Rarity Dean is a freelance music journalist who writes for the Grid, a music paper published by an unseen impresario, ostensible leader of a shadowy, repressive regime in a city that’s a blend of past, future and alternative present. Recordings are prohibited and the public is manipulated using Sentimental Hygiene, a psychotropic drug that’s administered secretly and en masse at impresario-sanctioned concerts. The state-sponsored Affable DJ Hologram provides the public with a false sense of freedom via this stylised, controlled form of live entertainment. Meanwhile, musos have developed what seem to be supernatural abilities. An ability to songshift – a benign but elusive form of time travel that enables listeners to slip into the relative safety of their pasts with the help of their chosen music – is prized and jealously guarded by punters and musos alike.
Rival bands Scrooch and the Dust Bunnies unite to promote Imprimatur, a live, multiple-band event meticulously organised to draw attention to the ban on recorded music – provided they can distract the impresario’s agents Raguly and Nebuly for long enough to stage it. The two bands’ alliance is complicated by the fact that Scrooch bassist Fraser Carlyon and Dust Bunnies frontman Jacky Shannon are competing for the affections of Dirty Birds singer Sam Ratcliff.
In part two, Requiem For Stage Diver & Bass Guitar, the Dirty Birds are touring with a show called Dangerous Mixture. Singer Sam devotes much of the band’s set to stage-diving among the punters. One night, at a club called Everything That Ever Was, she’s returned unconscious to the stage and dies from apparent asphyxiation. Rarity Dean attempts to unearth the truth about Sam’s death, which turns out not to have been a straightforward case of misadventure.
In part three, An audience with the impresario, the stakes are raised when musos, journos and punters unite for their most audacious protest yet against the recorded music ban. Rarity is arrested and taken to the barge, the impresario’s headquarters, where she suspects she’s to be tortured by agents Raguly and Nebuly. Her muso friends resort to unusual firepower in an all-or-nothing rescue attempt. Meanwhile, Rarity must harness all her initiative to try and convince the Affable DJ Hologram that indoctrinating audiences with a new crowd control drug, Deludol, is misguided. Her experience as a songshifter proves invaluable as she masterminds a musical movement with the express aim of defying the authorities.
“Music has been central to my existence for longer than I can remember. It’s not just music; songs are magnets that over the years attract particles from our history, creating a pattern unique to every listener. Music makes you feel happy and sad and a roaring cascade of emotions all at once – and you’re never really sure why. A day with no soundtrack is a wasted day.”