Phones at gigs?

crowd-holding-up-phones-shutterstockI recently attended one of several special gigs at the O2 Brixton by one of the hardest working people in the British music scene, Four Tet. It has to be said that I’ve rarely been to a gig that was as uplifting as this it was a uniquely intimate, shared experience. Fans wanting to see the show had to become a “verified fan” on Ticketmaster, and tickets were sold at the incredibly accessible £8 a piece.

The uniqueness of the gig came from a stage configuration I was not previously aware of, comprising of Four Tet (aka Kieran Hebden) in the middle, with the audience set around him. There was no light show or visuals (something he leaves for special occasions) and the gig had something akin to being sat with at home in his studio, the only lighting being provided by 2 angle poise desk lamps. The atmosphere in the concert hall felt nourishing, blissful even, as each track blended effortlessly with the next.

There was, however, an incident that took place towards the end of the set that, although it has to be said, was pretty minor, took me out of the moment and gave me some thinking to do about a problem that is facing every artist in the live circuit: that is the use of mobile phones at gigs. Hebden began to round off the show with the track “Morning Side” a sublime, radiant track totalling 20 minutes in length.We were about halfway through the track when an audience member standing side on to the front began filming on her phone.

Now this filming I would have deemed acceptable, she wanted to capture that blissful moment we were all sharing together, however, it was the way she was filming that was what people around her took issue with. As I mentioned previously, it was dark due to the fact that the main source of light was the desk lamps set up on stage. So to counteract this, the audience member in question phone detected a low light source, and activated the torch on her phone, sending a piercing white iceberg of light into onlookers eyes.

Okay, keep clam, it will pass, she will put down her phone, her arm will get tired…

Minutes go by, it’s still there! Looks are exchanged with other audience members, trying to ignore the incredibly distracting beam of light, and hoping it will be shut off and her phone returned to her pocket. Eventually, the neighbouring group could take no more. Taking the lead, one of them steps in front of the offending phone, throws up her arms, and mouths “WHY!?” at the lens.

Determined to appear unperturbed by the rude interruption, the person in question continues to film for another 10 seconds or so, before relinquishing her phone back to her pocket. It would be funny, and in hindsight, it sort of is, but in a flash, this brilliant moment of naïve bliss was gone. All because someone tested the patience of the audience with the bat signal like strength of their phone torch.

The interaction between band and audience is a sacred thing, feeding of the energy and input of the audience. The dynamic is altered completely by the band having to stare at a load of Apples and Samsungs, hidden behind the faces of an audience who paid good money to see them. Gigging has become the main source of income for artists and bands in today’s music industry; both fans and bands alike crave something that cannot be pirated, a live music experience. A band has worked very hard for a stage show to be unique, and depending on the act in question, have some special theatrics or features as a surprise for the audience. Furthermore, the band may wish to debut some new, unreleased, or reimagined material to their fan base. But again, the fear of this being leaked online and eliminating the surprise for fans is very real.

So what conclusions should we take away from all this? Where should we stand on this issue? What will decisions will be arrived at 10 years from now, when smartphones will have even more capability than they do now.

I think ultimately this issue just comes down to one of respect. This includes respect for the band, respect for the audience members, and a respect generally for the industry you are supporting by attending the event. There is no denying that filming on one’s phone, and uploading to social media is a powerful marketing tool, it helps spread the word about an artist’s theatrics on stage, but this could be a help or a hindrance. In one easy move the magic of the gig is lost as footage of the gig appears on YouTube, and paying full price for a ticket may become a less appealing option – they’ve seen what they need to see online.

An artist or band can dictate the rules of engagement to their fan base, but the onus is on that audience to respect the rules that has been attached to the performance.