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The Origin of Dylan Beattie & The Linebreakers

When one hears the words ‘HTML’, ‘DCML’, ‘framework’ and ‘blockchain’, one would not think these are the main themes of a rock band. Dylan Beattie, Microsoft MVP and creator of the ‘Rockstar’ language took his passion for music and technology, merged them and created a software-themed rock band, The Linebreakers. What sets them apart is their innovative approach of infusing software-related perspectives into the lyrics of classic rock songs. Delve into the captivating journey of band members Dylan, Hannes Lowette and Vagif Abilov as they recount the genesis of their endeavor. Join the conversation in this enlightening episode of GOTO Unscripted, where they share insights about their inspirations, challenges and aspirations.

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When one hears the words ‘HTML’, ‘DCML’, ‘framework’ and ‘blockchain’, one would not think these are the main themes of a rock band. Dylan Beattie, Microsoft MVP and creator of the ‘Rockstar’ language took his passion for music and technology, merged them and created a software-themed rock band, The Linebreakers. What sets them apart is their innovative approach of infusing software-related perspectives into the lyrics of classic rock songs. Delve into the captivating journey of band members Dylan, Hannes Lowette and Vagif Abilov as they recount the genesis of their endeavor. Join the conversation in this enlightening episode of GOTO Unscripted, where they share insights about their inspirations, challenges and aspirations.

The Linebreakers: Making tunes with tech 

Hannes Lowette: Hello, I'm Hannes Lowette. I'm here with two of my bandmates, Dylan Beattie who is the mastermind behind what is the Linebreakers. Same as Vagif Abilov who is our crazy pianist.

Vagif Abilov: Hello.

Hannes Lowette: I'll let you two introduce yourselves, so yeah. Go ahead.

Dylan Beattie: Cool. I'm Dylan Beattie and the good folks at, whatever, this is YOW, right? So it's YOW London at CodeNode, which is run by Trifork who also run YOW and it's nothing to do with GOTO. Do I have all that right?

Hannes Lowette: Yes. But it's all a little bit GOTO anyway. 

Vagif Abilov: You need to do Skills Matter somewhere in between.

Dylan Beattie: No, that, nothing to do with this.

Hannes Lowette: No, Skills Matter is out of the picture.

Dylan Beattie: We're at CodeNode in London and we're doing a Unscripted session, and tonight we're gonna be doing a show. We're gonna be playing some live music. And the project we're gonna talk about kind of is one of many, many things that I started putting together over the last sort of 10 years, and this one kind of grew legs. So, we're gonna talk more about that, and one of the earliest Linebreakers to come and sort of join in the fun with it was Vagif.

Vagif Abilov: Yes, it was me and it was kind of a strange coincidence because I discovered that we were two doing some strange songs at conferences. I, in my bio for this conference, it's a singing programmer because actually what I was doing, a conference takes two, three days and it's technical intensive, and people get tired, and then to entertain them a little, I started making some parodies on the topic of my talk. Then I discovered that there is another speaker who actually does the same and more than that and also plays at after parties, so one day I approached him, I think it was in NDC Oslo and I said, "Well..."

Hannes Lowette: When? 2016 or...?

Vagif Abilov: Yes, around that.

Hannes Lowette: I remember being there, it's like, it's the first time I saw Dylan do what he does and I'm gonna let you explain in a minute what that is, but I was there as nothing neat. I wasn't a speaker at conferences yet, and I saw, I think you did four songs at the time.

Dylan Beattie: Yes.

Hannes Lowette: Right. And I saw you do that on stage and like, "Oh, this is amazing," which led up to me talking to you afterward. But maybe for the people who haven't seen what you do, like can you explain what the whole Dylan on stage doing music, is all about?

Dylan Beattie: So, where this all came from is Mark Rendle, who's also with Linebreakers and he's gonna be on stage with us later tonight, he and I occasionally run a comedy panel show, because as Vagif says, you have a conference, you've got a bunch of people, they're all there together for a couple of days, and the sessions during the day, they can be exhausting because there's so much information, so much kind of context and things to try out, and really, really smart people distilling... You know, often somebody will be taking what? Two, or three years of experience, and distilling it into a one-hour talk. And then there's this thing like, at the end of the day, you kind of, you don't wanna just send everyone out to go and get dinner on their own, because then you kind of break the sense of the cohesion in the community.

So we're always like, what can we do afterward that is still related to the reason we're all here? Something that has some tech and some software and stuff involved. So, Mark and I started doing a comedy panel show, and we found funny things on Twitter and made questions out of those. And, one night we had a Twitter bot that takes news headlines from Google News, and it tries to make up new verses to "We Didn't Start The Fire" by Billy Joel, which is actually quite cool. It's called "We Didn't Start It" and so go and check that out on Twitter. It's still going. And then, we had a round where we put up a word and the teams had to tell us, is this a JavaScript framework or a character from the Transformers franchise, which is surprisingly difficult. And Mark said to me afterwards, he's like, "Do you think there's enough frameworks that you could rewrite "We Didn't Start The Fire" just with frameworks?" And that kind of burrowed into my brain, and I was like, I wonder and so I took a weekend and I made that just as a song. I bought some backing tracks and I played guitar and I sang the lyrics over it, and the interesting thing, there's a guy called Jeff Atwood who founded Stack Overflow with Joel Spolsky, and he has a thing called "Do it in public." And, you know, do it in public is like, you know, the longer you work on something before you show it to the rest of the world, the higher the likelihood that you're gonna get it wrong.

Recommended talk: Build Software Like a Bag of Marbles, Not a Castle of LEGO • Hannes Lowette • YOW! 2022

Or you're gonna have worked really hard on something which isn't right. And so, you know, it's the kind of release early release often, but I believe in the essay this came from, he's talking about developing as a speaker and he is like, practicing in your room by yourself, practicing to a camera is nothing compared to the experience you get doing something for real. And so, every step of Linebreakers has been do it in public. So that first thing, I put the song out on SoundCloud and nobody cared. And nobody cared because people are very visual and if you don't give them something to look at, they're gonna find something else, so they'll be like watching TV with music in the background. They won't listen to the words.

"I need to make a video." And the first one, I didn't know anything that, you know, post-production, didn't know After Effects, so I made it by doing a screen recording in PowerPoint and just literally whack in the space bar to get the letters. If you see the show tonight, the video for we're gonna build a framework is exactly that. It's that original one.

Hannes Lowette: It's still that original video.

Dylan Beattie: Yes.

Vagif Abilov: It was the first video for the first parody.

Famous reinterpretations

Dylan Beattie: The first video, first parody, and then at NDC Oslo in 2016, I wrote lyrics to "Money For Nothing" by Dire Straits, which was, I want my NDC, and kind of name-checked all the speakers and the talks and played that.

Vagif Abilov: You did a keynote on that.

Dylan Beattie: That was a year later. Yeah. The first year I just had these two songs. I had the "Money for Nothing."

Hannes Lowette: That was the year that, who did the party keynote there?James Mickens.

Dylan Beattie: James Mickens.

Hannes Lowette: That was really good.

Dylan Beattie: That was fantastic. We are the Scorpions. You'll get it if you watch the video.

Hannes Lowette: It was like one of the most fantastic party keynotes I've ever seen.

Dylan Beattie: Yes. It's excellent. That year it was Pop Cons and it was literally, I had two songs and one guitar, and after Pop Con's wrapped everyone had lots of free beer, which is a special treat in Norway. They don't get free beer very often, so they get stuck into it. I did that one and I did the "Money For Nothing" one and that was it. It's like, that's all the material, and everyone's like, "Do another one," I'm like, "I don't have any more songs."

Vagif Abilov: Approximately at that time, I did this version of Monard, which became now also part of Linebreaker which later merged into the repertoire.

Live performances vs videos

Dylan Beattie: So then there was that then I don't think there were...

Hannes Lowette: So, how do you do that live, because you were saying videos?

Dylan Beattie: Yes.

Hannes Lowette: What it looks like when you perform live.

Dylan Beattie: So, that first one, there were no videos to it. That first one, the first live show was literally just singing and playing, but video became a big part of it because people are visual. They like something to watch, and so we started putting videos together, and so the way it works, it's actually every video, there's about four or five different versions of it, depending on which musicians are available and which songs they wanna play on. I have a Dropbox folder where I've got solo mixes for when it's just me. I've got duet mixes, I've got trio mixes, and so duet means that all the keyboards and pianos are live, and then trio means the bass guitar is live as well, and when both of us are there, we double up the guitar parts and it's all kind of very... And so actually after this, I need to sit down and work out who's playing which instrument and make sure I've got the right mixes in the show for tonight.

But it's all done using the video, now I make them using After Effects, which is Adobe's post-production. There's this thing where you work in technology where you're like, "Yes, I can figure out any app." You go on a new website, and you're like, "I need to book a ticket on a cruise ship." Well, it's like booking a railway ticket only slightly different, or I gotta use a different text editor with formatting. And then sometimes you just, you turn a corner and you're like, "I do not understand any of the options in this menu. I don't know how it works. I have no mental model," and so for me, Adobe After Effects was like that. When you figure it out, it's basically, if you imagine that you are running 10 copies of Photoshop simultaneously, and every one of them is being driven by a little electric monkey following a script of what effects to apply when and how to do that and, you know, it's a wonderful package. Whenever the Linux people are like, "Oh, you should just run Linux," I'm like, "Talk to Adobe. When they get After Effects on Linux, I will switch." And so now it's got to the point like I have macros, I can put in the beats per minute of a song and it'll give me keyframe markers on all the downbeats, and then you just align up everything, so you get visuals happening on the beat and all this kind of stuff.

Vagif Abilov: But how long time do you use now to make a great video?

Dylan Beattie: About a week.

Vagif Abilov: About a week.

Dylan Beattie: Well, and I'm talking like a week, like 40, 50 hours of work from having the idea to putting it together, and there's a backlog of ideas and it doesn't always work. There's a couple that we've done and I've made the video and we've taken them out and played them a couple of times, and just the audience...

Hannes Lowette: Never clicked with the audience.

Dylan Beattie: Just, you never get the, there's always a point when you're up and you're playing, and I'm sure you guys both feel this as well, where you just kind of look at and you're like, "Are they enjoying this or are they waiting for this one to finish so they can see what's coming next?"

Hannes Lowette: I think that is the key to what makes us great is that we take a song, a song that everybody knows, and then there's the new lyrics which are tech-themed, always with a twist, try to have some tie-ins to the original lyrics, and then try to make it funny. And sometimes the jokes just don't land.

Dylan Beattie: Sometimes it's the wrong niche. Like, we did a...

Hannes Lowette: You're thinking about Metallica, right?

Dylan Beattie: Metallica was weird. So, there's a version floating around of Enter Sandman, which I was working on. A friend of mine said, "What about Enter Stallman? Like, we'll make a parody about Richard Stallman." And then while I was working on it, all this stuff came out about Richard Stallman being a sociopath and a horrible person, and very few people were willing to defend him as a human being in the light of everything that was going on. I was like, "Well, I kind of wanna do the song now, but I don't know how to make it funny." And so it turned into a sort of a, not really a comedy parody, more of like a protest song about open source entitlement and there's no jokes in it. And the sort of the hooks on that, and I played that a couple of times, and it's like when people heard the Metallica riff, they loved it and then when the lyrics kicked in, everyone went, "Oh, this is all a bit serious," and it just kind of killed the mood. Also, it's a really difficult guitar solo to play, and the first couple of times I played that, I did not get it right at all, and eventually that one got sort of put on the back pile for a while.

Hannes Lowette: If we play all the songs that we have right now...

Dylan Beattie: It's about a two-and-a-half-hour set, I think.

Hannes Lowette: That's without talking in between, so.

Dylan Beattie: Yes.

Vagif Abilov: Like 20, 25 songs I think you talking.

Dylan Beattie: Yes and there's always more ideas floating around and... By the way…

From a solo artist to forming a band

Hannes Lowette: So, when you got from your solo doing songs at conferences, how did we get to the point where there's now six of us and we also have guest musicians?

Dylan Beattie: The whole thing started, like every single step of this is somebody going up to somebody else and going, "I wanna do this," or rather, "I'm gonna do this unless you stop me," which is very much the way you get things to happen because a lot of these kinds of events, people are very, very willing for you to take the initiative and add more stuff and everything. But there isn't really one person who's in a position to give permission. So if you say, "Hey, can we do a show?" somebody's gonna go, "Ooh, probably, but let me check," and then someone else and someone else and someone else, and whereas if you just turn up and go, "Hey, I see you've already got everything set up. You've got the sound, you've got the lights and everything. If there's a spare half an hour, I can take my guitar up," and at that point, as long as you're not messing up anybody's plan, they're normally like, yeah, go for it. And so, the first couple of things I kind of did that, and then we got chatting. Vagif came up to me, so this is a year later. This is Oslo 2017. And he's like, "I live in Norway. I also do parodies, and I play the piano and the keyboard," and I'm like, "Right." And I think at that point we had about half a set. We had four or five songs, and then we just played normal covers. The first half was, Enterprise Waterfall which is a Pink Floyd, "Another Brick in the Wall," and that one, that one came out of a drawing by David Neil which I loved, which was just the white bricks, and he'd just written in the Pink Floyd kind of font on it, "Throw the Code over the Wall." And I saw that, and I was like, "Yeah, that's a song." And that one just, I mean, there's only six different lines in the whole song. It's not hard to rebuild. And we had that one, we had the "Money for Nothing" one, we had the frameworks.

Vagif Abilov: You already had an idea about Billy Joel's JavaScript, but it hasn't materialized yet.

Dylan Beattie: So that one came out of...we were in Baxter's Inn in Sydney at NDC later in 2017, and that song came on, and Baxter's Inn is like the only place in Sydney where you can get a drink late at night. It's a little...you take someone there for the first time, they think you're going to murder them because you literally go down off the main street, you go into this little back car park that's completely unlit, and then you go down a flight of stairs and you bang on a fire exit, and inside there is this amazing whiskey bar. Tat song came on the stereo there, and everyone was singing along. I was just like, "Okay, this is clearly, there's a lot of love for this." And it was, Todd Gardner was there, and he was working on TrackJS which was his JavaScript bug tracking reporting system. And I just thought that would work so well. Like, this song is perfect for, "There must be a bug in the JavaScript," and yeah. That just, you know?

The JavaScript Saga

Hannes Lowette: This still holds true for everything today. I mean, poking fun at JavaScript, it will never not be funny.

Dylan Beattie: Well, it's, you know, I love JavaScript dearly, and I enjoy, I love working with it. I love building little applications. It's a fantastic teaching language. If you can't program something in JavaScript, you don't really understand it. I just built a ray tracer in JavaScript which I've been running a series of workshops and stuff with. I actually did that with Vagif Abilov's crew up in Norway a couple of weeks ago. A room full of people and it's like, "Right, we're gonna..." You know, it's code, but it's fun. "We're gonna do 3D computer graphics." And yeah, if you can't build it in JavaScript, you don't really know how it works. But as a kind of enterprise language for running Sirius systems, it's horrible. It's dynamic, the toolchain is horribly unstable. Even Ryan Dahl who created Node.js, has now been like, "I'm gonna make Deno instead. The first thing I'm gonna do is the package manager's built-in because having a separate one was so awful."

Vagif Abilov: It makes a great parody, basically.

Dylan Beattie: But people relate to it. The best comedy is one where everyone in the audience feels like they experience it's not just me, like, I get that. That's my life you are singing about. 

Hannes Lowette: Even when you're poking fun of them, it's like they still understand why it's funny and...

Dylan Beattie: So, there's always been a sort of rule of thumb with doing, because comedy is an easy way to accidentally contravene the code of conduct. And I think that there's a very clear understanding between you can stand side by side with all of the audience and mock the technology which you use, or you can stand over here and you can mock them for using it.

Hannes Lowette: Those are two different things. One of them is personal and the other is funny.

Dylan Beattie: JavaScript, if you choose not to use it, then I respect that, but your code is never gonna run in a browser unless you jump through all kinds of hoops. It's a standard. And partly the reason why it is so maligned and misunderstood and so easy to mock is that being baked into web browsers means you can't fix anything ever because there's what, 12, 15 billion devices now that run JavaScript in active circulation. You can't make breaking changes to that. It's the most successful programming language the world has ever seen.

Hannes Lowette: Apart from Excel.

Dylan Beattie: Even Excel, I think there's more JavaScript than Excel. I don't run Excel on my phone.

Hannes Lowette: I don't have the numbers on that. You don't have Excel on your...?

Dylan Beattie: You need a spreadsheet?

Hannes Lowette: I need...yeah, we do.

Dylan Beattie: Although Excel has Lambdas now. Simon Peyton Jones, the Skylar Haskell, whichever one he is, went to work for Microsoft and put Lambda as a first-class citizen in Excel.

Hannes Lowette: I've seen people using online spreadsheet tools as the database and building a ORM on top of it. It's like having poor man's databases just use Google Sheets.

Dylan Beattie: I mean, it is. If you look at the JavaScript philosophy, we know JavaScript, oh, now we need to build a server. Well, learn Java or C++. No, JavaScript. We'll run JavaScript on the server. Oh, we need a database. Well, here, this is the relational model. This is SQL. No, MongoDB, JavaScript, in the database. JavaScript all the things, and yeah. Okay.

Why Linebreakers?

Vagif Abilov: But coming back to Linebreakers, the first time the word, name, Linebreakers was used, I think was it NDC London?

Dylan Beattie: It was.

Vagif Abilov: It was one of the few times where there was a real, the band actually was a live drama.

Hannes Lowette: Where did the name come from?

Dylan Beattie: Todd Gardner. He needed a name for his popcorn publicity stuff, and he just came up with, he was like, okay, well, it's a parody of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Dylan Beattie Beattie and the Linebreakers, which I would never have put my own names. That was not me. And, you know, sometimes people are like, "But surely you're a Linebreaker," so I'm like, "It wasn't my thing, just, it stuck, and."

Vagif Abilov: And technically it makes you not a Linebreaker.

Dylan Beattie: Well, yeah.

Vagif Abilov: Because Dylan Beattie and Linebreakers. We are Linebreakers.

Hannes Lowette: We are Linebreakers.

Dylan Beattie: You're Linebreakers, I'm not. I'm just Dylan Beattie. But no, that one was, we sort of pulled out all the stops for that. It was popcorn for London 2018, and we got Joar who's a friend of mine from London who's also a phenomenally good drummer and does drummer stuff and things. And we're like, "Let's put together a full life band show," and we did. I actually came over to London, we did a couple of days of rehearsal, and we got a friend of mine.

Vagif Abilov: I flew to rehearse.

Dylan Beattie: It kind of worked really well, but the amount of effort and logistics that it took to make it happen was just, you know, I remember it took us about four hours just to set up the equipment for it because we rocked up to the pub...

Vagif Abilov: And more than half of it went on drums probably.

Dylan Beattie: Yes.

Hannes Lowette: Live drums are like...in a setup for a gig, that is the thing that will cost you the most time.

Dylan Beattie: But then you also have...so, as well as having to set up all the equipment, the technical complexity is that the video is synchronized. And the video, you know, if you've got a live drummer, the drummer needs to play to a click, which means you need a different mix of the backing track to give you the tempo so that the drummer follows the click. And when we've done it, we actually, we all have the click, so and...

Vagif Abilov: We were wearing...

Dylan Beattie: All of us were wearing wired earbuds and all of us could hear click, click, click, click, which means you can't really hear the audience so well, and you can hear yourselves. It's quite a nice setup. And if somebody loses the click, then the whole thing just starts to drift a little bit and you can feel it falling over and it's really hard to get it back on.

Hannes Lowette: Because that's the advantage of the current setup. Like the backing tracks, drums, all of that is mixed in with the video, that'll play and whether we are alone or not, the song is moving forward. So, it gives us the big benefit that the audience always sees the lyrics to the new thing that we did. It's like your favorite song that we ruined by putting new lyrics on it, you can actually see what those new lyrics are while we're playing it. I think that ties into the success quite a bit because it always clicks with the audience.

Vagif Abilov: Also, probably one of the things we learned from that concept was that the amount of things which could go wrong was so big...

Hannes Lowette: It was very high.

Vagif Abilov: ...that it may not... And, with so few rehearsals, because we are agile, our live performances are rehearsals, and then you have to really balance it. One thing that also I learned while I was doing some thinking programmer, once I did a parody of the Queen, and it was, I'm going slightly mad. And of course, I'm in no way a singer with vocals like Freddie Mercury. Then I was reading... At that conference, people could leave reviews. Then, one review was, "Well, that was okay, but he's not Freddie Mercury. Why did he do this song?" And then I actually realized that even though it's funny, people enjoyed it, but you really have to think about quality. You have to think about what you deliver, and you have to plan it. So, we have to minimize this point of failure so it will look professional.

Conference shows

Hannes Lowette: Well, at least it will feel professional to the audience, right?

Dylan Beattie: It's interesting, the word professional, there are two different kinds of professional musicians, and there is a vast gap. At one extreme, you have somebody who sometimes gets paid to play music, and maybe once or twice a year they'll get booked and they'll do a gig and they'll get paid a little bit of money to do it. Then at the other extreme, you have somebody who makes enough money from music that they don't have to do anything else. Music pays all their bills and mortgage and whatever else. And so, I've almost consciously always been like, no, no. Linebreakers is, you make...

Hannes Lowette: The first kind of professional.

Dylan Beattie: Well, not even that, it's Linebreakers you make this an event that all of us want to attend as speakers who work in technology. And you do that, and then we will give you the show, because the problem is, you know, like you're saying about things that can go wrong. Professionalism, when we do this internationally, I fly with one guitar and it's a headless travel guitar, and if anything goes wrong with it, I don't have another one because I don't have roadies. I don't have a baggage allowance, so I'm not gonna travel with two guitars. If the guitar breaks a string...

Hannes Lowette: That's one of the things that I invested quite a bit of time and effort in. It's like making sure that you only need to check a single bag and be able to fly. I used to fly with my Fender in a hard shell case. I got that bag broken on two occasions, like the case, not the guitar. But one of the things that people don't realize is when Vagif flies in with us, he probably has it worse than we have because he has a piano and a guitar and his laptop like to be on stage with him, right? You fly with a lot of kit.

Vagif Abilov: This time, I have a single point of failure. My MacBook, I don't have a backup other, than a keyboard. Well actually, I have a backup because Yoron [SP] has also a...yeah.

Dylan Beattie: So, when we do gigs in London, most of the equipment is mine because I own everything.

Hannes Lowette: But that's a luxury we don't have in other places.

Dylan Beattie: It's also, London is a horrible city for logistics because it's like, I own a car, but there's no way I can park at CodeNode for two days. So, I have to get everything into a taxi and bring it in and unload it, and then tonight, as soon as the show wraps up, everyone else is gonna be going to the pub and I'm gonna be loading all the gear into a taxi and getting it home which, you know, kind of sucks. One day we'll get good enough to have roadies, but the jump from doing this the way we do it, if we get to the next level up, it's like, all right, you wanna Linebreakers' show you gotta pay us however many thousand euros or whatever. And then it's like, well, now we have to deliver. Like, we have to make sure we've got backups for the instruments. We need to be there. Like, we need a proper day to, you know, three, four hours to set up and soundcheck, and at that point, it's a completely different thing. And I think we've always, certainly most of the time, done the best job we can without becoming a pain in anybody's ass.

Vagif Abilov: And sometimes it's weird situations like this Copenhagen gig we did one year ago which could fail in many different ways.

Hannes Lowette: Let's first go to the point where Dylan Beattie was gathering this band, and I think the current formation we formed at the end of 2019.

Dylan Beattie: So, end of 2019, we had six people, the three of us, Don Syme was playing bass on all the stuff for us, Heather Downing was singing on about half the stuff, and Mark Rendle had written a couple of songs and was singing those with us as well. And we did... I think I did eight shows in three months.

Hannes Lowette: We played quite a few in between, we did the two-bill stuff and then we played London. Also something else in between.

Dylan Beattie: Yes.

Vagif Abilov: Also, I came to London to play a couple of gigs with you and Don.

Dylan Beattie: We did Code BEAM, we did the Embraco meetup here in London. Me and Don...

Vagif Abilov: Kyiv, Vilnius, yeah.

Dylan Beattie: Kyiv, Vilnius. Me and Don played HalfStack in Shoreditch, just the two of us.

Hannes Lowette: And then we played like a duo gig, like the first week of COVID on a cruise ship, like the beginning of March 2020.

Dylan Beattie: Well, first there was NDC London, so we did London 2020. And then they booked us to do a DFDS-sponsored GOTO conference on a cruise ship which was, "Everyone's going, no one's going, somebody's going, are we going? We're not going. It's canceled. It's not canceled." This was literally the week that the COVID hammer kind of came down around the world and...

Hannes Lowette: And stupid us, we decided to show up anyway.

Dylan Beattie: Well, I had literally just started my own business doing speaking and training and this is...

Vagif Abilov: Good timing.

Dylan Beattie: I know. Like, I'd started at the end of January 2020. I set the company up and it was full. I had invitations. I was going here, going to Ukraine, going to Greece, doing this, doing that.

Hannes Lowette: We had like a whole band tour planned for that year as well, and at these 8 or 10 conferences, we were gonna play gigs.

Dylan Beattie: I was not in a position to start canceling the first work I'd ever got, and so, you know, keynote for that, I was like, "Well, I'm gonna go, unless they cancel on me. If they cancel on me, I can probably hit them up to pay me anyway," but that was rough. It was really difficult knowing what the right or wrong thing to do was, and so we went and it was...

Hannes Lowette: Had a great week.

Recommended talk: The Art of Code • Dylan Beattie • YOW! 2022

Dylan Beattie: We got lucky. It could have ended very, very badly, but it didn't. Everyone did it. We had a great time. We all made it home safe and healthy, and then that was it. They grounded all the flights, shut down all the airports and Amazon sold out of webcams and green screens.

Hannes Lowette: Yes. That was the beginning of COVID for all of us. We hopped on organized through your Slack. All of us bought cheap green screen kits from Amazon and proper webcams and audio interfaces and microphones or whatever. It's like we started playing with that stuff even before the first digital conferences happened so that when they did, we were ready to participate and help the other speakers out and whatever. So, a lot of the time that we spent in that period was on that side. It's, "Hey, I've played with this and did some tricks with OBS studio and..."

Dylan Beattie: No, I remember it was March 2020 we were running three meetups a week. Lunchtime meetups with guest speakers just to give people a chance to figure out how to do stuff online. And we thought it would probably last three months, you know? I remember watching the things, NDC was forced to start doing some hybrid events.

Hannes Lowette: I think Porto was the first digital NDC.

Dylan Beattie: Porto was the first one that went completely online. And then Oslo, that was two and a half thousand people on Slack. That was, yeah. But anyway, so then tell them what happened in Copenhagen.

Hannes Lowette: So, okay. We were at a point where the first in-person or hybrid conferences started happening. And like as you can deduct from the cruise ship story, we're not the kind of people who sit around at home and wait it out. It's like, as soon as this was happening, we wanted to be there. I think it was Vagif and me and you and Mark, that was gonna be the first in-person Linebreakers gig that we had done in a year or so at GOTO Copenhagen. What happened Dylan Beattie? I was there.

Vagif Abilov: I was there.

Dylan Beattie: I was at home. I had COVID. And this was back in the days when if you got COVID, you weren't allowed outside for two weeks. Not like now where if you get COVID, they just ask you please not to cough on any old people or something. I mean, I find it strange the way, it's not like the human species has got any better or the disease has got any weaker, but just everyone's attitude is like, "Yeah." You know?

Hannes Lowette: Yes.

Dylan Beattie: But yeah, that was when there was still, you know, you had a positive test, they suspended all your phone vaccine records and you couldn't travel. So, I was stuck at home and we were supposed to be playing a show.

Vagif Abilov: It was just one or two days before the conference.

Dylan Beattie: It was two days before.The show was Tuesday night and I got sick on Sunday. You know, positive test and I was like, "Oh." And that was the point where you're testing every morning and it's just a matter of routine. Like, yep. Negative, all right. Go to work negative, go do this. Negative, go here. Negative go. Oh, oh, oh. Oh, that's bad.

Hannes Lowette: Not negative.

Dylan Beattie: That's what the two lines looks like. And I can't actually remember whose idea it was.

Hannes Lowette: Well, we were finding ourselves at GOTO Copenhagen, but this was a really weird GOTO Copenhagen. It was the first one I ever went to, but you could feel in the audience like this is not business as usual yet. Like, people are masked. Like, people are really careful in the venue, but yet everybody is really happy that some in-person things are happening again. It's like, you can talk to real faces. Cool. And we started talking to the GOTO people. It was like, "Yeah, what are we gonna do?" I mean, they put in a lot of promotional effort into marketing the Linebreakers.

Vagif Abilov: They even printed the poster which really touched me. It was a big poster with all our faces in there, and that was, we were like a part of this concert. And then, "Ah, are we going to miss it?"

Hannes Lowette: This takes place in a movie theater, and they had used the poster frames where they put all the movie posters up to announce all the speakers, but also like every three posters, there was like a Linebreakers' gig poster as well. So, it's like, "Ah, it would be a shame if we do nothing at all." I was like, "How are we gonna make this work because Dylan Beattie is our frontman and he has all the videos, and it's like, if he's not there, it's like, we can play the music but we're not used to singing all the vocals, so." But then our COVID experience, like all the green screen, audio interfaces, webcams, and streaming kicked in. It's like, "Wait a second. We cannot do like bi-directional live music..."

Streaming shows in pandemic times

Dylan Beattie: So, what I'm actually, what I'm trying to remember at this point, what year was that? Because it's all kind of mashed together in my head. But that must have been November…

Hannes Lowette: I think, November 2020.

Vagif Abilov: It's 2021.

Dylan Beattie: 2021.

Vagif Abilov: '21. Because we already, yeah. It was exactly one year ago.

Dylan Beattie: Because in December 2020, like the end of the first year of lockdowns, I did a Christmas party which was a YouTube stream.

Hannes Lowette: Oh, yeah. Completely YouTube stream.

Dylan Beattie: Which was, you know, pulled out all the stops, and like I had furniture in my study at home covered up in green screen fabric so that you didn't see it.

Hannes Lowette: Yes. I remember that.

Dylan Beattie: I was snapping my fingers like this, and I had OBS stream deck in the other hand on my phone, so I'd snap fingers and a chair would appear, and then I'd sit in it, and then I'd snap my fingers and a table would appear and I'd put down a glass of champagne on it and that was...

Vagif Abilov: I think I also recorded a video. So, you were sort of, I was playing from Oslo, yeah.

Dylan Beattie: There were bits where I'd kind of cut from live to recorded so I could run next door and change clothes and come back, and that was kind of the high watermark. That was, let's see how much of this, and, you know, at least I thought it was then I saw Bo Burnham's "Inside" on Netflix, I was like, "No, no. That's the high watermark." But it's that whole thing of, you gotta do this all yourself. It's easy doing online streaming stuff when you've got one person doing the cameras and somebody else checking the sound and somebody else doing the logistics and switching angles and producing it, but when you're doing the whole thing on your own, you've gotta set it up on your own. You've gotta run it on your own. It's all live. It's all like that.

Hannes Lowette: All you had was a cat that was working against you , instead of with you.

Dylan Beattie: Yes, I did. I had a... Lionel would come in and go to sleep on the green screen floor, and I'd have to pick him up and move him out frequently. So we'd done that, or I'd done that bit, and it's like I can probably send you my part of the performance as a live private YouTube stream in high definition.

Hannes Lowette: Yeah. Synchronous music was bidirectional, where we would jam with a band over the internet. That is not a thing, right?

Dylan Beattie: No.

Hannes Lowette: There's no way to make that work.

Dylan Beattie: There's a thing called Jamulus which almost works with people who are geographically nearby. I've done a couple of things on Jamulus and with other people in London who are on wired broadband with no Wi-Fi in the signal chain anywhere, you can get that down to about 15 or 20 milliseconds.

Hannes Lowette: Which is close enough?

Dylan Beattie: Which is close enough that you can rehearse together and you can hear each other and that kind of stuff.

Hannes Lowette: Just as a frame of reference, like 25 milliseconds is about what you can hear as music being out of sync.

Dylan Beattie: Yeah.

Hannes Lowette: And there's no way to get the latency like from me recording, parsing the video, sending it to Dylan, where he plays and sends it back to me, where that like is in sync enough. Like, there's no way to make that happen.

Vagif Abilov: What is minimum latency in that scenario? How long will it be, latency, in that scenario?

Hannes Lowette: Well, just for the electrons to travel any significant distance, it'll will be more...

Dylan Beattie: Speed of light between Belgium and the UK, it's too much.

Hannes Lowette: So, we're never gonna get there. So, we already realized that like band rehearsals during COVID, not a thing we would just study our own songs, like prepare for the moment that we could do it live again, the moment comes, he's stuck at home with COVID.

Dylan Beattie: And then we figure out what if we only do it in one direction?

Hannes Lowette: And then when we started talking, I had plenty of phone calls with you that day, like talking to the organizers, talking to you, talking to Vagif, like what can we do? And luckily enough, I did have the audio interface that we both use, like the Yamaha AGO6 which is a magnificent little device.

Dylan Beattie: Oh, it's fantastic.

Hannes Lowette: It's both an on-premise audio mixer. It's also a PC interface, and you can do bi-directional audio like from that thing to the computer and from the computer back to the thing, so it is very, very flexible, and I had that with me. I was like, "Okay, if we can get a stream," that's what we landed on, is you said, "I can stream myself in front of the video in a way that audience can see the lyrics and I'm singing, and you have the backing track, and all you need to do in Copenhagen is play along to that."

Vagif Abilov: Play along, yeah. This is what we did.

Hannes Lowette: Now play along to that turned out not to be so simple because we went... It's the first time we had ever undertaken anything like this, so we asked the GOTO people if we could have the venue for the afternoon just to set up, and try everything out. First thing we realize is the Wi-Fi at the venue auto disconnects every 20 minutes, and it only has like two megabits of bandwidth, which is cutting it really close for a YouTube stream. I was like, I didn't feel comfortable doing that. 5G reception on the other hand was pretty good. So I figured like, "Okay, I'm gonna activate a package on my phone, make sure that I have enough data, unlimited data for the week." Probably cost me 50 euros or something. It doesn't matter. And like stream it all over my phone because they do have really, really good 5G in Copenhagen, like 500 megabit-ish, like really fast. So I was, "Okay, that's the internet connectivity part sorted." Then we needed to set up the computer to actually send everything to the projectors that we had, send the audio to the audio interface, get that hooked up to the speakers, and to the monitors that we were gonna use. So, because we know how the thing works and we're comfortable with it, that wasn't too hard to do. And then we had to mix our instruments in, and then the fun bit that I remember is like, at some point, you asked me like, "How big am I on the screen?" And you scaled yourself in OBS studio so that on stage you appear to be the same size as we were, right?

Vagif Abilov: As we are.

Dylan Beattie: That was fun.

Hannes Lowette: And we made all of that worked, and then we tried and we figured it out just like we set up a webcam so you could see the crowd's reaction, but only like five seconds later because like the YouTube stream added latency, so we could play along, but you couldn't hear it back. And all that pieced together, and Vagif Abilov and I spent the whole afternoon like getting all the little things and...

Vagif Abilov: But our life experience was rewarded because we had audience for us, and you heard it all, like with everything with five seconds delay, also stuck with COVID.

Dylan Beattie: It was the weirdest feeling because you know, you play the show and I can't see anything, but I'm like, "It's loud." Like I got it cranked up and I'm enjoying playing. Gets to the end and I'm like, "All right, thank you very much, everyone," and then I switch off the camera I'm like, "All right, guess I should do the dishes, I suppose." It's such a strange experience.

Hannes Lowette: Well, we did make it work without a hitch, except for like one second that the YouTube stream froze and my reflexes went just like, "I'm gonna hit a five on the browser." So I just walked to the laptop, pressed a five, and the music picked up again like almost instantly and we started playing on, like some people in the audience didn't really notice. Like, we only missed two or three seconds. So, they saw it as like a little hiccup. It's like that was actually the, during the gig, that's the only technical difficulty we had.

Vagif Abilov: And also for many people it was the first live gig they went after the Corona. So, somebody came after the performance and said "No, maybe it's because it's the first time, but I think that's the best gig I've ever been." I said, "No, that must be just because it just opened it up," but then it means that it wasn't that bad.

Hannes Lowette: It was. It was the first time that we did a proper Linebreakers show for any GOTO conference except for the boat one, which was a really weird one anyway. So, it still worked for the audience, but, well, we did it again the week after because you were still stuck at home. We did it again in Vilnius.

Dylan Beattie: Vilnius was more ambitious because we knew it was gonna work. And also, I mean, when we did it at Copenhagen, I was actually not feeling well. I was seriously like by the end of it, I was sweating and shaking and, but a week later it's like, I feel fine. I just can't, I'm not allowed to go out. So, we did the full show like an hour of stuff, and...

Hannes Lowette: And that worked surprisingly well. But if I never have to do it again, that'll be fine too.

Dylan Beattie: Yes. Absolutely. It's, we did this and that was enough.

Hannes Lowette: It's like we now know that we can, and that's enough.

Vagif Abilov: So, we are really looking forward for today's real live show where we all will be standing on stage singing.

Recommended talk: Craftsmanship: Code, Guitars & Tech • Dylan Beattie, Hannes Lowette & Kevlin Henney • GOTO 2022

Monty Python as the inspiration for costumes

Hannes Lowette: Can you tell the audience a little bit about the glasses that you wear on stage? Because you have like the weirdest combination of illuminated glasses.

Dylan Beattie: Oh, they're awesome.

Vagif Abilov: Again, it's a part of thing that like it has to be entertaining, and I must say I was really inspired by the nude pianist from Monty Python. But then, probably that was, that's a bit too much if I tried it on stage. But it needs to be...and also, I like really sort of moving on stage. 

Hannes Lowette: That's true. If you wanna see a pianist who never stands still like that's Vagif for you.

Dylan Beattie: Yeah.

Vagif Abilov: First gigs I did just with plain glasses and, no, it's, I need to make something more like that. And then, I found actually some Norwegian webshop where they sell these things where you use on some parties. I went, "Oh, that's some LED glasses." And then the next thing was that I found glass that you can program, and then added was like with a dollar sign. We had a parody called Blockchain. "Oh, I must use that." And then when I got them from Ali Express, then, "Oh, I can program it." So, I program, "I want my NDC conferences," and then HTML. And of course, even though I was traveling this time relatively light because Dylan Beattie brought his keyboard, but these glasses I had to take, and of course, when we're going to play HTML, I will be doing these glasses.

Hannes Lowette: You now have programmable LED glass. How much can you see through those?

Vagif Abilov: Well, this is HTML type of glass. I don't see much. I sort of, but it's HTML. It's a parody on AC/DC, "Highway to Hell." Yeah. I play like half a song, mostly in refrains and it's a really simple part. If it was "Bug in the JavaScript," no, I wouldn't manage to do it in those glasses, so I need to change them then.

Hannes Lowette: And then apart from the glasses, you don't just play the piano. Sometimes you bring out the red thing, right?

Vagif Abilov: Yes, Guitar. No, as a keyboard player I'm jealous because you guys, you have these guitars, yeah. Yeah.

Hannes Lowette: We can move around by default.

Vagif Abilov: You look so good. And then so I was thinking, "Okay, I need to find something." But again, we are traveling, so if I buy something, there's a great guitar by Roland, but then...

Dylan Beattie: Is that the IX7?

Vagif Abilov: But it's a big one. And then you can't really check it in. You have to pay for oversized luggage. And then, okay. Every time I need to travel some, I need to...like 100 pounds per way. And then, so I had to plan what I can get, and then this guitar from Ali Express, it's really nice looking. It's on a keyboard then I need to drive it.

Hannes Lowette: It has this proper '80s synth rock vibe to it, right?

Vagif Abilov: Yes. Also, it matches glasses really well. Yeah. Then I found that actually, I put it into this bag which is, if you sum widths and lengths and depths, it'll be around 152 centimeters which is exactly what you're allowed to check in. Otherwise, you need to pay oversized. So like as Dylan says, like when you travel, you really need to plan carefully what you bring.

Hannes Lowette: Oh, I know.

Vagif Abilov: But you don't need to check in now anything. You just...

Hannes Lowette: No. Now everything fits into one like big duffle back, and that is the spec that I started with. So, I found like the biggest like bag that I could just throw stuff in, it's like, okay, that's 83 centimeters. I'm gonna work backward from that. So, I had 83 centimeters, so I made, the guitar case 83 centimeters. Yes, as a hobby, I build guitars so that is where this is going.

Dylan Beattie: So, there's a whole video about this on the unscripted channel as well.

Hannes Lowette: On the Unscripted channel as well. So, I worked from the 83 centimeters and got like, okay, if I have like wood and padding, my guitar can be this large. Okay. Can I fit a full Fender scale length on that? Like, yes, I can. So, all the concessions like all focused on that. So I built the lightest, most compact guitar that I could build, did a visual studio inlay in it because I wanted guitar geeks to come up to me and talk about like, what is that you're playing on stage? So, I worked back, so everything would fit in a single bag because I had an experience of checking in my guitar and like cracked cases. That's something that really does happen. They do throw around your guitar, even when you check it in with the outsize luggage. And I'm finally rid of that because now I just throw some clothes in the bag, then the guitar on top of it, some more clothes, and then I have one bag that I can quite comfortably check in and be assured that the guitar is not broken on the other side. Actually, that bridge, the fact that it doesn't have a tremolo, it usually comes out of the case in tune, so that's really nice. I mean...

Dylan Beattie: I heard about a wonderful hack for traveling with rare and expensive guitars, which is you get a special case made which has a little pocket for a starter pistol, and then you turn up to the airport and you go, I'm transporting a firearm. And they go, "All right," and you go, "Here is my gun case," and they're like, "All right, you have the paperwork and all this kind of stuff?" and they open it up and then they close it and you lock it and they lock it and then they look after it because they do not want to be the people who lost a gun on an airplane. So, that might be one to remember for the next time.

Hannes Lowette: It would involve getting a gun though.

Dylan Beattie: Well, a starter pistol is in that gray area where it's not dangerous because it's the one they use for starting races, you know? But it still uses gunpowder, so it is still classified as a firearm as far as the airlines are concerned. I'm not a lawyer. Check with your own advice before you do this, but I found that on Reddit so it must be true.

Hannes Lowette: Right. And now finally for tonight, we are back to like rehearsing together, playing together, being on a stage. It's gonna be proper good. I think it's the first...

Dylan Beattie: That's gonna be fun.

Hannes Lowette: ...gig we've done in a while and it's nice.

Dylan Beattie: Yes.. Because we were... No, we were at BuildStuff.

Hannes Lowette: BuildStuff, yes.

Dylan Beattie: That was like what? Three weeks ago?

Hannes Lowette: Three weeks ago.

Vagif Abilov: But in London, I think it's first after Corona. After the pandemic.

Dylan Beattie: No, we did NDC, NDC London was in May. 

Vagif Abilov: We did that in May.

Dylan Beattie: But we've forgotten about that because the sound was so terrible, so.

Hannes Lowette: Now the biggest problems that we have indeed is like sound checks and proper... So, that's the next bit of engineering that we might need to look into.

Dylan Beattie: I still, I find it astonishing that, you know, you look at digital innovation like mobile smartphones. Look at how those have transformed in the last 30 years. Then you look at the state of the art in live music performance, and no. The best we've got is still a really massive heavy box with a huge magnetic speaker in it. The whole thing weighs about 30 kilos. You put it up on a pole, plug it in, and then spend an hour trying to get it all balanced properly.

Hannes Lowette: There was some innovation in mixers though.

Dylan Beattie: There has been, but...

Hannes Lowette: But not as big of a transformation as going from a corded phone on the wall of your house to like what the supercomputer that we have in our pockets right now.

Dylan Beattie: I dream of the day when I can walk into a venue with a guitar, switch the guitar on, tap a button, it pairs with the whatever equivalent of Wi-Fi is, and that's it. It's coming through the PA, it's mixed. It eliminates feedback, but never gonna happen because there aren't enough people who need it to make it worth investing in solving the problem. So, we have cables.

Hannes Lowette: And that's fine because if we use cables, we're in the same room and we're gonna have fun.

Vagif Abilov: Yes.

Dylan Beattie: All right.

Vagif Abilov: All right.

Hannes Lowette: I think that's our plan for tonight.Dylan Beattie: Yes.