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14.12.2017

On a scale of one to capital punishment, where do cell-phone photographers rank? At a gig, as a music journalist and an occasional lover of music, I’d say at least a three — three being the number of Instagram influencers I would personally execute for whipping out their phone cameras at a gig.

Of course, it would only be to set an example to stem the popularity of one of the most insidious thing to happen to Delhi gigs over the last couple of years. At every gig now, the most dominant sound is a collage of completely unnecessary shutter sounds. I’m wasting my free-entry-thanks-to-friends-in-high-places years. Pub gigs in Delhi are meant to be a totality of experience: there’s bad sound, black tees, the smell of beer-vomit (let me regretfully claim this one), bands messing up basic cues, awkward kids in Converse sneakers, poorly planned love-dates imploding.

The ritual is an escape from the city’s meticulous posturing; at a Delhi gig, a potential spiritual experience is forever competing with the perfect clusterfudge. That looming sense of anarchy is really what live music is all about. Then, up pops the iPhone, with its 30 megapixel God complex and its turtleneck and greying beard.

Recently, I went to a gig at Auro (in Aurobindo Market; all bets are off on the next pub in the market being called “Bindo”), 2017’s pub-slash-gig-venue of choice. It wasn’t quite packed to capacity — there was no DJ playing, after all — so I got to stand right in front. The band was unfamiliar and a little eccentric. I wanted to see what they were doing on stage.

No luck, though: all I got was partial blindness from the continuous glare of synchronised flashes from phones around me. The young man behind me asked me to step aside so he could get a good angle. He was polite and had biceps. I moved. I accidentally photobombed someone else’s frame. 

The young man behind me asked me to step aside so he could get a good angle. He was polite and had biceps. I moved. I accidentally photobombed someone else’s frame. 

I Cam, I Saw

Isn’t framing the ‘perfect moment’, tempting as it sounds, antithetical to the spirit of live music, where any such moment is accidental at best? The camera adds a layer of self-consciousness when that’s the very thing you’re trying to rush past. Your counter-arguments will no doubt as long as your OnePlus-something-or-other battery. Yes, people develop a unique and truly personal connection with the music that moves them, and watching a band live is often part of someone’s check-list. You can’t hate someone for wanting to preserve the significance of a short-lived moment in their personal narrative by crafting a memory for the future.

The fact that I spend hours on YouTube each week watching concert footage will no doubt be used against me in a court of law. What if your favourite-ever band lands up in town on the same day as your best friend’s wedding? The only recourse is a vicarious recreation of the experience, so documentation is important. And what if, just as you pull out your Samsung Galaxy S7 for a video, the band’s amplifier explodes and they smash their guitars in disgust? You get to preserve it all forever.

And then there’s the social media cred. I’ve done some research on this, so I know that “engagement” on pictures is way, way higher than when you link to an article or pen a heartfelt note of self-reflection. For every cool gig photo uploaded on Instagram or Facebook, there are a thousand hearts and uncounted new fans, disciples and lovers. Your superstardom matters at least as much as the band’s.
 
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I understand these temptations. In return, how about some empathy for the suffering? The artist on stage has spent sleepless nights, hungry days, and countless years of her life banging her head against the wall to present her craft to an audience. We don’t need to cheer her on, we don’t need to patronise her for a ‘good effort’; we don’t even need to “support the scene”.

I understand these temptations. In return, how about some empathy for the suffering? 

But isn’t there an onus on us, as the audience, not to be actively disrespectful? To make sure the band isn’t seeing spots every 30 seconds because of flashes of lightning? To not create a wall between the musician and their listener? At the risk of resorting to hippie-jabber, I believe a powerful live gig is a moment of complete faith, a connection between crowd and performer. A screen has no business barging into that equation.

Where do we go from here though? Do we go the Piano Man Jazz Club way, where they’ve diligently cultivated a culture of restraint by shutting people up for one song each night? It works for them, but I’m not so sure it can (or should) be applied across the board. Imposing rules and guidelines — even when presented as “suggestions” — goes against the spirit of modern music, in itself a reaction against the stickler tendencies of classical traditions. Do we want to end up that way, where the only way to relieve yourself at a recital at Kamani auditorium is to either be humiliated as you walk out sheepishly, while the performer tut-tuts loudly and insufferably on the mic, or wait for your bladder to burst?

The option that seems most appealing to me — take it as a suggestion — is to perhaps ease up on the HD JPEG OD and self-regulate. Whatever you do, though, don’t pull a Josh Homme and knock two hecks out of the photographer with your boot. That’s way worse than using the flash.

This story was contributed by Akhil Sood, an arts and culture writer living in New Delhi.

Photo Source: Bacardi NH7 Weekender

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