Harold Heath weighs into the debate about phones in nightclubs
People used to ask DJs if they could store their coat in the booth. These days, the most common request DJs hear is “Can I charge my phone?”. The ubiquity of smartphones has had quite an impact on clubbing and DJing, and as an up-and-coming DJ, it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll be forced to have a conversation, and indeed an opinion, about phones in clubs.
I recently saw a genuine DJing legend, deep in the mix, smiling as several people took turns to take close-up photos using that long flash on their phones. Then one of the punters pulled out their limited Black-Tiger edition brushed ebony platinum iPhone finished with detailing in 24K white gold, typed out a small essay and insisted the DJ stop what he was doing and read it. The DJ half-smiled, half-shrugged, put on his reading glasses and read whatever message the clubber thought it was worth getting him to stop doing his thing to read. He smiled politely again and then dropped effortlessly back into the mix. True class.
The dark hides a multitude of sins
Phones in clubs are something of a smoking area hot topic at the moment, with a growing movement in favour of banning phones from the dancefloor completely. It’s argued that the long flash on phone cameras kills the vibe by illuminating all the club casualties who were previously safely hidden by the dark. It’s said that the glow of the screens is distracting, and there are many people who simply don’t want to have photos of them, perhaps worse for wear, put up for all the world to see on social media. We all know Facebook change their privacy settings about once every 45 minutes, so when anyone says their social media is strictly friends-only and they’ll be discreet with that shot of you gurning at fabric, you feel about as reassured as when Mihalis Safras guarantees that he’s just going to listen to your demo, honest.
Most importantly, the nature of the club night, party or rave is generally an immersive social and communal experience, one that is adversely affected if a substantial portion of the room are lost browsing their phones.
Berghain famously place a sticker over your phone’s camera when you first enter the club. This is all very well for the efficient and organised Germans, but if you think that’s going to happen in the UK the you're hopelessly optimistic about the ability of we British to organise anything. Way too concerned with havin’ it to have stickers, we have perfected our own particular shambolic approach to club culture, and no doubt we’d get to Saturday night and find out that we’d bought Post-It notes by mistake, or more likely we simply hadn’t bought stickers at all. All over Britain, terse "U woz meant 2 bring stickerz!" messages would be exchanged between crew members.
The new rules
However, the anti-phone phenomenon is definitely a generational thing. You don’t get many 18-year-olds complaining about phones in clubs ruining the vibe, man, as they’ve never known anything different. So perhaps instead of old DJs moaning about how the scene isn’t what it used to be and attempting to ban things, a more nuanced response is needed. Perhaps we need to think about some kind of general rules of etiquette instead.
It’s worth pointing out that these tentative etiquette suggestions are really only applicable to DJing in smaller clubs, and aren’t relevant if you’re playing a massive stadium gig to 50,000 punters. If you’ve got several thousand pounds' worth of synchronised pyrotechnics banging off around you like Daenerys Targaryen in a particularly foul mood, then you can hardly complain about a punter shining a phone screen in your face. However, back in the real world that most DJs live in, here are some suggestions for phones-in-clubs etiquette:
• Get it out of my face.
• Seriously, get it out of my face, it's annoying.
• I don’t really want to read what you’ve typed into your tiny screen. Say it with words you create in your head, and deliver them with your mouth. If it's too loud for me to hear you, that’s possibly a sign that this isn’t the best time for a nice long chat?
• Shazam as much as you want - just keep your screen light down low and again, get it out of my face.
• Yes you can charge your phone, no I don’t have a charger, no I don’t know whose phone that is, no I don’t know whose charger it is, no I don’t want to get into a conversation about if you can use it, please can you be careful with that, you’re about to unplug the … (etc).
• And DJs: unless you’re using it for actual DJing, then going on your phone during a set is surely a big no-no. Okay, one photo from the booth so you've got something to look back on nostalgically when you're in your 50s and directing people to the wallpaper aisle in B&Q, but that's it.
Really, the golden rule about phones in clubs is the same as the golden rule of religion: it’s fine to have one, it’s fine to enjoy it. But it’s not fine to shove it in other people's faces!
Words: Harold Heath Pic: Pixabay/Creative Commons