Chris Rock fans will have their phones locked up during his forthcoming UK shows. Is this the start of no longer seeing a sea of screens at concerts?
Gigs in the pre-smartphone age used to be far less complicated.
You’d turn up. Maybe locate the bar and figure out where the bathrooms were. Flick through a programme or chat to your friends, and then just enjoy the show.
But these days, such a scene sounds like ancient history.
Now, you turn up. Check yourself in on Facebook. Catch up on emails while you’re waiting for the show to start, and then when it does, upload some photos and videos you’ve taken to Instagram.
But many concertgoers find the practice irritating, and now some performers are starting to object too.
“No mobile phones, cameras or recording devices will be allowed at Chris Rock’s Total Blackout Tour,” read a message posted on ticketing websites when the comedian’s new UK dates went on sale this month.
“Upon arrival, all phones and smart watches will be secured in Yondr pouches that will be unlocked at the end of the show.”
The term Yondr might make you Wondr what on earth they’re talking about.
Yondr is a relatively new American company which gives you a pouch as you’re going into a gig for you to place your phone in.
The pouch is then locked, and you keep it with you for the duration of the gig. At the end of the show, or if you need to use your phone during the performance, you can take the pouch outside of the phone-free zone to have it unlocked.
“We think smartphones have incredible utility, but not in every setting,” Yondr say.
“In some situations, they have become a distraction and a crutch – cutting people off from each other and their immediate surroundings.”
The company says it aims to “show people how powerful a moment can be when we aren’t focused on documenting or broadcasting it”.
Rock’s use of Yondr at his upcoming UK dates marks the biggest use of the company’s pouches in the UK to date.
“I think Chris Rock’s audiences will probably be disgruntled but compliant,” says Hattie Collins, features editor at ID.
“If you’re talking about a Harry Styles gig on the other hand, you’re going to have a whole world of problems – there’s a much younger audience who are used to sharing everything they do.”
Collins adds that the ubiquity of smartphones has arguably had a damaging effect on music fans who want to connect with an artist.
“It’s created a passivity as a viewer, so you’re much less engaged. You’re focused on taking the picture, opening up social media, adding an emoji, and by that point you’ve missed half the song.”
Asked about the Chris Rock shows, a spokesperson for the SSE Hydro in Glasgow told the BBC: “Although it isn’t standard practice, the artist has requested Yondr be used throughout his tour so we were happy to facilitate.”
But are the audience happy with the restrictions, and the potential delays at security?
Here’s what a few ticket buyers told us:
- “As I’m not hooked on my phone it’s not an issue for me to leave it at home. Society is far too obsessed with smartphones and recording every detail of life anyway. Kudos to Chris for making a stand.” – Matt
- “I am a doctor and I imagine there are a lot of professions that need access to their phone, as well as if your family or babysitter need to contact you in an emergency. Having your phone during a performance is peace of mind.” – Grace
- “Those putting the gigs on have worked hard on putting on a show for you, which you’ve paid for, so protecting that is just as much for you as it is for the performer.” – Qas
Some of the fans said they were sympathetic to how problematic it can be for comedians (as opposed to musicians) to have their performances posted online.
If a comedian’s jokes are leaked, it can spoil it for other audiences who were planning to see the same show later in the tour.
It’s arguably less of an issue for musicians, as audiences are already familiar with the material they’re performing and reaction will be broadly the same regardless of whether live footage from another show had already been posted online.
Collins says: “I’m very torn, because on one hand I feel like it’s something of an infringement of your civil liberties, but I appreciate that sounds far-fetched because they’re not taking their phone off you, you keep it on you all the time.”
All eyes will be on Rock’s shows in January to see how the crowds react in person.
His tour will be the biggest UK test yet for Yondr and audiences, who have been asked to turn up an hour early to allow for extra time to go through metal detectors.
But Rock isn’t the first to use Yondr in the UK – Alicia Keys and Dave Chappelle both utilised it at their London dates last year.
Collins thinks the future of phone restrictions at gigs in the UK is hard to predict, as it largely depends on what kind of concert it is.
“I went to see Bob Dylan this month, and they asked that nobody take videos or photos, and there were two or three people wandering up and down the side of the auditorium to make sure nobody did,” she explains.
“It was quite a refreshing experience, and so much more compelling to watch. Almost quite strange that it was just the stage and not the shadows of 400 mobile phones.”
“But then when I saw TLC two nights later everyone messaged me saying ‘ahh these pictures are great’, they really enjoyed seeing the photos from a gig they didn’t go to themselves.”
She adds: “I think it’s a shame because part of me agrees it would be nice to have fewer phones, but on the other hand it’s really nice to be able to share.”