It’s nothing new that people like to take photos and videos at gigs to remind them of the good times they’ve had. Often it’s simply an “I was there” willy wave but for some bands it’s a way of getting far cheaper publicity, promo shots and footage they can use to get themselves out to a wider audience. But is all that about to change? It’s been a rising trend in recent months, but as the debate has now reached these shores, it’s interesting to look at the increase in mobile phone bans at gigs.
Chris Rock and Jack White are proponents of the Yondr system for their shows in the UK this year. For those unaware, this sees punters give their phones over on the door to pouch-toting staff who gleefully pop your device in a lockable sleeve. Said sheath will only unlock after the show unless you take your device to a designated “phone zone” during the show. Obviously these artists are doing this to protect their material as well as everyone else’s experience but is this really the right way to go about ensuring a show is as enjoyable as possible?
I’ve posted a fair amount on Twitter about gig etiquette over the years; I’ve asked people to pipe down at acoustic shows a few times, much to their displeasure, for the crowd and the artists’ benefit and I’ve been stuck behind people who insist on filming pretty much a whole gig on their clapped out Nokia so they can be the first to put their fuzz-o-vision on YouTube afterwards. But really, locking a person’s phone away? I’m in no way a human rights activist but has it really come to this, that people need their phone to be physically prohibited for them to enjoy an outing? On the flip side, those protesting the ban by saying ‘what if there’s an emergency’ need to remember the early 90s when there weren’t any mobiles to take to gigs. And let’s face it, how many ACTUAL emergencies do you get on your mobile anyway? It’s like when people drop their phone down the khazi and go straight on Facebook to tell EVERYONE they can reach them on there if they need to. Anyone ever bothered? Nope. But I digress…
I go to a fair few gigs by myself and I review them too. During the show I’ll take notes on my phone, always out of anyone’s line of distraction and always with brightness down to its lowest setting. No offence promoters, but if you start deciding I can’t take my phone in with me, and you want me to keep that much info in my brain after 39 years of muddlement, my reviews probably won’t be that thorough. I guess I could take a pen and notebook in but presumably ‘sharp’ objects would be frowned upon too. Also, in an age where we’re trying to reduce “drink culture” in the UK, is removing a slightly less harmful distraction between bands really going to help? Again, if you’re flying solo at a gig, what do you do with yourself in the 30-40 minutes in between sets other than a quick check of Twitter here, a move on Words With Friends there; probably better for you in the long run than a couple of extra pints.
So what is the solution? As ever it appears to be education. Schools and parents need to teach people from an early age that technology is a tool to take advantage of but also to respect. Encourage people to look up from their screens, and enjoy life through their own eyes and consider those around them, just like you would if puffing on an e-snout or dropping your litter in the street; there are much wider issues here around respect, dignity and common decency than just locking away a mobile for a couple of hours at a time. It might be slightly rose-tinted, but before the current boom, this worked for those who carried ‘compact’ cameras to shows with them; in typically British fashion a sign stage left or right simply stating “No Flash Photography” would be enough to put off even the most ardent of proto-David Baileys out of respect for the artists and fellow concert-goers.
To be fair, the current Yondr phase seems to mainly involve American acts and comedy ones at that and I’d say that theatre audiences in the UK are largely well-behaved when it comes to not recording shows. I saw staff at The Lowry Theatre tap a front row patron on the shoulder to remind them of the rules at a recent Bruce Dickinson spoken word show and that acted as enough of a deterrent to stop others following suit, but for how long will this be enough? And what about Smartwatches? I can do all my texting through that if I I like, do I need to take that off too? What if someone simply states they don’t have a mobile phone upon their person, will searches now class an iPhone in the same contraband category as booze and weaponry?
Needless to say, there are plenty of questions left unanswered around this topic, and we probably won’t find a one-size-fits-all solution. If I’ve got one thing to say to artists and gig promoters though, it’s to maybe focus on the real issues around rip off ticket resellers and snide merch hawkers before targeting actual fans who have paid with their hard-earned cash to do, within reason, whatever they see fit to do once they enter a live arena.