By Jeremy Essig
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What if St. Louis music fans never missed a live concert? Imagine if every single sold-out Saturday at the Pageant, every DIY basement mosh pit or soundtracked park picnic was available online the next day for those who missed out. If St. Louis superfans Steve Houldsworth and Graham Matthews could be everywhere at once, this is precisely what would happen.
Houldsworth and Matthews embody an important way through which fans can participate in the music scene without being an actual musician. Each weekend they post a scrap-paper itinerary on their social-media outlets. Houldsworth is a photographer, and Matthews is a videographer. Together they create a perfect documentarian duo; they attended 120 shows last year.
Going to shows remains a leisurely pastime, but the extent to which their documentation reaches beyond that and into its own creative realm is less clear. "I think it's more than a hobby," says Houldsworth. "I think there is a level of performance art that is going on as well. There is no reason to deny there is a scene, and we are aware that we are part of that scene as fans."
In fact, the pair was dubbed the city's "Best Fans" by this paper's 2012 "Best of St. Louis" issue.
The video and photo hobbyists seek to capture each live show they attend, and the result is careful indexing of the area's music scene. Nearly 1,800 videos are posted on their YouTube channel ("GrahamandSteve"), and thousands of photos populate folders on Facebook.
These efforts are an attempt to pay it forward to the music community. "I started because I wanted to give back. We were going to all these shows, and these musicians are giving us their all. I kind of felt like a consuming leech, a little bit, because I wasn't performing," he explains.
It all started simply, by attending shows together. "I knew typical local venues like the Lemp knew [a certain] genre of music. So I brought him to some local shows, and we realized that there was this really great local scene beyond what I knew. He would want to go to shows that I didn't necessarily know about, but we would just check it out," says Houldsworth.
Filming and photographing each show occurred by happenstance. "I think I know where it started," says Matthews. "Abe Vigoda at the Luminary." It was the first night that Houldsworth began taking pictures. Positive feedback only fueled the combination of the two hobbies. Before they knew it, bands were posting Houldsworth's photos as their profile pictures and sharing Matthews' videos. "We started to get some compliments," says Houldsworth. "People would make my pictures their Facebook homepage or something, and a couple of bands asked if they could have copies of them. So I sent them the originals of all of the pictures. That felt good, and I think that video was the next logical step."
Poor lighting and rowdy crowds are constant challenges. Some videos are dark and shaky while others are clean. Yet it's this very perspective that makes the videos such a great resource for fans. The DIY quality places viewers directly into the live music atmosphere, from the comfort of a computer screen. Regardless of the lo-fi aspects, Matthews' videography reveals an obsession with being thorough: Most of the 1,800-plus videos are complete shows, broken down song by song.
But Matthews says sometimes there just aren't any breaks. "I have some 30-minute videos. They go on for ages. One got a lot of hits: Matthew Friedberger at the Luminary. He is half of the Fiery Furnaces. He did this weird spoken word. It was hard to describe, but there was no break at all."
Houldsworth adds, "Sometimes [Matthews] needs to take a break, but he wants to film every single thing. I'm like, 'Relax for a minute, and take one off.' He likes completeness."
Some situations are friendlier than others, and they have been kicked out of venues from time to time. But it's far more common for Matthews to receive a tap on the shoulder as a warning when recording is not allowed. A few of his videos have been banned, but that's mostly because of other countries' copyright laws.
Houldsworth prefers to focus on photographing smaller shows. "The picture of the stage from a million miles away at a larger venue like the Pageant is not a fun picture for me," he says.
It can be difficult for the duo to choose what shows to attend, as St. Louis is jam-packed with live music every night of the week. "Sometimes we go to a show because it's a venue we haven't been to before. Sometimes we go because it's a band we've heard about but haven't seen yet. Some are bands for the first time, or someone we really like who we try not to miss," Houldsworth says. "During the week, it's like, 'Did we go out last night? Do we have tickets for something tomorrow?' Sometimes it's just too many nights in a row."
"You can't see them all," Matthews finishes.
Bands can't help but smile when the pair walks through the door. "It's really cool because it's raw footage," says Eric Peters of Volcanoes. "You get to see what these bands are really like. I think the reason that the music scene loves them so much is because we wish all of our fans were like Steve and Graham."
Matthews and Houldsworth have no intention of expanding beyond YouTube or Facebook posts or developing any kind of "official" website for their work. Besides, what they would post on any site wouldn't branch beyond the format YouTube already provides. "What would be on the website? What do the people want?" Matthews asks.
And though they've been encouraged to write reviews to accompany the pictures and video, they prefer to reserve judgement and leave outspoken opinions to other fans. "I think that anybody who gets up there and is willing to put themselves out there feels like they are creating something that is art and has value," Houldsworth says. "I don't want to tear that down."
The pair says they'll stop documenting the scene when there aren't any good shows to go to, but neither of them sees that happening anytime soon. "On some level the scene — without being too ridiculously pretentious — the scene is a thing," says Houldsworth. "It is a thing that is experienced, is enjoyed. You can expand it to something like, if you go to a certain type of show and Beatle Bob is there, part of the experience is that he is there."
Houldsworth and Matthews have solidified themselves as a part of that scene experience. Their DIY approach to fandom sets an example for all conumers of local music. "When we can't make every show it's a sad thing. I don't feel like there are very many videos of the St. Louis scene. If we had a team of videographers going to every show and filming, we could watch everything on our own time," says Matthews.
"So join me, videographers!"