The 2-Song Rule (aka. Turn Your Goddamned Phone Off and Watch the Show!)


In 1991, I stood in the middle of the Guvernment nightclub, house lights blazing, the crowd so silent you could hear a pin drop, as Blixa Bargeld, lead singer of the German Industrial band Einturzende Neubauten screamed at an audience member for filming the performance. Back then, pre-Internet and pre-Smartphones, bands had a genuine fear of people filming and bootlegging their shows for profit.

The guy in question was technically filming the show “for profit”; he was John Dubiel, a local videographer and curator of the infamous Industrial Video Show, a monthly event that showed, well, industrial videos, from official band videos, to old Irving Klaw S&M footage, to blazing robot wars, to the concert footage that Dubiel would film himself as he travelled around North America to attend concerts.

In some cases, he was performing a public service, filming and showing bands that wouldn’t or couldn’t come to Canada. I once travelled with Dubiel to Detroit to see Foetus, an artist who refused to come to Canada because of Customs issues. Other than the few of us from Toronto, hunkered in the balcony of St. Andrew’s Hall in downtown Detroit, keeping Dubiel out of view of security, Toronto Foetus fans would have to make due with the footage Dubiel shot that night. It would be their only chance, in that era anyway, to see Foetus “live”.

Fast forward 20 years, and the OMD show I attended last week at the Danforth Music Hall, where the darkened room was lit with iphones throughout the band’s entire set, and my view for the whole show was obscured by some dicksmack who felt the need to film every song. On his blackberry. With that little flashing red “recording” light being the only thing in my line of vision as I tried to see the stage.

For the most part, bands have given up trying to stop people from taking photos or videos of a show; there’s just no way to police it. The only show I’ve been to in recent years that tried was a Prince concert. And with 20,000 fans in the audience, it was a fruitless effort.

Some bands are getting pissed off by the whole thing, though. This week, footage of Beyonce chastising a fan for filming her concert has been making the rounds. And last night, my husband Greg went to a concert by the band Savages where there was a notice posted at the door for audience members to turn off their phones. Greg also reported that lead singer Jehnny Beth would regularly reach down into the audience and take phones from audience members in the front rows.These were returned at the end of the show, but made it clear to everyone that Savages were serious in their message.

The problem is that it’s never going to stop, really. It used to be that cameras were confiscated at the door to concerts, but you can’t confiscate 1200 phones.

And people want some souvenir of the fact that they were there. I’ve taken great photos of concerts, both with my iPhone and a regular camera. My photos of the New York Dolls a few summers ago in Burlington got picked up by a local music journalist. It’s fun to have a picture of your favourite band that you took yourself.

But here’s the thing – I pull a camera out and take a few shots when the band first comes on. Then I put the camera away so I can enjoy the show. And so the people behind me can enjoy the show. That guy in front of me at OMD – he wasn’t having a good time, you could tell. And all he’s got to show for it is a grainy, tinny recording that isn’t good enough to post online, and that he’ll probably never watch again. (And like so many home videos or vacation photos, that he’ll probably never convince anyone else to watch/care about either.)

Before everyone carried a camera around, concerts would let media photographers in for the first two or three songs.They’d form a phalanx at the front of the stage, get all the shots they could manage of Debbie Harry or Gary Numan during that first 10 minutes, and then they were made to leave. That was the only time photos were allowed. And that was a fair and equitable system.

So I’m hoping that more bands and venues (and audience members) pick up on something like the 2-song rule. People can take their photos during those songs and then the cameras must be put away. Bands and venues could make an effort to enforce the rules, either by stopping the show and calling out people who film outside the 2-song window, or by a friendly tap on the shoulder and a reminder to put the phone away.

Nobody NEEDS a grainy crappy video of their favourite band.That’s not how you want to enjoy/remember a show. And looking at the flashing light and little lit up screen of someone else’s phone is not how anybody else wants to remember a show either.

2-song rule, people. Even if it’s not enforced, it’s a good rule to live by. You still get a picture of the band, and nobody around you has a reason to “accidentally” spill a drink on your phone.