Take Away Shows and the Lost Art of DIY

Ten years ago La Blogotheque revolutionized the music video, now they’ve become victims of their own success

Arcade Fire — “Neon Bible”

There’s something magical that occurs while watching an old Take Away Show. You play the invisible spectator (always through grainy footage) as a touring musician ambles unsolicited into a random cafe or through a narrow Parisian street. They’ve traded in their full drum kits for trash cans and their electric guitars have turned acoustic. Their voices crack and some lyrics get lost in the air, but there’s something exhilarating that comes from each performance. No one knows where their playing might take them — and therein lies the appeal.

Take Away Shows (“Concert à emporter) were launched in 2006 as a new video series from the French music site La Blogotheque. Filmmaker Vincent Moon found himself inspired after watching a documentary on English guitarist Fred Frith and sought to recreate a similar aesthetic with bands that were touring in Paris.

“The purpose is to get them out their comfort zone. To tell them, ‘Okay, you’ve done a record. You’ve got a way of playing your music live. But why don’t we try to find a way to be the most sincere we can be?’” — Christophe Abric, Founder of La Blogotheque

The basic premise is simple enough on paper. Take an indie musician and have them play a couple of their favorite songs while walking around Paris with as little equipment as possible.

That’s it.

Foxygen’s Sam France, right before almost stealing an apple.

Take Away Shows were wildly out of place in an era where production costs for music videos and live performances had skyrocketed into the equivalent of a small nuclear arms race. But that’s part of why they succeeded.

Early on in the series, Vincent Moon’s affinity for the unrehearsed long shot became synonymous with the format, and helped foster a sense of intimacy between bands and the bemused Parisians they encountered.

The result was something compelling and authentic— a reprieve from the entertainment industry and all the calculated behaviors it represented. But the series could only produce so many of those moments before they became the expectation, not a surprise.

“We made the Take Away Shows to break the routine, and one day we became the routine.”

Over 300 shows and ten years later, the Take Away Show has inspired dozens of video series — from NPR’s Tiny Desk to Shoot the Player and Juan’s Basement (Pitchfork). And although the Take Away Show itself never quite became a household name, an overabundance of these shows has made the format inevitably stale.

“The landscape totally, completely changed since we began the Take Away Shows. When we started, everything we were doing was experimental and new, and now we’re in a completely different world where anybody can do a beautiful video. Suddenly, when we’re filming a band, we’re the sixth person of the day filming that band. And so you’re like, ‘Oh my god. We’re not something new.’”

Some of these issues were bound to be unavoidable. Advances in technology allowed for a higher quality camera and microphone, which gave newer Take Away’s a more polished look from that of their predecessors. It also became easier for bands to stay plugged in, which in turn removed a lot of the improvisation that made the early shows so unique.

And as Take Away’s brand gained recognition, new acts that agreed to play already had an idea of what was going to happen. There became an added pressure with each new video to create something more memorable than the previous show—a cycle of social media relevancy that seems to plague most content creators.

The music industry caught up with Take Away Shows — but that doesn’t mean the format isn’t worth watching. The older shows are essential time capsules and still manage to offer us a rare, unfiltered glimpse of musicians on the precipice of stardom.

In honor of ten years, here are some of my favorite Take Away Shows: