Anti-phone policies can produce unexpected benefits, but can also lead to difficulties for clubgoers.
Clubs exist for hedonistic immersion, and outside factors should surely be left at the door. But when you have a connection to the rest of the world in the palm of your hand, how can these ideals coexist? Disconnection is surely the end goal of a club, but our reliance on technology means we are finding it increasingly difficult to do so.
Sometimes banning something as a way to create a more welcoming atmosphere can have the opposite effect, perhaps seeming too pretentious in a world where phones are just a part of everyday life. Perhaps the perfect balance in spaces where the collective is a part of the experience, and not so much a life-threatening necessity, is to promote the disuse of phones. This is how they do it in London’s fabric, whose anti-phone policy is “guidance” and they only produce silhouetted shots of the crowd.
By contrast, Bassiani in Tbilisi operates this policy as a way to create a sense of protection from the outside eye of an oppressive government, stating that their aim is “bringing together those who have been oppressed by the dominant culture and intolerant social norms in Georgia and the rest of the South Caucasus”.
But how would venues go about limiting phone use? In some clubs like Berghain, a sticker is placed over the camera on your phone, limiting its use, the removal of which will have you thrown out of the club. Other artists and venues choose to use services like Yondr, which is a pouch that your phone is placed into and can only be opened in specific phone-use areas. The problem seems to be specifically in photography, there is no one policing the ability to use your phone to send a text to someone you shouldn’t. London nightclub Fold’s co-founder Seb Glover told RBMA that the decision to ban photography was partly to “facilitate connection”.
But is it really possible to have a mass reversion to this time of carefreeness or are we simply too far gone in a world under surveillance?
This argument from a safety perspective works on both sides when it comes to protecting other club-goers. Some may feel that theft and assaults go unreported if you don’t have a way to capture the moment, or the ability to text a friend to help you out or let them know you’re safe. But this doesn’t seem to be the issue clubs are trying to hide. It could be that the best way is to look out for your friends, and this encouragement of the collective without the phone may push us into this communal spirit when phones aren’t necessary inside. It may seem strange to push people into something that seems to revert us back to how we naturally interact, but in a society that can’t function in most ways without the mobile phone, it’s good to know that there’s a refuge for this. Clubs are the mecca of self-expression and to feel this suppression under surveillance gives little respite from the constant judgement in the daylight hours.
As the hedonism wears off and reality sets in, you’ve already got your own set of anxieties that don’t need to be coupled with the worry that you’re caught in the background of someone’s video of an amateur DJ. However, you can’t deny that the rise in popularity of events like Boiler Room sets are not without their rewards. Word of mouth makes finding events and DJs exciting, the rave poster revolutionised graphic design – but also having online footage helps promote emerging artists. We have to decide which direction we need to go in. Social media works as a newfound sense of connection that separates us from the retrospective bliss without it twenty years ago, but it’s hard to imagine how we would have access to so much culture without it.
I’ve personally found comfort in going out in places where the signal is bad, knowing that you can’t be tempted to check your phone and knowing that others can’t either – a rare switch off from the outside world. After all, it’s the hours we are expected to be asleep anyway, we should switch off as best we can and log in to our natural social network.