, subjected to sound quality so poor that they complained on the night and were contentedly relocated for the second half of whichever concert they attended. I studied sound design as part of my degree and, although it was a while ago and not my area of expertise, I know that live sound varies considerably. It is affected by the shape of the hall, the positioning of microphones and speakers, the number of people in attendance, and whatever other physical factors I have since forgotten. Perhaps by the time of my gig they would have addressed these possible teething issues, or have better acoustics due to the different audience dynamic.
I had no such luck. Whether it is the sound bouncing, or a mistimed delay, every drumbeat seemed to echo. The sound would have been brilliant, possibly the best and clearest I have heard at any concert, but for the immediate split-second repetition of each beat or note. While easy to ignore during certain raucous choruses, there were times – too many times – when the effect was painfully and irritatingly noticeable. The friend I was with, standing a foot and two inches shorter than me, did not perceive the same issue so perhaps it is a height thing. I am tall enough that I tend to hold my head above the crowd, and not within it. Whatever the reason for it, it detracted from what was otherwise the second best of the four DM gigs I have been to.
Days later, the Hydro were kind enough to ask what I thought of my visit to their premises, and I was looking forward to telling them. Unfortunately, the “Visitor Experience Survey” was not interested in my perception of the gig. Instead it focuses on “the standard of facilities available” and “level of service received” – what can you really say, apart from: average?
Average, because every mainstream arena these days has identical facilities – an overpriced bar or two, someone to rip the ticket stub, a tour merchandise stall, and some toilets that look like they have been visited that evening by several hundred gig-goers in varying states of sobriety. It is nothing to write home about. Similarly, when asked about the purchase of my tickets, I had phoned up, ordered and paid for some tickets, and received them. It is a simple transaction and not prone to enthusing me any more than when I buy a pint of beer or give the conductor my fare. I am not sure what the Hydro expect me to tell them, or what they think they are doing so very differently in that regard.
Asking about my view of the gig, but not about how it sounded, the survey then continues by asking if I was aware of the corporations sponsoring the venue. I was not. I had no idea that any of those organisations listed were involved. Then again, I absolutely do not care which international soft drink, beer, or fancy crisp maker ploughed money into this endeavour. When I go to a gig, I want to see the band. Sometimes I meet up with friends, sometimes I go alone. The reason I go alone to certain shows is to see a band I love, not because my local notoriously-bad travel company has invested in the infrastructure.
Did I check their website to see if food and drink would be available? No, as a neighbour to the SECC, it was more than obvious that it would have the same basic amenities, and similarly-priced consumables. The questionnaire then diverts into the completely irrelevant minutiae of whatever food or drink I might have ordered. It appears not to matter that the band sounded worse than they should have, as long as the dessert was lovely.
Equally, being told the names of ten corporations who have poured money into this building has no effect on me. I loathe advertising, and do my best to avoid seeing (far less succumbing to) those insidious, psychologically-geared messages. It has no bearing on the gig which of these companies I do or do not give my custom, and the survey purportedly about my Hydro experience had become more concerned with the effectiveness of their own marketing. That is not too surprising, of course, but they might have at least thought to ask if I enjoyed the show while enquiring how positively or negatively I feel about the two brands I admit to using. One is the biggest drinks manufacturer in the world, I suspect, and the other is a train company who would have trouble running a bath let alone a reliable means of public transport. I have no intention of recommending either to anybody “within the next twelve months.”
Other arenas are mentioned, as the Hydro would like to know which comparable sites I have been to. For some unknown reason, Glasgow’s famous Barrowlands is on the list, alongside the arenas in all of the UK’s major cities. I love the Barrowlands, and saw Iron Maiden there in 1998 when – at the age of seventeen – I went to my first ever music gig. In the early 2000s I also went there to see Slayer, System Of A Down, Judas Priest, Alice Cooper, Motorhead, Queens Of The Stone Age, HIM, Tool, and what became Pantera’s final Scottish gig. In 2010 the Underworld gig there was an absolute highlight in my (now) fifteen years of gig-going experience. However, at no point can the Barras be classed as an arena, with a capacity numbering about 1,900. So that is a bit of a misnomer.
As for how I left the venue after the show…:
I finished the survey and submitted it, and sent some tweets to their Twitter account. I do not expect to hear much back from them, but then everything I have heard in the Hydro so far has done nothing to convince me to ever return there. If they invest in some sound-deadening to kill the bounce then I might consider it. Until then, unbelievably, the nearby aircraft hangar of the SECC is a better venue, as it lacks this irksome detail.