Standing on the balcony of Edinburgh’s Liquid Rooms on a recent night out, I found myself looking down onto what has now become a very familiar sight- a glistening sea of mobile phones, held high in the air, capturing whichever banger the DJ had just dropped for tonight’s Snapchat Story or tomorrow’s Instagram post. While the debate about the pervasiveness of smartphones in our daily lives is nothing new, within club culture there has been an increasing backlash against their use in clubs. Some European clubs even choose to ban mobiles altogether, notably the notorious and enigmatic Berghain, enforced with varying degrees of strictness.
The argument centres around the idea that it’s not possible to focus on the music whilst glued to a screen, and disengaged clubbers ruin the vibe of collective enjoyment that makes the experience so special and valuable. Nor are mobile phones popular among many DJs, who would argue that a huge part of their craft is reading the crowd, which becomes difficult if the crowd are reading their phones. Apps like Shazam and Facebook groups with the purpose of identifying video clips recorded on nights out have also come under fire for making track names and artists so easily discoverable. Gone, or so the argument goes, is the mystique of the DJ-selector and the art of rifling through stacks of records at your local vinyl store, searching for that one track that’s been stuck in your head for since you watched DJ Pied Piper tear up your SU last fresher’s week.
Phones are also often blamed for certain anti-social behaviours on the dance floor. Undeniably, being shunted to the side as someone tries to clear space for a mid-crowd group photo, or being dwarfed underneath two rigid, outstretched arms trying to get that perfect angle for their video, can be irritating and a buzz kill. However, I don’t think anyone would contest that of all the ways that other idiots can ruin your fun, there are greater evils than an over-zealous photographer.
All this is part of the wearisome ‘it was better back in the day’ narrative so often peddled by clubbing purists. Read the Youtube comments of any pre-2000 club track and you will see at least one comment helpfully reminding you that party etiquette is not like it used to be, and things will never be as good as they were in the 90s. This nostalgia seems to rather naïvely assume that even had such technology been available during the ‘golden age’ of the club, everyone would have kept their phones firmly in their pockets anyway out of like, respect, man.
The reality is that smartphones do exist, and are inseparable from almost every aspect of modern lives. There are certainly many arguments to be made against our generation’s ‘pictures or it didn’t happen’ culture, but it is idealistic to expect the club to be some kind of sacred, technophobic haven. What’s more, tools like Shazam and Facebook can be said to have benefited the scene, by creating easier ways to discover new or established artists who may have otherwise remained in obscurity. Not everybody has the time or the budget to spend amassing huge record collections, and technology has played a huge role in making dance music accessible to a larger audience. As for DJs, with some artists now charging upwards of £20 per ticket for a live performance, many feel like the trade off for details of a few new tracks is a more than fair compensation.
Ultimately, clubbing is a recreational activity, and with ever tightening licencing laws, police crackdowns, the closure of iconic Glasgow venue the Arches and Boris Johnson following suit in his mission to suck all the fun out of London’s nightlife, the last thing it needs is more rules and regulations. Catching a quick clip of your night to make your friend who has a deadline tomorrow jealous should not be problem, nor should coming home with a few extra songs on your list of Shazams, as long as you are stay mindful of your fellow clubbers. As with all good things, whether it is the number of drinks you sink at pres, the amount of shirt buttons you decide to leave open, or the time you spend on your phone on a night out, moderation is key. And if you really want to spend your night out compiling a 200 second Snapstory, that’s your prerogative. Just don’t expect anyone to watch it.