The phone prison – how to stop people filming at gigs

Artists including Alicia Keys and Guns N’ Roses are asking punters to seal their phones in lockable bags in their pockets, which can only be opened after the show. Does this mean grainy concert footage on YouTube is doomed?

‘If you haven’t been to a phone-free show, you just don’t know what you’re missing,” says Graham Dugoni, the inventor of Yondr. “There is something about living in real life that can’t be replicated.”

Plato might have disagreed, but for Dugoni and his newly flourishing company, the only way to truly experience reality is to put your phone in a neoprene baggie when you go to a pop concert.

Dugoni makes the baggies, which, once sealed like a clothes security tag, can only be unlocked at the Yondr stand in the lobby. He has so far sold the concept to Alicia Keys, previewing material from a forthcoming album; Chris Rock, warming up before the Oscars; Guns N’ Roses, at their “surprise” reunion show at the Troubador, West Hollywood; and even to Hannibal Buress, the standup whose fan-footage anti-Bill Cosby rant kickstarted the star’s present legal troubles. Louis CK is a fan. As is Dave Chappelle.

The problem of people using phones at gigs has been with us for a decade, so it is odd that the only solutions so far have been “treat people like adults” and “ask nicely”. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs regularly posted signs demanding their fans “Put that shit away”. Adele finally blew her top in Italy, when a fan whipped out an entire tripod, meaning that the ensuing fan-shaming incident was captured on hundreds more grainy mobile phones.

Fans on their phones: a decade-old problem.
Fans on their phones: a decade-old problem. Photograph: Getty Images

Countless other acts have tried a mixture of chiding and begging, while theatreland is regularly regaled by a Helen Mirren or a Kevin Spacey phone-shaming a punter. In response, the Jermyn Street theatre has become the first in London to deploy a tactic already regularly used in China – laser-pointers trained on the offending device.

Finally, the baggies are coming out – and, as Dugoni notes, unlike lockers or “leaving it in your car”, they serve the important psychological function of allowing you to still coddle your imaginary baby in your hand or pocket, even if it is functionally inaccessible.

It may already be too late, given that many no longer see a problem at all. With Adele tickets costing as much as a three-star mini-break in Cyprus, some fans argued it was their right to harvest all the footage they wanted. After all, didn’t the punters already fight and win the home-taping-is-killing-concerts war a decade ago, when stars would regularly issue YouTube takedown notices on any inaudible three-second pixel-soup?

The truth is that it is always going to be an imperfect solution when the imagined expressive freedom of our musical lives is turned into a patronising prison ritual. The choice isn’t always obvious. Would the raw blood and faeces of a GG Allin performance have suffered from people Snapchatting jumpy video stacked with poopy emojis? Or would his art have suffered more from the indignity of a microchipped neoprene baggie in every pocket? It’s another one for Plato.


Gavin Haynes

The GuardianTramp

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