James Young – the owner of beloved Melbourne rock venue Cherry Bar – has had it with the thicket of phone screens that pop up during shows at his bar.
“It’s very difficult to find wonderful instances of emotional and human connection,” Young tells Broadsheet. I think live music is one of those and I hate to see it interrupted by a bloody phone.”
So now he’s banned the extended use of mobile phones and tablets during shows at Cherry Bar.
“I’ve always found the filming of gigs mildly annoying; it’s a little bit like man-spreading on public transport – once someone draws your attention to it, people realise just how much worse it seems to be getting week by week.”
The announcement was made on Cherry Bar’s Facebook page on Monday.
Fan photography at gigs is hardly new, but the presence of small digital devices capable of recording high-resolution video – be they phones, tablets or cameras – is now pervasive at live shows.
“People are not just taking out their phones for a quick snapshot, but holding their arms up like two giant fucking windmills and blocking everyone’s view. Sometimes holding a tablet or iPad and filming for 10 minutes in a very inconsiderate fashion. It’s rude to the fans behind you, the bands don’t like it and I think it’s got to be stopped,” says Young. “You just have to stand up on our second level and look down, and it’s not unusual to see 20 people holding up their phones.
“We’re really talking about that person who holds up their bloody elbows for 10 minutes and continues to record over and over. You’re embarrassing yourself, you’re pissing off other people and the band doesn’t like it. They want you to come to their gig and embrace it. Not do a shitty recording that you’re going to share with your 24 Facebook followers.”
The new rule won’t be enforced by security guards – Young says the venue can’t afford to pay for an extra staff member. Instead, he’s encouraging self-policing. Posters will also be put up around the venue advising punters of the ban.
“People will be aware that at Cherry we have this rule of respect [whereby] we don’t film entire songs. I think if someone does it, it’ll be name and shame. I’d encourage other venues in Australia to adopt the same policy, and artists as well.
“We’re not going to confiscate people’s phones or knock it out of their hands,” says Young. “I think I can trust the [audience] and the Cherry staff to self regulate.”
But does putting the enforcement of the ban in the hands of guests raise safety concerns? Some are – justifiably – worried that such a system encourages conflict between punters in a situation where alcohol is frequently involved. But Young has faith in his patrons.
“If someone says: ‘Hey mate, they don’t let you film gigs’ you’d have to be an arsehole to keep recording. I can’t see anyone getting feisty at Cherry,” he says. “It’ll be: ‘Hey mate. What’re you doing? You’re at Cherry, they don’t let you film entire songs here’ and that person will sheepishly put their phone back in their pocket. We’ve never had any instances of violence.”
Also, bands will be allowed to make the call if they’re happy for attendees to get their phones out.
But is all this a case of “old man yells at cloud”, or in this case “The Cloud”? It’s a perspective Young understands but doesn’t agree with.
“I’ve got a big chin, I can cop that. I don’t think it’s coming from that 50-plus-white-male-out-of-touch-with-young-people thing. I think it’s coming from an understanding of music as an emotional connector that really doesn’t require a black-mirror interruption.”
Despite these statements, Young’s personal Instagram account is filled with video recordings of live gigs, both at Cherry Bar and other venues.
“I would rather fucking die than have the phone taken out of my hands,” he says. “I’m obsessed with my phone and I often take pictures of the bands at Cherry because I know they like it when I send them the photos after the gig saying: ‘Thanks for the show on Saturday, here are a couple of shit photos I took at the gig, doesn’t the red satin curtain look nice behind you’ blah blah blah.
“But I’m self conscious of it when I take my phone out. I’m as quick as I can be.”
It’s not hard to see the hypocrisy involved in dictating the way a concert goer should enjoy their experience – in many ways it goes against rock’n’roll’s ideals. At the same time many of live rock’s classic signifiers – spilled beer, aggressive dancing – leaves many attendees thoroughly pissed off. Could phone-filming be just another case of people enjoying, and engaging with, the experience of music differently?
“I think as well as doing the band a favour, and the person who’s being blocked a favour, we’re actually doing the person who’s filming a favour because they’ve forgotten what they’re missing out on,” Young says. “They’ve forgotten to live in the moment.”
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