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Video game music – performed live by a string quartet, in an intimate, candlelit setting – sounds perfect. But is there a tough boss lurking behind the scenes?

Fever, if you haven’t come across the name, is a “live-entertainment discovery tech platform” that has received over $200 million in VC funding since launching in 2014. The Fever app and website aggregate a wide range of events in major global cities, including live music, exhibitions, workshops, and sporting activities. Here in Toronto, for example, you can currently use Fever to book grand, immersive experiences based on Jurassic World and Stranger Things to small-scale ballet and jazz performances.

The Fever-managed Candlelight concerts series is also popular, with a lineup that includes performances of music from Hans Zimmer, Queen, Radiohead, John Williams, Vivaldi, Taylor Swift, and a host of other classical and pop culture icons. Fever’s data science engine has sussed out the type of music “enthusiasts” enjoy and ensures there’s something to choose from every week. And in addition to the candlelit ambience the billing promises, these concerts tend to be held in refurbished music halls, historic buildings, and vintage cinemas for that extra dollop of atmosphere. In concept, it’s a delightful proposition. In practice, there’s work to do.

Candlelight Concerts: The Best of Video Games

A couple of weeks ago I went along to Candlelight: The Best of Video Games. It’s the second Fever event I’ve seen and the perfect example of the company’s approach. An approach that simultaneously manages to honour and disrespect its subject matter.

The shadow of the gig economy permeates the whole thing, from the (admittedly well-designed) Fever app and loyalty scheme to the super helpful staff in Fever-branded t-shirts who are super excited to scan my super convenient QR code. The venue is Toronto’s Parkdale Hall, which opened as a theatre in 1920 but has since been revamped as an all-purpose event space. The hall provides the requisite amount of faded glamour, but it’s unable to generate an intimate atmosphere that supports the music.

An air conditioning unit behind the bar whirrs constantly, generating a persistent hum throughout the show. Sunshine leaks in from large windows at the back of the hall, washing out the ambience of the battery-powered plastic candles on stage. To my left, a digital billboard rotates through the venue’s upcoming attractions at eye-bleeding luminosity. One particularly risqué advertisement repeatedly captures the drooling attention of a boy in front of me. By the end of the concert, it’s clear he’s had an awakening, and it has nothing to do with Fire Emblem or The Legend of Zelda.

The venue’s acoustics also disappoint, providing the warmth and space of a crushed tin can. A Fever “sound guy” patrols the auditorium throughout the show, scratching his chin and moving sliders on an iPad, but it has little effect on the harsh sound that collides around the hall. Both the audience and musicians deserve better.

Candlelight Concerts: The Best of Video Games

It’s an unforgivable distraction, as the music is beautifully performed from start to finish. On stage, the Listeso String Quartet display good humour and considerable talent as they take the audience through a programme that covers classic games from the 1980s to the present day.

Martin O’Donnell’s driving Halo theme is an obvious highlight, as is Nobuo Uematsu’s iconic Final Fantasy VI music. Austin Wintory’s Nascence from Journey retains its ethereal mystery despite the background din, and the overworld theme from The Legend of Zelda always works its magic, whatever the weather. And any performance that includes both Kazumi Totaka’s jaunty Mii Channel music and Gustavo Santaolalla’s haunting theme from The Last of Us on the same bill is worth applause.

The audience is supportive and enthusiastic throughout, but there’s little time to reflect on each piece. The hour-long performance rushes to a finish with a Super Mario Bros. medley, the venue doors are flung open, and I’m out on the street in less time than it takes an Italian plumber to hoist a flag.

As I leave, the super helpful staff are already straightening the rows of super uncomfortable plastic chairs in anticipation of the evening’s second show. There’s no time to waste. It’s art packaged up and delivered like an Amazon parcel.

I amble home feeling more like a converted marketing prospect than a lover of the arts. It’s an unsteady feeling, given both my love of the source material and the quality of the musicianship on offer, but it’s one that’s hard to shake.

Those in the audience who haven’t delved too deeply into Fever’s Venture Capital-chasing, algorithm-fuelled “live-entertainment discovery tech platform” probably came away with a different overall impression of the event. A better one, perhaps. But in the age of NFTs, AI, and the commodification of art as a technical product, amidst the juxtaposition of a delicate string quartet under the yolk of a Fever’s data science engine, it is a sad distinction that needs to be made.

Candlelight: The Best of Video Games – Performance Programme

  • The Legend of Zelda – Main Theme
  • Nintendo Wii – Mii Channel
  • Pokemon – Main Screen
  • Halo – Main Theme
  • Crash Bandicoot – Main Theme
  • The Last of Us – Main Theme
  • Journey – Nascence
  • Tetris – Main Theme
  • Mario Kart 64 – Rainbow Road
  • Super Metroid – Main Theme and Brinstar Theme
  • Final Fantasy VI – Prelude
  • Hollow Knight – Hornet
  • Minecraft – Main Theme
  • Undertale – Megalovania
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – Dark World
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Zelda’s Theme
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Ballad of the Goddess
  • Super Mario Bros. – Medley
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