Sunday Roast: How The Smartphone Is Killing Live Music

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Sunday Roast: How The Smartphone Is Killing Live Music

You know the situation.

You’ll be at a concert, trying to enjoy your favourite artist in an intimate setting when the inevitable single or crowd favourite is played, prompting a sea of glowing smartphones to be unsheathed and used as weapons against those trying to enjoy the experience for what it is; as they attempt their best amateur footage or paparazzi impression.

It seems that more and more people these days are treating live music as an iPhone workout.

The phenomenon of wanting to capture the moment is understandable, it’s the reason we sing along at the top of our lungs, that we loiter and beg the stage crew for that hallowed piece of paper – the setlist. But in today’s age of accessible technology and burgeoning social media, it’s never been so easy or seemingly necessary to capture that fleeting live experience.

Which is all the more reason to put the phone away and simply soak it in, your memories are a far better way to capture your imagination than some distorted audio of friends whooping on a small screen; or the image of a musician as shaky and blurry as a night out with The Rolling Stones.

It’s reaching a terrible extreme, take the recent debut of dance party Sensation White in Asia, where The Korea Times reports that instead of enjoying one of the world’s biggest raves, concert-goers instead “remained standing still, with lights from innumberable smartphone screens dotting the vast space like pseudo stars in the night sky.”

That’s the nightmarish scene above, where everyone is so busying trying to record something that they’ll probably never even watch to just be in and enjoy the moment.

The romanticism of that magical concert experience is being displaced by an obsessive compulsive need to document it.

Really, how often are people revisiting their filmed concert footage? If you’re into shooting concerts that much, you should probably just invest in a new digital SLR and take your hobby to its logical conclusion (and perhaps consider contributing to Tone Deaf).

Aside from the disgruntled purists who tut and furrow their brows as they’re overwhelmed by a wave of smartphone users, think of it from the artist’s perspective, in fact, take it from Jack White’s perspective:

“The gadgetry for the experience of a live show has gotten ridiculous. You look out and see a sea of blue screens,” White told News Limited earlier this year.

For his current world tour for his solo debut Blunderbuss, White has begun a ‘one-man crusade’ against such “gadgetry” at his shows, banning the use of filming and social media. Signs at his concerts urging punters, “please leave your phones in your pockets/purses and enjoy the show live and in person.”

“The worst thing is to watch a young kid watching a show on their camera screen, instead of watching it on stage,” says White. “You just want to take it out of his hand and go, ‘Come on man, that’s not what this is about’.” One such act took that idea a bit literally.

Oklahoma rock band, All-American Rejects took a much more extreme approach to smartphone interference at a concert last April, when at a Cleveland show, one female fan rocked up with her iPad, raised it in the air, and began filming the entire set.

To teach her a severe lesson in gig manners, lead singer Tyson Ritter gestured to the girl to hand him the iPad before smashing it to pieces on stage.

Though an extreme example, both Ritter and White aren’t even speaking for the disgruntled musicians concerned that filming them and their live performances as a mild breach of copyright. Instead – like most – they’re more concerned about losing that romantic element of the live experience to a 480 x 320 pixel screen.

Perhaps the mobile phone epidemic is just the first symptom in an overall pattern of poor concert etiquette. The unspoken code of the discerning live music attendee that operates by a seemingly obvious set of codes: ‘Though shalt not block the view of someone of a considerable height disadvantage if ye are dressed in leather’. Or ‘though shalt not slosh thine many mugs of amber into a shoulder-to-shoulder throng’. That sort of thing.

Filming a show for long stretches is the first obvious lack of behavioural conduct by a gig-goer.

The worst-case scenario is being surrounded by the kind of people who are preoccupied with letting the wider net of their social media know that they’re somewhere they’re followers and friends aren’t. Too busy worrying about ‘being seen’ at a concert or gig to simply just enjoy the experience.

If you’ll allow me to indulge in recounting one such experience…

The show: Oliver Tank in late January. The setting: The Workers Club, a wooden shed of a bandroom in Melbourne’s Inner North. The culprit: a girl, not unattractive in appearance but ugly in conduct, who – two songs into the set – shouldered her way inches from my face to be next to her friend.

The two proceeded to natter about things very much not related to the artist currently performing in front of them, with the kind of arrogant volume that young,couture girls like themselves are probably used to speaking at – regardless of venue. After ten excruciating minutes, and many ‘shhhs’ later, the latecomer was left alone while her friend went to get a drink.

Left to her own devices, the latecomer didn’t take it as an opportunity to partake in what she’d been rudely ignoring since her arrival, but instead fished her iPhone (pink leather case and all) from her purse; flicked instantly to Facebook and proceeded to ‘check in’ with the on-the-nose tagline of: ‘at Oliver Tank, he’s Sydney’s answer to James Blake’.

And yes, she attempted to film ‘Last Night I Heard Everything In Slow Motion’, Tank’s breakout tune.

Why people bother spending their hard-earned (spare me if our Tank attendee somehow got in for free) to go out to a concert if all they’re going to do is stand there and fiddle with their phone, when they can accomplish a similar experience at home, is baffling.

Yes, technically it’s not hurting others, and a blanket ban like White’s might not be the solution either, but the smartphone revolution is getting out of hand and doing all the wrong things for live music.

The moral of the story? Next time you’ve got the knee-jerk urge to reach for your phone, leave it in your pocket and keep your head in the music.


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