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(Credits: Far Out / Xavier Badosa / Vojtech Bruzek / Tijs van Leur)

Music

The Big Topic: Do artists have a right to ban phones from their concerts?

This week, Bob Dylan revealed plans for his first UK tour in five years and, with it, the iconic musician has taken the controversial decision to ban fans from using phones during his shows — which raises the question, is it acceptable for artists to enforce a phone ban?

In 2019, Noel Gallagher reminisced about Oasis’ famous Knebworth Park shows and fascinatingly noted: “I do look back on it fondly,” he began. “And funnily enough, when we did the Oasis documentary [Supersonic] a few years ago there’s a still of the crowd we’re playing… And there’s 125,000 people. The best thing about the photograph is not one single person has got a telephone. So everyone’s in the moment with the band.”

From an artist’s point of view, phones create a barrier between them and the audience, which can also be distracting. However, implementing a blanket ban on phones seems unnecessary, and fans should have the choice to enjoy the concert in whatever way they’d like.

Currently, we are in the middle of a cost of living crisis, spending a minimum of £75 to watch Bob Dylan is a luxury that most can’t afford. Those who’ve managed to find the money to go to the concert should be able to record a memory on their phone for them to later look back upon, and fondly recollect watching an all-time great. In truth, only a handful of artists could get away with introducing this kind of authoritarian policy, and Dylan falls into that bracket.

This is a rule which Dylan abides by strictly, and he paused a 2019 show in Vienna when he noticed a fan break this regulation by taking a photograph before security kicked them out of the venue. Another devout follower of this rule was Prince, even though Samsung ironically sponsored his 2013 tour.

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As somebody who has predominantly only attended gigs in the smartphone age, it has simply become part of the furniture in my eyes. However, I understand that it must be frustrating for artists who haven’t grown up with phones having a prominent place, and why they have reacted negatively towards technological advancement. Furthermore, there’s nothing more annoying at a concert than somebody who films the entire thing rather than soaking up the moment.

In 2018, Jack White introduced the policy and explained his decision in a statement: “We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON.”

At White’s concerts, fans are given Yondr pouches which they are instructed to lock their phones inside during the performance, a policy which giants in the comedy world have also administered. Chris Rock, John Mulaney, Kevin Hart and Amy Schumer all make their fans use these pouches, which is more acceptable because, unlike songs, the jokes in their tour aren’t currently available on the internet.

It’s understandable why artists would want to ban phones from their concerts, and I’m sure seeing a sea of screens rather than locking eyes with audience members does dampen the experience. However, a blanket ban on phones is unnecessary and over the top. An entire generation has grown up with this as a part of their gig-going experience, and it’s a way of documenting experiences you can blissfully look back upon and reminisce.

In truth, most artists would likely want to introduce a no phones rule at concerts, but few will put the rule in motion because of the potential consequences. Yes, they might be an eye-sore for some, but paying fans deserve the opportunity to capture a souvenir, and for this reason, hopefully, phone-free concerts don’t become the norm.

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