Put your phones away and please enjoy the music

Entertainment Life

Tom Hoskins outlines his frustrations with the annoying, incessant and ever-increasing use of mobile phones at concerts

Let’s make this evening special. SILENCE YOUR MOBILE PHONES.

So ended Savages’ note to their Neumos audience. Not long after, they released a short film combining a vocal statement and their destructive new song, aptly titled “Shut Up”. “We live in an age of many stimulations…If you are distracted, you are available…you want to take part in everything and everything to be a part of you” states Jehnny Beth. All this followed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ plea to their New York audience at a Webster Hall gig to “not watch the show through a screen on your smart device/camera.” Yet a few weeks later their audience at Coachella was littered with people glued to their screens, not Karen O. Perhaps hoping that the simple enjoyment of and respect for music might return to audiences is too optimistic.

Theatre, film, opera and classical music all possess an implicit no-phone policy; the intrusion of a ring-tone, the irritation of a neighbour checking their messages or the filming of a show is forbidden (copyright issues aside) by common courtesy and tradition. Why should this be different for a popular music concert? These banal habits occur and are frustrating for others. People film high-quality music on low-quality cameras, forfeiting their ticket price for several hundred views on YouTube; this is not only depressing but ruins the experience of a concert. More comical, yet equally irritating, are those who ring their friend to let them listen to their favourite song over the phone. Research has revealed that no one has in fact ever enjoyed one of these calls.

Nizzam Udin

It is difficult to comprehend why these people are going to concerts; if they like the band and have paid money for a ticket, by watching proceedings through a small screen and capturing a memory of something they never experienced, they seem to be losing out in every aspect. If you are a keen photographer, then the excuse of going to shows to practice while enjoying the music is legitimate. Yet most people are not doing either of these things.

Some bands will defend these pictures and videos, claiming that they are good for publicity, to which there are two responses. Firstly, if a band values such poor quality recordings of their music for publicity, then they should probably not be making music. Secondly, there are better ways to manipulate live footage for publicity, as Savages showed: a minimal selection of professional videos uploaded to the internet, with the majority of amateur shots removed, presents a far more appealing and exciting image of a band than a selection of fuzzy fan-boy clips.

The use of mobiles at concerts doesn’t just display an inability to appreciate. It highlights Jehnny Beth’s words that “you are distracted”. Attention spans are decreasing, with people using their phones not just to film or photograph but to check messages and update their important internet presence. The Knife challenged this issue in a different setting with their new album Shaking The Habitual, a sprawling and unpredictable 100-minute double LP. One of their main aims was to “play with people’s time” and it rewards attentive and un-interrupted listening. However, most would say that finding 100-minutes to simply listen to an album is nigh on impossible. I doubt many will give it such time, but the Knife’s desire to challenge the public is what is important: they have shown that a work of art deserving of attention will probably not receive it, even from those who have paid for the album.

This is perhaps a step beyond that of mobile phones at concerts. But that there are people willing to listen to Shaking The Habitual within their routine day underlines the feeble nature of many concertgoers. They have set aside time and paid money to be in a setting where the only activity seems to be experiencing and enjoying live music and performance, but the distractions of the modern world still prevail over simple pleasure.

There is no denying that this is a reciprocal issue, as is manifest from the bands who are challenging the modern audience. Both Savages and Yeah Yeah Yeahs have exciting live shows with charismatic front-women and crowds will benefit from paying attention and immersing themselves; Shaking The Habitual was justified in stretching out to such length as it maintained The Knife’s expected consistency and eclecticism. Many fall short of these three bands in either their live shows or recordings though, and it should be a warning not just to audiences to be less “available” but also to bands to be deserving of their attention.


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