Published on August 30th, 2013 | by Dave Scaddan1
We Will Remember
In reading about live music, which I tend to do often, and from regularly attending whatever shows interest me within a reasonable travelling distance, I’ve noticed a trend over the last few years. We all know that when we attend a venue for music (or sport, or public speech, or dance, or even drama) we are bound to be expected to put up with a certain number of people who behave badly, putting barriers between the performers and the audience who are, respectively, just trying to entertain and be entertained. The filming of a live show on a phone, iPod or (at worst) a tablet, has always annoyed and saddened me, and a growing number of bands and performers are starting to speak out about the pointlessness and wrong-headedness of this commonplace practice.
In an early scene in David Lynch’s Lost Highway — a wonderful fever dream of a film whose premise begins when a hip LA couple begin finding strange videotapes lying on the front steps of their house — Fred, the male lead, is asked by two police detectives if he owns a video camera. His wife, Renee, tells the detectives, “No, Fred hates them.” Fred elaborates by saying, “I like to remember things my own way . . . How I remember them. Not necessarily the way they happened.” These lines explain, for me, very clearly, why I feel the way I do when I stand among the throngs of admirers at a live music venue, surrounded by people of all ages staring at their mobile devices, ‘watching’ the performance on a tiny handheld screen, supposedly ‘preserving’ the memory of the joyous event, while simultaneously, in my mind, destroying it. I very much agree with Fred in this sense, that when I see a recorded file of an event I’ve actually witnessed in person, especially if the event is of significance to me, I always feel that the recording pales in comparison with my memory. Furthermore, I often find that after viewing the ‘accurate’ recording of the event, my memory’s version of the events is either tainted or lost through the experience of having watched it a second time. I am somehow certain that I am not the only person who feels this way.
Certain artists and bands have echoed this frustration recently by trying to find ways to limit the amounts of screen time their audiences use during shows. At a recent concert in Toronto, singer/songwriter Dallas Green asked his audience — just for one song, mind you — to leave their phones in their pockets so that they could, “Enjoy what’s happening, right here, right now.” If you’ve entered the venue of a live Yeah Yeah Yeahs show in the last few months, you’ve likely noticed a poster at the venue door asking patrons not to watch the evening’s entertainment through mobiles. A similar sign may catch your eye if you are ever lucky enough to see the band Savages in a live setting. A portion of the notice they display at the venues they tour through (and on their band site) reads as follows:
WE BELIEVE THAT THE USE OF PHONES TO FILM AND TAKE PICTURES DURING A GIG PREVENTS ALL OF US FROM TOTALLY IMMERSING OURSELVES
Compare this snippet from a gig notice to the poem that appears on the front cover of Savages debut album, ‘Silence Yourself,’ and you will recognize a growing ethos that speaks to the basic wrongness of experiencing the most poignant moments of our lives by filming, posting, tweeting, and sharing them. You should read the whole thing for yourself, (and listen to the album too — it’s fantastic) but a portion from the centre of it reads:
YOU ARE DISTRACTED
YOU ARE AVAILABLE
YOU WANT FLATTERY
ALWAYS LOOKING TO WHERE IT’S AT
YOU WANT TO TAKE PART IN EVERYTHING
AND EVERYTHING TO BE A PART OF YOU
YOUR HEAD IS SPINNING FAST
AT THE END OF YOUR SPINE
UNTIL YOU HAVE NO FACE AT ALL
These lines, while they may speak to much more than just public behaviour at shows, also express a wrongness about our desire to preserve and catalogue experience. As Savages beautifully express, this is not just behaviour that ruins the experience for others, but also for ourselves.
When I am at a great gig, there are three things a live performance will make me want to do: to listen, to dance, and to watch, in that order of importance. We all appreciate music in our own ways, but something about the syncopated sounds a great band conjures can make anyone want to move in rhythm with what he or she is hearing, and in case my point isn’t already glaringly obvious, trying to record the event on your phone is not exactly conducive to letting the music consume the very movements of your body as you experience the show. Filming a concert on your phone requires that you stand, stock-still, mobile raised, both feet firmly planted on the pit floor, motionless, trying to preserve the framing of a video that will never look or sound as good as the real thing unfolding right in front of you.
I understand that many who do not think the way I think feel a need I do not feel to compartmentalize the human experience into grainy, quavering videos for future digestion. I will never understand the instinct to point a camera at a striking occurrence at the expense of actually experiencing it, simply to fulfill a desire to create a record of one’s presence at that place and time.
A concert, unlike a film or a play, is a place where people ought to be able to point a camera at the action and take a snap or two to preserve a piece of the moment, but does this mean that every passing frame of a gig should be the shared domain of all those in attendance with a mobile device? Artists like Jack White, M. Ward, Zooey Deschanel, Jarvis Cocker, Bjork and Prince (to name only a few of a growing number of musicians to impose some type of phone/camera policy at shows) are not, from the tone of their requests, trying to protect themselves from being filmed; they are trying instead to protect something far more important: the audiences’ opportunities to experience the event. A movie theatre is a place where patrons know that if they use their phones in the darkened sanctity of the shared space, they will likely be the subject of complaint, and possibly ejection. Should a gig venue be any different, especially considering that the experience being shared there is far more singular, more visceral, and usually more expensive?
Expect to see this trend of requests on the part of live musicians continue, and hope that it catches on. We’ve been through this before, after all, to the point where guidelines have been somewhat established as to how all but the most socially incompetent among us ought to conduct ourselves with our technology. Remember that our nights out at live shows, like the rest of our waking lives, are, when they are great, as impossible to forget as our first kisses, our first fights, our lost pets, or our most shameful misdeeds. With nothing to aid us but our eyes, ears, and hearts, we will remember (and be remembered).