Watch 1,000 Musicians Play the Foo Fighters’ “Learn to Fly,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel,” and The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

In the 1980s, avant-garde com­pos­er, gui­tarist Glenn Bran­ca began writ­ing sym­phonies for elec­tric gui­tars — dozens of them, all play­ing at once, cre­at­ing unprece­dent­ed psy­choa­coustic effects — some­times beau­ti­ful har­mo­ny, some­times unset­tling dis­so­nance — that reduced Bran­ca him­self to tears. “I remem­ber one rehearsal where I actu­al­ly had to stop and cry,” he once said. “I could not believe that I was get­ting this sound.” Bran­ca brought togeth­er hun­dreds of elec­tric gui­tarists and per­cus­sion­ists, but he nev­er real­ized his ambi­tion of bring­ing togeth­er 2,000 gui­tarists at once in Paris for cel­e­bra­tions of the year 2000, set­tling for 100.

These num­bers pale next to the largest gui­tar ensem­ble on record, 6,346 peo­ple in Poland in 2009. In 2018, the year of Branca’s death, anoth­er record attempt saw 457 gui­tarists come togeth­er in Can­ber­ra, Aus­tralia to play AC/DC’s “High­way to Hell.” Not exact­ly Branca’s cup of tea, but he prob­a­bly had some hand in the inspi­ra­tion, if only indi­rect­ly. Stand­ing amidst those hun­dreds of ring­ing gui­tars while they banged out the song’s famed open­ing chords sure­ly made many an Angus Young devo­tee cry that day.

What, then, would it feel like to stand amidst the cacoph­o­ny of 1000 musi­cians — drum­mers, gui­tarists, bassists, and singers — bash­ing out a cov­er of Foo Fight­ers’ “Learn to Fly”? Assem­bled in 2015 in Italy, the Rockin’1000 was orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed as a one-off project to accom­plish “four mir­a­cles,” notes the project’s site: “find one thou­sand musi­cians, get them to play simul­ta­ne­ous­ly of the biggest Rock show ever, col­lect enough mon­ey to make it real, con­vince the Foo Fight­ers to play a gig in Cese­na.” (You can see their impas­sioned plea to Dave Grohl at the video’s end.)

After accom­plish­ing their goals “with a bang” (the Foo Fight­ers lat­er played a 3‑hour con­cert ded­i­cat­ed to the project), the core team decid­ed to get “the biggest Rock Band on Earth” back togeth­er for an entire con­cert the fol­low­ing year: “17 songs played all togeth­er at Manuzzi Sta­di­um.” The full show has been released on CD and vinyl, but I’d haz­ard that music writ­ten for four peo­ple and played by 1000 doesn’t sound quite as inter­est­ing on record as in per­son, where the sheer mas­sive­ness might make lis­ten­ers weep. As the band­lead­ers them­selves admit, “with­out an audi­ence, who’s been a part of the whole process, Rockin’1000 wouldn’t make sense.”

They’ve per­formed for audi­ences, in var­i­ous con­fig­u­ra­tions, every year since their found­ing until 2020. See them here play Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spir­it,” Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.” If you sing or play a rock instru­ment, you can sign up to be a part of Rockin’1000’s next gig, in Paris, in May 2022, here.

With a band com­posed of 1000 peo­ple, the musi­cians are also the audi­ence, and the musi­cians can be any­one. What sep­a­rates Rockin’1000 from some oth­er cel­e­bra­tions of pop­u­lar music is that it does posi­tion itself as a road to fame and for­tune or a way to meet celebri­ties. “No rank­ings, no prizes, no win­ners, no losers,” they write: “every­one can be part of this, either an audi­ence or a mem­ber of ‘the biggest Rock Band on Earth.’ No bar­ri­ers here, all emo­tions are equal, same inten­si­ty.” But what emo­tions do we expe­ri­ence as a vir­tu­al audi­ence of the Biggest Band on Earth?

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Watch a Tow­er­ing Orches­tral Trib­ute to Kate Bush: A 40th Anniver­sary Cel­e­bra­tion of Her First Sin­gle, “Wuther­ing Heights”

Foo Fight­ers Per­form “Back in Black” with AC/DC’s Bri­an John­son: When Live Music Returns

Dave: The Best Trib­ute to David Bowie That You’re Going to See

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Kamil says:

    Wiem byłem widzi­ałem w lipcu 2019 we Frank­fur­cie. Na żywo jest to nie do opisa­nia. Pole­cam każde­mu kto będzie miał okazję zobaczyc to na żywo. Coś wspani­ałego. Przy okazji może dało­by radę coś takiego w Pl zor­ga­ni­zować???

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