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Savage Guardians: Why Bands Are Right About Cameras At Gigs
Jeremy Allen , April 22nd, 2013 06:39

Jeremy Allen normally gets annoyed at people leaving notes telling him what to do. But in the case of Savages and Yeah Yeah Yeahs instructing their audiences not to wave their cameraphones around like bellends, he can get behind the cause... even if it is doomed

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I don't know about you but I've never been much of a fan of note leavers. Whether that's prescriptive public safety notices you'd hope weren't necessary ("don't put your limbs in the cage unless you want your arms ripped off by gorillas") or flatmates who really should get out more letting you know they know you've been surreptitiously skimming their Utterly Butterly when they've not been guarding the fridge. Being told what you can and can't do by others is galling, and so it is with some surprise that I find myself sympathising with Savages, who on Tuesday issued a notice at one of their shows in Seattle requesting patrons refrain from playing with their mobile handsets during the concert or from taking photographs/filming:


It follows a similar, more indelicate missive issued by Yeah Yeah Yeahs in April, where the trio urged fans in attendance not to watch the show "through a screen on your smart device," before telling those who'd paid to see them to "put that shit away as a courtesy to the person behind you and to Nick, Karen, and Brian."

Having watched Lana Del Rey at a HMV invite-only show in the intimate surrounds of the Jazz Café last year, I was astonished by how many of the audience thrust their phones into the air as the singer appeared on stage, and who didn't put them away again until the brief appearance was over. These young punters had - unbeknown to them at the time - won tickets for purchasing Born To Die in a traditional format, and so given that some were first-time gigs goers, it was annoying to witness more than 50% sizing up Lizzy Grant like she was about to get a happy slapping. In some cases you'd wonder if they'd seen her at all with a naked eye. I came away from the show feeling less like I'd been to a gig and more like I'd witnessed a rally for amateur paparazzi, and uneasy that the assembled were less interested in the artist and more a celebrity commodity to grab a piece of. It made me wonder if this was to become the norm.

In the 25 years I've been attending gigs, technology has changed a few things: most notably it killed off the moshpit (or at least confined it to hardcore shows) so concerned are people about losing their smartphones. On a more positive note, you no longer have men in raincoats mooching down the front bootlegging gigs with a tape recorder strapped to their leg, because who these days would buy a dodgy cassette of a show when they're not even prepared to fork out for the recorded version of songs? Those things aside, I would assert not much has changed, or at least I would have done. People pay their money to participate, they turn up, make some noise when the band or artist comes on stage and for the encore and then everyone goes home happy. It's the same as it ever was, right? But throw technology into the mix and perhaps expectations are more disparate than I'd considered. Perhaps being there making some noise isn't enough anymore?

The wording of Savages' note is interesting. If it seems randomly antsy it's nothing of the sort. Carefully worded, it's certainly in keeping with the name of their forthcoming album - Silence Yourself- and could easily be an outtake from the spoken manifesto delivered by Jehnny Beth at the outset of their new video 'Shut Up'.

Interference via smartphone prevents "all of us" from "totally immersing ourselves", and the "all of us" part is key: that's artist and audience, all in it together. A show is ephemeral by its nature. If you grow up with little money like I did then the gigs you chose weren't just pop concerts but life-changing, identity-forming events. What is becoming lost is the idea of a transient spectacle, a one-off never to be repeated, intimate one night stand between those on stage and those in front of it. The use of mobile phones threatens to take away that intimacy and cheat those people in the room while giving a (sometimes literally) distorted impression to those who weren't in attendance in the first place - and why they'd want to see an out of focus performance from 400 feet away recorded on substandard equipment is anyone's guess.

It wouldn't be so bad if the picture of the singer being taken didn't invariably look like a fire on a faraway hill. Is that a song or an elephant being fisted in the back of a Formula One car while a Jumbo jet full of circus performers flies overhead? I can't quite make it out. So congratulations, you've only gone and spoiled the view of all those people stood behind you holding your iPad up so 184 people can watch a blurry and distorted 45 seconds of Lady Gaga from four miles away on the internet; your lonely footage will pray tumbleweed might stop by and give it a like one day, living in silence in some cyberspace equivalent of a grief hole away from the rest of the well-thumbed action the internet has to offer.

Our word 'souvenir' is the French word for 'memory'. So why isn't a memory of an event souvenir enough? It used to be not so long ago. Jarvis Cocker said something along those lines in 2006 when he ran a series of musical workshops in London and Paris that people could turn up to and join in if they felt the desire: "People feel the need to film events on their phones so they can relive it later," he told The Quietus. "It drives me insane at concerts. It's just happening, innit? Why not just look at it? It seems stupid to have something happening in front of you and look at it on a screen that's smaller than the size of a cigarette packet... There's something nice about having an experience and how it changes as it goes into your memory. It always gets altered by being filtered through your brain. If you have it all on DVD or mpeg files, you're cutting out that imaginative factor because you can see it again and again."

"We're in an age where everything is accessible," Mike Patton told the Quietus in 2011, "and I'm not convinced that that's a great thing. That's the best way that I can put it. I'm off to see Portishead playing here in San Francisco and I'm not going to record the concert, I'm going to record it in my head!"

So here are three simple things to remember when you're using your smartphone at a gig.

a) Invariably what you're trying to record will look (and sound) terrible.

b) It's intrusive. Think of the poor goons stood behind you.

c) Should you need a c) then it's also theft. That's right, you're counterfeiting your favourite pop band and making them look like arse. Patrons are more often than not requested not to use phones in art galleries, and the majority respect that. In that sense Savages have every right to attempt to protect their own art.

So is leaving notes about the place po-faced? Perhaps. Will it do any good? I'm doubtful. Technology is more powerful than art now in most people's consciousnesses, and unless most of earth's satellites are taken out in a freak meteor shower then this is likely to remain the status quo. You sense Savages are fighting a losing battle, and yet if bringing people's actions to their attention and making them think 'what am I doing?' for at least one moment has been achieved by a prohibitive note, then that's at least a small victory in the war with the Philistines. It's a war that's almost certainly unwinnable, but it's important to go down fighting.

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Apr 22, 2013 11:18am

That Savages thing is awful, just awful. They sound and look like the devil children of Tony Blair. Speaking of the late 90's, the pre-cameraphone days, the best gig experience was watching Mark E Smith stub his cigerette butt out on an over enthusiatic rock photographer.

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Apr 22, 2013 11:23am

I think the only reason the Yeah Yeah yeah s ban cameras is because Karen O doesn't want the internet littered with unflattering videos and photos of herself. Nothing to do with the audiences enjoyment of the gig.

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Luke Turner
Apr 22, 2013 11:28am

In reply to Krautshire:

"They sound and look like the devil children of Tony Blair." er, how?

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Ted G
Apr 22, 2013 11:54am

I'm convinced the only reason Jeremy Allen wrote this article was so he could use the pun 'savage guardians'.

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Matt Parker
Apr 22, 2013 12:07pm

I made a video about phones at gigs a while back as a result of my experiences at the africa express festival... People with phones and crappy cameras at gigs... what a waste of energy.

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Apr 22, 2013 12:18pm

In reply to Ted G:

I know you won't believe me Ted, but that really was an afterthought

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art damij
Apr 22, 2013 12:53pm

there's a difference between taking a few photo's of yer fave band,or even recording a few songs..but when you stand there throughout the gig,in the 'pit',centre of DANCEfloor, or whatever,holding your overpriced/soon to be outdated phone thing in the air,blocking my view,dont be suprised,or expect any apology if i 'knock' you,tumble into you,get pushed into you etc when i'm DANCING on the 'DANCE'floor(gettit?),having a good time,like we used to in 'the old days'.. please stand at the side,the back,or better still,stay at home...thank you,fuck you,& goodnight.

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Apr 22, 2013 1:02pm

Ginger Wildheart handled this situation rather well at the recent Earth Vs gigs by imploring audience members to grab mobile phones out of the outstretched hands of anyone ruining their view and chuck the wretched thing at the stage.

While no phones were actually chucked, every single camera-phone suddenly dissapeared from sight (well for a couple of songs anyway).

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Apr 22, 2013 1:34pm

Phones at gigs are pretty annoying - but not nearly as annoying as people talking throughout a gig. People seem to like talking in the quiet bits most of all. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the odd exchange between friends whispered in the ear. Some gigs you hear "rah, rah, rah" all the way through as though live music is just some background soundtrack to a night out rather than the night out itself.

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Apr 22, 2013 1:37pm

In reply to Luke Turner:

Gaudy, unimaginative, prententious and very, very dull.

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Ted G
Apr 22, 2013 1:37pm

You can't help but sounding like a boring old fart when you object to something like this but, nevertheless, I do think it's shit and should be banned outright.

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Apr 22, 2013 1:37pm

In reply to Luke Turner:

Gaudy, unimaginative, prententious and very, very dull.

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Apr 22, 2013 1:57pm

I wonder how large the intersection is between 'people who get annoyed by other people filming at gigs' and 'people who actively seek out clips of gigs they missed'?

I'm certainly in there.

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Apr 22, 2013 6:13pm

remember seeing Lost Highway by David Lynch and keeping this lines with me:

Ed: Do you own a video camera?
Renee Madison: No. Fred hates them.
Fred Madison: I like to remember things my own way.
Ed: What do you mean by that?
Fred Madison: How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened.

that's what cell phones are killing for the young today. you'll take your AVIs and see things EXACTLY as they were, and, year after year, they'll look LESS like your own memories. then you'll get sick of this truth kicking anything your imagination made up about the best times of your life and erase them. and will be sorry by seeing the concert by long gone leonard cohen only by screen of your ipod. call me ol' fashion, but i BET you´ll hear a this scenario above from the mouth of today's teens a lot in the future days...

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Joe A
Apr 22, 2013 7:18pm

I thought the mobile phones were bad enough but I've had people holding up bloody iPads recently blocking my direct view of the artists I've paid good money to see.

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Apr 22, 2013 7:37pm

As someone who was recently fortunate enough to see Savages live and in a tiny venue I can tell you they should be experienced as close to the stage as possible and unencumbered with digital technology. They are raw and powerful and damn fun to experience.

I have no problem with someone wanting to record the concert with their phone or iPad, just keep it the hell outta my view lest you lose it. And I agree with Mr. Allen's sentiments - those who choose to do these recordings are rewarded with a shaky, horrible sounding soundtrack to what might have been a great gig to experience in the first person. If that's your cup o' tea, and it doesn't get in my way, then drink away.

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Apr 22, 2013 7:41pm

I've been covering music for 13 years now, and I agree that phone cameras have become a real nuisance. I think, however, there's a reasonable solution to this that most everyone can be happy with.

Many bands have rules regarding photographs taken by professionals. Oftentimes a photog will be told "only the first three songs." Why not extend this rule to the entire crowd? The phone people can hold up their devices, take their pictures and videos for three songs, get their take-home memories, and then everyone can enjoy the rest of the concert.

This way fans could capture that image that says "I was there," while also actually being able to be there, in the moment, enjoying their favorite band.

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Leroy Hugenkiss
Apr 23, 2013 1:27am

I've been to lots of gigs where phones or similar have been a prominent feature, but I would literally have to be looking for any reason to be annoyed to consider it a nuisance.
When it's a request from a performer one always has to be at least a little bit suspicious of the motive... Whilst it's possible (or even likely) that the bands mentioned specify against the use of cameras selflessly for the benefit of those who are too easily irritated, it will always remind me of Sarah Millican's hypocritical high-horse from early last year...

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Apr 23, 2013 7:52am

Whilst I agree completely with the sentiment, I can't help but think the intention here has been to garner some free publicity for the bands concerned. It seems to have worked as well.

Ultimately, how are we intending on stopping it, confiscating phones, tutting loudly (cos that's really worked with illegal downloading eh?)

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herr james
Apr 23, 2013 1:23pm

I think they need to take it up a notch. Have flyers/signage warning mobile/cameras will be shot on sight & distribute water pistols at gigs. Tablets waved at gigs should actually be shot with real guns.

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Apr 24, 2013 6:22pm

Don't blame a band at all for not wanting a thousand phones pointed at them all gig. But certainly outright ban seems insane. They have to know that part of the fun of going to gigs these days is to take a pic and put it on fb so that all your less-privileged friends can drool over your awesome life. They need to let people take pictures if they want.

With that said, there's a big difference between recording a video of a whole damn song and sneaking a quick pic to show your friends to help describe where you were in the crowd or whatever. General rule for all parties should be: don't be a jack ass and have some respect.

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Apr 25, 2013 1:49pm

I've said this already on Facebook but I wanted to share it here. First, let's not put everybody who films shows in the same bag. It's not the same a chav taking 30s of noise with her iPad in the air and her elbow in your nose as people like us, shooting from the front row with proper cameras that never go over our heads.

Second thing, what Yeah Yeah Yeahs did was such an obvious PR gimmick that questioning that would be naive. It was a good move because in one fell swoop they avoid getting new material getting leaked out of control (which was obviously the intention) and, at the same time, they don't look uncool for asking their fans not to leak their stuff by making the opinionated masses turned against people filming. And for 2 weeks everybody's been talking about that note, coincidentally at the time of their album release. Surprise, surprise...

And then point by point from the article:

a) "Invariably what you're trying to record will look (and sound) terrible." Absolute bollocks. My camera has the same sound quality you can get with a basic professional sound recorder and with all the HD compacts you have around with wide lenses and 40X zoom it looks beautiful if you know how to use it. I've had footage requested for the movie Shane Meadows is directing about Stone Roses and for the DVD of Foals at the Royal Albert Hall (just to name the biggest ones), not counting how many times they've been featured on most big music sites or have been used by the own artists or promoters for promotional purposes. Literally just got a message from Pere Ubu asking me for my footage of their last gig in London to make an edit of them. And, yeah, if you put together the 5 biggest channels of people doing this kind of stuff in the UK you get way over 10-15 million views. So there's more than enough demand for quality fan footage.

b) "It's intrusive. Think of the poor goons stood behind you." It's not if you're right at the front and your camera is below your nose. At the last British Sea Power show at Shepherd's Bush Empire they allowed a dozen photographers stay for the whole show in the pit which meant we only saw backs of very disconsiderate heads for most of the night. THAT is intrusive. And same with the bitch that puts her iPhone on your nose. Or with all the idiots talking when they shouldn't.

c) "Should you need a c) then it's also theft." That gets solved very easily by getting in touch with artists or management as I've always done. 90% of artists don't care or are actually quite happy about getting good quality footage for free. And if they do for whatever reason (I've got from "we fucked up half the set" to "I'm a bit self-conscious" passing through the "we don't want to spoil the surprise for the rest" or "we want to keep the unreleased material offline until it's properly out") I'm more than happy to keep the videos for myself, no problem whatsoever. And, yeah, I've filmed Savages. And, yeah, I've got in touch with them and I've been lucky enough there weren't complaints about them so those videos are still up. I wouldn't call them hypocrites for having used fan footage in the past or try and find hidden reasons for this move now though, they're great people who have taken care of their live music since the very beginning. It was the only thing they had and they've actually filmed professionally most of their shows even when they were playing the tiny venues. I've seen them 4 or 5 times and I only filmed half a set of their biggest, least intrusive show basically for myself because I know they're not happy about it. I only uploaded them because half of my friends are friends with them and I knew I could get in touch with them one way or another.

In the end it's not about filming or not filming, it's about common sense and consideration for the rest. Whether it's filming, or idiots chatting over the artists or couples who are *just* in their night out and they get all lovey-dovey on you and don't care about the music or people who push you around. On the other hand, I'll say what has been said a lot as well. The main reason why I'm at the front is not to film is because I get equally annoyed by this sea of idiots therefore I get to the venue earlier and instead of camping at the bar with a pint in my hand I go to the front and stay there. You don't want to make the effort? Suffer the consequences then. Or are we going to start complaining about tall people blocking short people next?

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Apr 26, 2013 6:55pm

There was reports a couple of years ago that Apple have a patent on software that responds to transmitters that can be installed in venues and disables iphone video recording. Shame we've never seen it in action. I recommend a donkey punch to the offending moron.

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John Thomas
Apr 26, 2013 7:06pm

Want to know a really sad thing?
Last year I worked with a bloke who toured with Bob Dylan. He told me that Dylan had cheap video recorders set up at the sound desk so he could watch the show afterwards from the point of view of a youtube viewer, with the idea being he could tailor his show to the dickheads holding their phones above their heads. One day, having watched the show recording, he says "what are those black lumps along the front of the stage?", and he was informed they were the "front fills", which are the speakers for the people in the front few rows who don't get the full force of the main PA. "Get rid of them" he says, "they don't look good", or words to that effect. So they were removed for the rest of the tour, to the detriment of ticket- and merch-buying fans.

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Lauen Barker
Apr 28, 2013 12:00am

Me and my fella recently went to a gig and had a beltin spot with a great view of the stage. As soon as the first song kicked in some knobhead stood right in front of us, phone aloft, and 'face-timed' someone for about three quarters of the gig! I ASK YOU!?!! Great article. It put into words what I've been thinking for a long time.

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Apr 28, 2013 2:26pm

In reply to Andres:

' It's not the same a chav taking 30s of noise with her iPad in the air and her elbow in your nose as people like us, shooting from the front row with proper cameras that never go over our heads.' You seem like a right nobber mate

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May 6, 2013 2:52pm

In reply to Andres:

please tell me you are a master of the arts of troll?i hope you are......for your sake

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May 7, 2013 8:43pm

It's not a losing battle if the band starts by telling people not to film, and that if they see it they'll stop playing. That should do the trick.

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May 10, 2013 4:08pm

I have a "10 second/3 time rule". I simply slap the phone out of their hands after 10 seconds or after 3 pictures. Since they are staring at their bright ass screen, they don't have time for their vision to refocus to the ambient light...they never knew who did it :)

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May 16, 2013 8:49am

In reply to e:


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Doug Brennan
May 16, 2013 2:01pm

"your lonely footage will pray tumbleweed might stop by and give it a like one day".. excellent!

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Roberto M
May 16, 2013 8:38pm

Like vacation video... who actually watches that crap after the filming of the live event anyway? People recording are actually short-changing themselves out of the money they paid to get in to have the experience in the first place.

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May 17, 2013 4:07am

Chill peeps, Google Glass V3.421 will put an to this once and for all

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May 21, 2013 1:50pm

In reply to e:

So you assault people if you don't like what they are doing, if it goes on for more than ten seconds? You are an immature goon who can't control himself. Bet the girls are impressed.

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May 24, 2013 3:10am

I think everyone here is being a bit fucking precious.

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May 24, 2013 11:28am

In reply to F...:

...the "girls" with the obstructed views are I'd bet.

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May 24, 2013 8:06pm

I like the way you build up the argument about how the video quality is so bad that nobody ends up watching the video, then you eviscerate your own argument by throwing in a line about how it's "theft". Surely something so valueless can't be "stolen". You further presume your readers buy into modern notions about protecting "intellectual property", which is currently what, artist's life + 70 years and growing? That, sir, is theft.

Fans who want to support the artist know they can't do that by buying albums - typical artists get less than 2% of physical media retail sales. Fans who want to support artists do so by going to live shows, which is where artists make their money.

Stick to the argument about how sticking an iPad in front of the face of the guy behind you is rude; that's the stronger argument.

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