Are mobile phones having a negative impact on clubbing?

Mobile phone use at gigs and in clubs across the UK and Europe has been a topic of conversation for some time now and it is something I feel is going to impact on people and events more and more as we move forward with our dependence on mobile phones and documenting our lives on social media. We have all been to those gigs where we cannot see the artist on stage due to a wall of phone screens held aloft by eager fans trying to capture every moment on their devices. Whilst in principle I have no particular issue with people taking pics or short videos it appears some take it to the extreme, and could potentially ruin it for all.

So take a step back in time to when we did not live our lives through a little-illuminated screen… when you arrived at a venue you were immersed in the clubbing experience from the moment you joined the queue outside the venue to the very last track on the packed dancefloor. You communicated with old and newfound friends on the dancefloor, as well as hearing every beat and living every moment of the music and atmosphere.

There is a huge disconnect when you are filming the event on your phone or checking your latest social media updates whilst at a gig (or many other moments in life). You are disconnected from the DJ, the music, and the people around you, and can surely only be a negative impact on your experience.

Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac has been very vocal about her thoughts on mobile phone use at gigs in recent months:

“Everything had to be recorded on people’s phones, or they were asking me to take selfies… It was constant phones in my face.” She continued: “People weren’t able to just be in the room with that music, it all had to be recorded on their phone.” If you have a screen in front of you, “it takes away that initial base level of connection.”

Annie Mac’s opinions on the loss of connection are something that is shared with techno heavyweights Pig&Dan who have been a cornerstone of the industry for some time now. I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes with the pair, and they shared their thoughts on the use of mobile phones at gigs:

“They can be positive in marketing and business terms. On the other hand, as an artist, while you are playing, being constantly filmed can disrupt our flow and be extremely distracting, it also creates a barrier between artist and audience in our opinion as the audience isn’t focusing on the music, they are focusing on the video which affects the vibe in general.”

“The user misses out on the clubbing experience and what’s happening in the now, rather than living the experience your observing it through a screen and missing out on the whole spectrum the night has to offer.”

Come on; let’s face it, how many of you who video footage actually watch it when you are home? Be honest with yourself this is more for bragging rights on social media, isn’t it? Ask yourself the question, is the use of your mobile phone enhancing your night in any way? Also, maybe think about how the use of your phone is affecting others around you including the artist who is playing whilst you stare at your phone? When I had the opportunity I spoke to Wehbba about mobile phone use and the possible impact on artists:

“You can say it does affect any performer on some level, since people focus their attention on their devices, for either filming what you’re doing, or taking selfies while you’re doing your thing to post on their social media, using the artist’s spotlight to put themselves on some kind of spotlight in their own circles, instead of focusing on the actual performance and having their attention on having fun in the moment.”

He went on to add – “using your mobile phone at a gig takes away from your experience, you don’t get to feed off of the energy being created between yourself and the artist, and you don’t feel connected to the moment, so it makes it a lot harder to enjoy in full what you’re there to enjoy, thinking that making videos/photos/posts will perpetuate that moment, whist in reality you were never actually enjoying that moment to begin with, since your attention was on something else. It also interfere with other people’s privacy, so there’s that.”

We have all seen those cringe-worthy moments on Boiler Room TV or videos uploaded on social media platforms where people have been caught on film doing things they probably wouldn’t share themselves. If you are of the opinion that it is your phone and therefore you have the right to capture whatever you desire then you are more than likely part of the problem and clearly have no consideration of those around you (who may not want to be on your uploaded video) and the artists you have paid good money to see. Maybe venues across the UK and Europe should view the use of mobile phones like they view people smoking in a club? Some may think that the comparison is ridiculous but when your actions are potentially negatively impacting others around you, some sort of change must be a requirement. Maybe clubs could have a mobile phone area like they have a smoking area?

It is not uncommon for clubs around the globe to ban mobile phones or prohibit their use, and we have seen the banning of mobile phones and streaming across multiple venues over the years. Cities such as Berlin have a number of world-renowned clubs that prohibit mobile phone use and streaming such as Berghain, Tresor, and Watergate, and it has certainly not had a negative impact on the venues or the attendees. In fact, it has had quite the opposite effect!

“Clubs that protect guests’ privacy by means of a strict photography prohibition ensure that the participants of the events show more openness and act without a façade,” says Lutz Leichsenring, spokesman for the Clubcommission and founder of Creative Footprint. “Thus, the musical experience and the personal interaction with like-minded people is at the forefront.”

DJ and Producer Rob Hes is a regular in Berlin, and he shared his thoughts on people using their phones to take pictures in clubs:

“In Berlin, it’s been in place for a long time already. When you get inside the club you get a sticker put on your camera. Difficult to say what’s good or bad, but when your phone stays in your pocket, you have more time for your friends, you can listen better to the music and I guess you have a better time.”

Stuart McMillan from SLAM is a regular at some of the most well-known techno clubs across Europe and was happy to share his thoughts on mobile phone use in venues today:

“Most of the time I don’t even notice, to be honest. Phones are so much part of our culture now that it’s hard to imagine life without them. However, I feel that they can be a distraction from actually enjoying the music. When we’ve played sets in clubs like Concrete and Berghain where phone are banned, you really notice a different level of intensity with the crowd. The sounds, the lights, the environment have been designed to enhance that experience without the distraction of mobile phones.”

It is not just the established clubs in Berlin that do not allow photographs in their events; Many venues across Europe, including the new 600-capacity techno club, Blitz in Munich’s former Deutsches Museum have banned the use of mobile phones issuing the following statement… “We dream of creating a place where we can all dance together in an intimate, safe and real environment and listen to music. For this reason, we decided to introduce a strict ban on phones from the dance floors.”

Many of you, I am sure, are familiar with the Sub Club in Glasgow which has been an institution for quality underground nights in Glasgow for what seems like forever. I spoke to the Sub Club’s Technical Manager, Sean Watson about his thoughts on the use of mobile phones in his venue. He also has some pretty strong opinions on flash photography as well…

“It’s no joke that I’m against mobile phones in clubs, especially around intimate dancefloors where the atmosphere is key! They can be extremely detrimental to the vibe in the room when flash photography is used. Flash photography is a nightmare especially when you are working as a lighting operator and trying to keep a room dark and build atmosphere. Along comes some idiot and floods the dance floor with unnecessary light, just so they can capture some white and distorted images of the DJ or their pals. It’s simply a nuisance!”

He also added… “Why capture a memory in terrible quality on a tiny screen instead of actually witnessing it yourself. I see a lot of people doing this and I don’t get it. Yes, the odd picture and video is fine but keep the fucking flash off! What I don’t get is people that spend the whole night with their phone in their hand, it’s like they’re not even there. Why spend £10/£20 to not remember a gig/night and try a re-live it through a crackly, white video or blurry images the next day? I don’t get it…”

So, what is it that drives us to our mobile phones, and the pursuit of likes? Is it for pleasure or is it through the fear of “missing out” on what is apparently going on? The bottom line is that we are finding ourselves using technology and social media for a variety of reasons ranging from anxiety to pleasure. From a recent study by Larry D. Rosen Ph.D. it appears people are using their technology for a combination of gaining some pleasure and from avoiding anxiety about not knowing what is going on at every moment on every electronic communication platform including social media.

“People are still checking in all the time to gain a bit of pleasure (perhaps a squirt of dopamine or serotonin) but I think what is driving our behaviour of constantly checking in with our technology regardless of whether we have received an alert or notification – an external interruption – or we are musing about missing out on something in our virtual social world – an internal interruption – is akin to an obsession or compulsion, both of which are anxiety-driven issues. We have not sunk to the level of a psychiatric disorder like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder but we are not far away. Just watch people in the world around you. If you are watching a young person who is not looking at his or her phone, keep watching. Soon that phone will come out of the pocket or purse, most likely without having gotten an alert or notification but being driven by a combination of pleasure and anxiety.” – Larry D. Rosen Ph.D.

Researchers at Pittsburgh studied 1,787 adults aged 19 to 32 over the use of 11 social media sites: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google Plus, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Vine and LinkedIn. They found that people who visited all of these 11 sites more than 58 times per week were three times more likely to experience loneliness than those who went online less than nine times per week. So are those people are who constantly uploading those gig pictures and images lonely within a crowd at a gig? If so that is a real shame in my eyes, as dance music has always been about the inclusion of people in what has been a great community over the years. Are we missing the point of going clubbing by capturing every moment on our mobile phone?

One thing is for sure, mobile phones are going nowhere for the moment. I grabbed a quick few moments to speak with Jon Rundell about his thoughts on the use of mobile phones at gigs, and he shares a slightly different opinion to some of the other artists I spoke to about this:

“People need to get over it, it exists, deal with it. You’re in a public place and in the public eye. DJs have to remember that no one asked them to DJ, they chose to do it, so you have to take the rough with the smooth if you don’t enjoy it.”

Whatever the reason for the use of mobile phones in clubs today, I believe we need to look at the impact on everyone from the dancefloor to the artist on stage. I don’t believe that banning mobile phones in venues is the answer, as they are often used for payments these days such as Apple Pay, and can be an important use in cases of emergency. However, I do believe that venues should at least encourage (or enforce) users to cover their phone camera with tape like they do in Berghain, ask people to put their phone in a ziplock bag (something that has been seen at a number of Pop and Rock concerts with artists including Alicia Keys, and Guns N’ Roses) or maybe technology providers could enable some policy, based on location, that disables the camera (Apple have mentioned the possibility of disabling the camera via an infrared transmitter at gigs). I feel any of the aforementioned would be a good move for all concerned, and a move that can only help improve everyone’s experience at gigs.

Partying is just much more fun when nobody is watching, right? Trust me; no one wants to see shaky, incorrectly orientated, blurred videos uploaded onto the like of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Leave it to the professionals to capture those special moments; after all, they know what they are doing!

Ever heard the phrase, “Dance like nobody is watching?” That includes people watching on Social Media!

Until venues or technology providers such as Apple and Samsung begin to enforce policies to prohibit the use of mobile phones at gigs, consider others around you including the artist that is performing whilst you stare at your illuminated screen. Just switch off your phone and lose yourself in the music!

About the Author

Director and DJ, Ian French (Naif) is passionate about every genre of music from Breakbeat, to Drum & Bass, to Techno and House. A man that lives in a world of beats and bass, and total confusion about life!