The Gig Experience:
Are We Losing the Ability to Connect?
FUTURE pieces of the day will contain a lot more…
sugar than spice. In fact; this is not meant to decry gig-goers and question impunity. What I wanted to address – whilst not a new subject – is the way we are approaching the live experience: how many of our best venues are facing closure and extinction. I wanted to split the piece into two halves – without rambling on – and ask why we feel so inclined to buy tickets to see an artist – only to disconnect ourselves from the performance when we get there. This is not the case with everyone: there are many who take a more traditional and proper approach to music. I do not own a Smartphone and one of the reasons for this is I do not want to be endlessly distracted and obsessed by machinery and technology.
It not an original observation when I say so many people are hooked on their phone – to the point when one will walk the street to be met with an approaching horde of phone-staring zombies unaware of the logistics of walking. They careen towards you and, even if they look up, often go straight through you. It is a worrying sign we have to document our every movement – some of these emanating below the waist – and keep everyone updated with every pointless thought and irrelevant status update. I am guilty of indulging the anonymity and security of social media. We do not have to embrace and properly connect with a human on social media: one can say what they want and message someone without becoming involved with them or meeting them at any point. It gives us a rather strange group of ‘friends’ where can surrender sociability and dispose of the human touch. I worry we are more absorbed and fascinated by screens and technology – few are worried they are slipping away from humanity and spending their free time hooked to laptops and Smartphones.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty
One should, when affording themselves the chance to get out into the world, should not carry their phones like a weapon – a warrior going into battle that needs to wield it at the mere whiff of approach enemies. I cannot judge people too much because I spend most of my free-time on the laptop. I have no choice when it comes to what I do. I never go to a gig and spend my time there taking videos. I understand someone might want to take a picture of the venue they are attending. It documents you were there and is good for prosperity. Why do people feel the need to catalogue the entire duration and development of their gig-going experience?!
IN THIS PHOTO: Prince; who wanted the audience to dispense with phones at his final gig
From the time they are on the train (or in the car); one is presented with an array of photos and videos – right until they get out the venue and are on their way back home. It is like, when seeing people hold phones aloft, there is an approaching alien craft from above. People put their phones up and seem to form some messianic circle. Smartphones have their uses (it passes me by but I am sure there are some) but photography is the main one. It is easier snapping something and is one of the biggest breakthroughs we have had – one does not need to wait days for films to be developed and processed before they can see their images. I am glad we have moved on in that sense: the fact we have gone to such extremes means we forsake eye contact and interaction altogether. One cannot go to gigs without people taking pictures of the artist. I have seen videos of people watching a gig and it made me think: they have not seen a second of the performance with their own eyes!
IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé; who is one of few big artist to ban professional photography at her gigs
One of the reasons I do not go to gigs a lot is because I feel alienated and distinct – like I am watching the performance on my own. So many people feel they need to prove they have been to a gig. We cannot, in this day, say we have experienced something without photographing it. We feel this need to visualise every movement and interaction we have – music should be immune from this. Music photographers are different. Their job is to take the best shots from the field; capturing artists at their purest and least self-aware. Live performances are the antithesis of the social media/streaming culture we are growing up in. It is the chance to see the artist in the flesh and connect with them on a human level. Why would one go to a prestigious and expensive gig only to record everything without seeing a moment through their eyes?! I know artists have tried to tackle this recently. Prince’s last gig was supposed to be a mobile-free territory but I know some did slip through the net. Kate Bush, when she performed a set of shows in London a few years back, insisted the audience stay away from their phones and watch her perform without them.
Largely, people abided and accepted this request – a sense of respect and obedience that is rare to find. One knows there would have been a few people that ignored the plea and filmed everything on their phone. Technology companies have released phones that can sense when someone is at a gig. Apple trialled this last year and, the way it works, was a radar/sensor can detect the environment and prohibit one from videoing and photographic at a venue. That is a positive thing every company should roll out. One imagines there would be an outcry but we are not stopping people from taking photos away from music. I find it pointless going to a live performance and doing anything but watch what you have paid to see. Live music is one of the most exciting and immersive experiences one could witness. We have become so entangled in the Internet we have forgotten how to be a human being and remove ourselves from the machine. This ignorance and self-obsession extend to dates, holidays and everything around us. I rarely take photos and, when I do, it is to document something I struggle to describe with words – a tourist site or rare event. I would never take a camera to a gig and have no interest boasting about the experience on social media. The fact I was there and know a gig happened is proof enough – I do not care what people think and whether they need evidence.
The Good Ship in Kilburn is one of the latest venues to face closure. The London venue’s doors will shut next month because of the curbs on late-night revelry. The Evening Standard reported on the closure:
“Last year, police and Brent council reviewed the pub’s late-night licence after concerns about events finishing at 3am and security arrangements. Mr McCooke was able to keep his licence with an earlier finishing time of 2am but it affected trade on Friday and Saturday nights.
It will be the third music venue to close in Kilburn since 2011, following the loss of The Luminaire and then Power’s Bar.
Mr McCooke said: “We are the only late-night music venue in Brent. When the council looked at our licence I thought this will kill the business.
“But the measures they put in place with the early closures meant it was a slow death.”
Mr McCooke said he now wanted The Good Ship to “go out with a huge bang”.
He added: “Kilburn has an amazing history, with The Beatles, The Smiths, Rolling Stones and The Who playing here. Kilburn has always punched above its weight but in less than six years three venues have been closed, which is shocking”.
One can, legitimately, draw a line between the closures and the way we choose to interact with other people. You can argue people have less disposable income to spend on live music these days. I do not think we have become poorer in that sense. I feel we prefer to stay in because technology allows us to watch whatever shows we want and opens a whole world of entertainment. There are plenty of great artists out there so one cannot say the lack of quality is driving people away. So many of us are absorbed in technology to the extent we forget how to interact and socialise. We are going to extremes. People are either not going out at all or they are going out and drinking to excess. There is no middle-ground that allows people to go to gigs and act cordially. The trouble and controversy that surrounded Fabric’s closure – and subsequent rebirth – was to do with drugs and trouble at the venue.
IN THIS PHOTO: Fabric nightclub, London
The Council and Government have tightened up security and regulations to ensure that pattern of events do not repeat themselves. A few bad apples do not represent the entire music-going public but it is troubling so much trouble and controversy leads to venues shutting their doors. Now people are filming gigs it means many are able to sit at their laptops and watch a concert. The issue is more complex and there are other reasons why so many venues are closing - there are so many venues it is impossible to keep all afloat; people are bonding more with streamed music – but I worry we are abandoning live music and not treating it with due respect. New artists need people to come see them and help them thrive: if we are glued to phones and prefer to spend our time online – how viable and prosperous is the future of music?
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty
I am pleased people are not sitting back and letting venues close without a fight. The fact so many big artists are banning people from videoing their gigs is a sign they want people involved and not streaming their performance to the masses. Eminem, when he played Reading and Leeds last month, banned the BBC from streaming his performance. He wanted paying punters to get exclusive access to his intense and near-career-best show. That is fair enough and I think he would have been aware people at that festival were videoing it themselves. I guess he cannot stop that but so many artists want fans to connect and watch what they are doing. If we get too reliant on technology and feel a desperate need to photo every stage of a gig – how does that impact on our enjoyment and the purpose of seeing an artist?!
PHOTO CREDIT: Holler London
One might as well sit at home and listen to the artist on YouTube if that is the level of involvement they want. I worry we are going further and further down a hole we will be unable to climb out of. The more prevalent technology becomes; the more we rely on it and replace human connection. I know many people are exempt from my point and many people use cameras/phones sparingly to capture important musical moments. One can understand if they want to take the odd shot of a band when they are in mid-flight. It is okay to video arriving at a festival but many people are taking things to an extreme. With so many venues closing its doors, it is imperative, more than ever, people fight for live music; put the Smartphones away and…