I’m thinkin’ ’bout my smartphone / When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it? : Jack White calls out audience members fixated with their phones during gigs

Nashville based singer- songwriter Jack White complains that audience members at gigs are apathetic and fixated on their phones instead of matching the energy that he and his band give out to them. He’s absolutely right, writes Philip Cummins.

I smell a rat: Jack White has voiced his displeasure at Generation Y audiences obsessed with their phones.

I smell a rat: Jack White has voiced his displeasure at Generation Y audiences obsessed with their phones.

 will, as with everything else, be tweeted.

Rolling Thunder: Jack White vents his spleen in a Rolling Stone cover interview ahead of the release of Lazaretto.

Rolling Thunder: Jack White vents his spleen in a Rolling Stone cover interview ahead of the release of Lazaretto.

On the eve of the release of Lazaretto, Jack White’s second solo album proper-  and what must now be his 15th record, all side projects and White Stripes material considered- Detroit native White has complained, in a cover interview with Rolling Stone, that audience members “can’t clap any more” because they have a drink in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. Gone are the days, White implies, that people would launch themselves around the venue, throwing all manner of shapes and letting themselves free- free of their socio- economic constraints, their work commitments, their suburban ties, their anxieties- in an effort to match the energy and vibrancy powered by the group of musicians on the stage.

No. Generation Y’s insistence on being in the loop is to the detriment of life in the moment. Tweeting / texting in cinemas and at gigs and taking instagam snaps of dinner and drinks in restaurants has become par for the course. In the culture, there is now a compulsion to tweet everything one is doing and instagram everything that one is eating for their breakfast, lunch and dinner.

YouTube glory hunters

Most of all, however, Generation Y feel compelled to be ahead of the pack, especially so at gigs. I have not been to a gig in the last five years where there hasn’t been at least twelve people, usually dispersed amid the rows in front of me, insisting on taking out their iPhones and iPads, capturing video and audio footage of the gig to upload that footage on streaming sites, such as YouTube and Vimeo, before anyone else, in a desperate effort to claim YouTube glory, scooping kudos from fellow fans.

Technology and social media are both mediums that connect users to the world in ways that, twenty years ago, were unimaginable: unquestionably so. However, in a social setting- a gig, a meal at a restaurant, wherever one might be- social media and technology alienate us from those around us, perhaps most pertinently at gigs. Collectively, gig goers fixated on their mobile phones drain the room of any energy; the mood and atmosphere, thereby, dull, unremarkable and uninspiring.

I think that I can safely deduce from White’s comments that this is what happens when people spend half their time at a gig on a phone: whatever energy they would have previously thrown back at the stage is now going into live updates on Twitter and on Facebook, as well as selfies and instagram filters of crowd pics that are also uploaded on social networking sites.

#Judas: Classic gigs re-imagined

Iconic gig: Sex Pistols live at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall on 4th June 1976

Iconic gig: Sex Pistols live at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall on 4th June 1976. The gig would later inspire some of Manchester’s most important figures such as members of Morrissey, Tony Wilson and members of Joy Division.

The apathy of audiences at live shows, which as a regular gig- goer and a reviewer for print and on-line media I have witnessed consistently, is best gauged by remarkable gigs of years gone by where technology was neither a distraction nor a compulsion for audience members.

Consider the following: would the Sex Pistol’s iconic gig at Lesser Free Trade Hall on 4th June 1976– hypothetically, of course- have carried the same cultural, social, generational impact that it clearly did if future members of Joy Division, future Smiths front man Morrissey, members of Buzzcocks and Factory records impresario Tony Wilson et al had taken selfies while the Sex Pistols were playing  in the background? Possibly not.

Would John Cordwell have bothered heckling Bob Dylan at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on 17th May 1966 with cries of “Judas!” at Dylan’s remarkable gig, of which authors wrote feature-length books, or would Cordwell, perhaps, have been too busy broadcasting his disgust live on Twitter with the hashtag #Judas ? 

The role of promoters / venues and personal responsibility

Concert venues could learn an awful lot from theatre companies and theatres, both of which have persistently combated against talking, texting, tweeting and all other behaviour that is a general annoyance not just to those audience members around them, but, crucially, to performers. How peeved would any of us be if the glare from the screen of a mobile device or the ringtone of a device were to throw a performance off-key; a performance that has been months in the making and hundreds of hours in rehearsal?

Unfortunately, concert promoters and venues care little about gig going etiquette: once promoters, venues and artists’ management have their fees from ticket sales they care little about what actually happens at the gig, save for illegal or actionable behaviour.

Everyone, however, bears some responsibility, I feel: venues, promoters and, most of all, participants. I use the word “participants” very deliberately: everyone who attends a gig contributes as much to the energy and the feel of the room as the musicians and the sound personnel. Just ask any of those who were at Lesser Free Trade Hall on 4th June 1976.

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