A phoney experience

JAKE CLELAND
Last updated 05:00 11/02/2014
Phones

IN THE MOMENT: "We believe that the use of phones … during a gig prevents all of us from totally immersing ourselves''.

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Smartphones are a seductive invention but do they prevent people from experiencing their own lives?

Some well-known bands have started banning phones at their shows.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have taken to sticking up signs instructing fans to ''PUT THAT SH*T AWAY as a courtesy to the person behind you and to Nick, Karen and Brian''.

Art school post-punks Savages have done the same, saying, ''We believe that the use of phones ... during a gig prevents all of us from totally immersing ourselves''.

Dad-rockers Wilco don't want you waving your phone in the air like you just don't care. Even Beyonce told a dude at a show last year to ''put that damn camera down'' so he could sing along into her microphone, ''To the left! To the left!''

These devices, as you and millions of others like you know, are not without their merit.

Being able to take and share photos, etching those memories on a virtual canvas, has never been easier or more rewarding.

Where it becomes a problem is in communal spaces such as live music performances where you want to watch your favourite performers, only to find your view obstructed by some clown's luminescent twit-machine reducing the performance to whatever its megapixels can capture.

This behaviour is easy to condemn for a variety of reasons.

How many times have you filmed a show and never, ever watched that video again? Even if you do, the result is often pointless.

I taped a friend's band covering Devo at a small venue a few months ago and recently watched it to relive the moment - it was terrible. The video and sound were so bad, if I hadn't experienced it first hand, I would have had no idea what was actually going on.

Documentation, particularly to young or underexposed musical scenes, is important, but this method is not very constructive. Plus all those glowing, pocket-sized portals are annoying light pollution.

''If I see someone near the front with a phone pointed at us, it's all good. But I do feel maybe we need to work a little harder if they feel like they're in an environment where their phone is totally safe,'' says Matt Neumann from Melbourne band ScotDrakula.

The band's shows are often raucous, inclusively physical affairs and Neumann is just as often found dancing up the front of other bands' shows as well.

He's also a keen photographer, but how does he feel about people documenting his shows as a performer?

''It's sort of flattering, I guess, but I've always preferred dancing to flattery,'' he says.

For the Smith Street Band's Wil Wagner, there's another point to consider.

''It's hard to know what to do or say when I'm playing a new song for the first time and someone's filming it to put on YouTube. I may never play that song again or totally rewrite it before it's recorded,'' he says.

Wagner doesn't take photos at other shows because ''watching people play is so enthralling that I forget my phone exists''.

A show is about the room heaving and the walls sweating and the atmosphere, he says, ''and you'll never capture that on any kind of camera - especially not a phone.''

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Wagner says it's fine if artists want to enforce their own phone-free zone, but thinks musicians can sometimes take themselves a bit too seriously.

''As long as no one's hurting anyone, people in the crowd should be able to do whatever they want.''

The common-sense solution is moderation: take five seconds to get your Instagram shot, if you feel so compelled, and then holster the thing. Any more and you're impeding the experience of the people around you.

These spaces live and thrive on communal spirit - peace, love and camaraderie and all those other hippieish notions.

Maybe there's something in the concept of being wholly present in the experience after all.

And besides, as Neumann says, if the band's doing their job you might want to worry about the safety of that device.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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