FEATURE: Vertical Insanity: Is Mabel’s Unique Performance Platform a Sign of the Future?



Vertical Insanity


IN THIS PHOTO: Mabel is the first performer to use a vertical stage for a gig/PHOTO CREDIT: NME

Is Mabel’s Unique Performance Platform a Sign of the Future?


GIGS are accommodating more and more…


 PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Benett

to different tastes and demands. One could forgive venues and artists for pushing things forward and shaking things up. The existing stage set-up and design is flexible as it allows for invention and difference. By that, depending on the size of the stage, artists are free to indulge their imaginations and ambitions. Huge arenas provide lots of space for bands and artists to put together big sets and light displays. A lot of artists tend to prefer a more stripped-back venue/set whereas others like to push things to the maximum. The notion of the horizontal stage has been around for centuries and, as we push to the future and the current generation, is the idea of a vertical stage a good one? Here, as this article explains, singer Mabel has definitely opened up a debate:

From the serial snapper who fills the camera roll on their phone (or their tablet, you know who you are) to the "watch the band, not your phone" traditionalists, there's a blurry spectrum of where fans and musicians stand on the best gig etiquette.

The debate went up a notch this week when Mabel performed what's been dubbed the world's first "vertical gig" on a three-tiered stage.

Its designers called it "a gift for a fans' Snap and Insta Stories" which "should stimulate some debate around live music staging conventions for a Generation Z audience".

We already have stages of different sizes and, as time goes on, I can see artists taking live performances to new levels (no pun intended). Are we getting too bored of the traditional gig? I can appreciate how artists would want to stimulate other senses but, at a times when many venues are struggling to accommodate and acknowledge disabled gig-goers and those with mental-health issues, should we not be more focused on galvanising and improving venues? Whilst a vertical stage looks pretty cool and original, there are clear problems. For a start, there is less space and movement for the performers on stage. There are risks of falling from the stage (a big danger for those on the top tier) and how does a singer like Mabel bond and connect with her bands when she cannot easily see them? Also, the vertical stage would be good if it was designed to save space but, in my view, it makes for a confusing experience. Some would say a vertical stage allows for better access in terms of viewing. People do not have to strain their eyes so much and can actually see people playing. I think the opposite is true: you are looking at performers on several different levels and you have to keep scanning your eyes up and down. Whereas a normal gig would put all the performers on the one level – and there you could focus on the same spot -, a multi-tier/vertical stage seems a bit baffling and unnecessary.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Benett

I am all for improving the live experience and not just standing still. Artists are revolutionising technology and changing the way we digest music. From the huge sets of Muse to the natural worlds Björk puts into her shows, things have definitely changed through the years. The idea of vertical stages is designed to please Instagram fans. I do not see the idea being rolled out too much and, to be fair, this is probably limited to Pop artists. Maybe it will take a while for me to come around to something as unusual and impersonal as a vertical stage. If this idea helped improve sound or the visual aspect of a gig then I would be a bit more open-minded and embracing. The fact that we have to discuss phones at gigs sort of worries me. I know a lot of Mabel’s fans take photos and video her gigs and, really, do we need a vertical stage that helps make Instagraming more accessible and cool? Rather than relish a gig and be in the moment, people are going to be trying to get the best shot and put this cool-looking stage onto their feeds – how many will remember the actual gig and talk about the music they made? We come back to this debate as to whether we should be encouraging people to actually be present at gigs or film they for prosperity.

Maybe it is a matter of opinion, but I think artists who ask fans not to film gigs should be commended. There is no logical reason for filming gigs. People say it is so they can remember it years and now but, for most of us, memories alone are good enough. One is not actually enjoying or concentrating on a gig if they are filming and taking pictures and, to be fair, how many Instagram followers are going to be engrossed by grainy footage and insignificant photos? I do not go online to look at gig photos and streams because, also, you are seeing this for free – why is that fair when people actually there paid to see the artist?! There are a lot of reasons why phones should be outlawed from gigs. It is down to the artist whether they allow them, but the idea of turning gigs into a fashion accessory is baffling. Research shows most Smartphone users are engaging with their devices vertically whilst the majority find vertical videos the most interesting. I can see why vertical videos would be interesting for, say, a music video but a live gig should not be about filming and posting videos to the Internet. I am all for heightening the viewing experience but I cannot get my head around the benefits of a vertical stage. It seems rather cold and distant because, as I said, it is harder for performers to engage with one another. I think a gig is much more immersive when there is a wider stage: a vertical platform seems constricting and almost like performers are trapped like animals!

 PHOTO CREDIT: @samuelzeller/Unsplash

Everyone has to accept the fact venues and artists are adapting to the needs of a new generation. There is this conversational clash when it comes to technology and whether venues are turning into something robotic and money-making. By that, I mean venues are working in the pockets of technology companies and trend-setting Instagram stars rather than thinking about the quality of performance and the listening experience. I can foresee sound challenges when you work on a vertical stage and can one say a performer like Mabel thrives with a more narrow stage? I cannot imagine bands taking to the vertical stage because of the compartmentalised nature. The best gigs, when we see bands, involve interaction and the ability to see your fellow musicians working. If you go and see a Mabel concert then, no offence to the others on stage, but you go and see her. If you are filming a video where there are three levels and you have this vertical shot, it seems much less impressive than having a horizontal stage where you get more movement and a more ambitious set. In terms of lightning and sets, there is less room. It seems like there are lots of safety risks and problems that leads to a less exciting, natural and human performance. I come back to my point regarding performers looking like animals.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @bukowski/Unsplash

I am looking at photos of Mabel performing with her crew and, whilst it looks pretty neat, tight and cool, is she able to give her very best delivery? Do people in the front rows get the same view they would normally and what about people at the side of the stage? The vertical stage relies on height benefits rather than width so I think you are creating new issues. I applaud artists who want to push beyond the norm and improve live performances…but is a vertical stage a step too far?! I shouldn’t get annoyed about this story because, in truth, if an artist is thinking more about an Instagramer and making their lives easier, then they are more concerned with being fashionable and popular than the actual music itself. My worry is that this notion rolls out to other genres and artists. I am a keen advocate of keeping phones in pockets and going to gigs to connect with a performer – if you have your phone out then you are more concerned with your social media feed than you are with music. Those who say they are capturing a unique moment they can look back on seem flawed to me. You can keep gigs in mind and would you realistically show videos of a gig to your grandchildren and friends years from now? I don’t see much of a point and there are few gigs that warrant that sort of excitement and preservation. Gigs should be able the relationship between fans and artists: making stages more amendable and slightly to those who want to frame videos vertically…I don’t really get why anyone would want to do that! When I go to gigs, my phone never leaves my pocket and I prefer my performers in…


 PHOTO CREDIT: @noralidcv/Unsplash

LANDSCAPE rather than portrait!