This year’s South By Southwest had its fair share of glaring issues, as does everything that happens — ever. Some of the more pressing matters concerned fan safety, the evermore-exclusionary atmosphere and the oversaturation of big ass businesses. But please, save the commentary on Austin’s increasing corporatization for a more pretentious article. There is a more minute, but infinitely frustrating problem that has been making its presence known at every live music event, be it at Red 7 or Austin Music Hall.
By Quinton Boudwin
Imagine: after braving the two-hour wait in the line outside the venue, you finally reach the disgruntled volunteer who’s on his third eight-hour shift of the week to have the same access to shows as you. After whipping out your music badge, wristband, RSVP, social security card, donor card, Sam’s Club membership and selling a piece of your soul to the doorman, you meekly shuffle into the venue at long last, excitement bubbling in the pit of your stomach. You grab your criminally overpriced Lone Star and immediately hit another wall. It’s not made of brick or concrete, though. Instead, it’s comprised of iPhones, iPads, Samsung Galaxies, Windows Phones, Microsoft Surface Pro tablets and, yes, even a few prepaid go-phones. Wait a second; didn’t Interactive end a few days ago? You thought you were going to a concert. All you wanted to do was check out your favorite singer pelvic thrust across the stage or get a glimpse of his Fendi belt, and now you’ve missed it because some doofus was waving his four-inch screen directly in your line of sight. What gives?
In an effort to combat this growing technology problem, the FADER FORT presented by Converse adorned its walls at this year’s South By with white plastic signs sporting bold, black text that read, “PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY AND DANCE.” Ironic that an establishment that contributes heavily to the commercialization and corporate overkill of SXSW told fans to resist the urge to Instagram a rare selfie in front of the venue’s vintage television collection or Twitpic their new trinket hot off the 3D printing press, but sadly, the advice is much needed. Travi$ Scott actually demanded it Saturday at the Fader, asking everyone to put their phones away and assist him in leaving a crater where the music publication’s tent once stood. By some miracle, the GOOD Music prodigy managed to transform the exclusive wristband holders into an actual crowd. That’s right — a real-live, moshing, thrashing, raging sea of bodies at a venue that prides itself on being too cool for anyone or anything. Once the phones went down, hands went up, and Scott was able to safely crowd surf without the fear of being dropped by the cool, aloof guy engrossed in his Apple device. Sparks flew at Fader that night, and the young rapper made an authentic connection with his fans that mercifully escaped poor virtual documentation.
Such shows were the exception, not the rule. The emphasis on technology was so overwhelming that fans couldn’t even get a foot in the door at the Austin Music Hall to watch Kanye West and Jay-Z without a Samsung phone (and a bottomless well of patience). At nearly every event I attended, these small, radiation-emitting fireflies buzzed around snapping selfies, blinding artists with their strictly prohibited flash photography and recording hopelessly grainy video, accompanied by completely indecipherable audio. Now, I’m not claiming to be holier than thou; I definitely grabbed a few Vines of Young Guru spinning some real New York hip-hop at the Empire Garage, and maybe even snagged a few pictures of Danny Brown at The Belmont (it was kind of impossible to escape hip-hop this year). That being said, is it really necessary to hold the phone up for entire songs, or even full performances? SXSW is the one chance to lose yourself and drunkenly spit every word from the front row of your favorite artist’s most intimate set, and you cannot physically dance like the “Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tube Man” or do the 90-degree-angle arm bop correctly with that cellular lifeline in your clutches.
This begs the question: Are you enjoying the show itself, or just the idea of being there? By all means, send out a few bad Snapchats, maybe check in with Foursquare to see what venues your friends are loving, but don’t spend all night in search of the perfect Instapic. Does everyone have to know you were there? Do you really think you’re the only person using that hashtag? Do you need to get footage of every single song? What void in your life will all those likes be filling? Enjoy the experience as a participant; most of the credentialed photographers would kill to be in your shoes for just a few songs. And please consider that perhaps the best way for you and your friends to enjoy something special is to keep it to yourselves.
Throwing your hands in the air like you just don’t care with a Scandinavian cutie who just got into town this morning is infinitely more satisfying than laying in bed at 3 a.m., watching a minute and thirteen seconds of epilepsy-inducing strobe lights and earth-shattering bass boom that those ringing ears can’t process anyway. Immerse all of your senses completely in the beauty and spontaneity of a live music performance. Virtual recaps aren’t even a close substitute.
At the end of the day, it’s a show. You’re willing to put your phone away for a movie, why not a concert? Enjoy it with those two eyes, not through a four-inch screen. After all, didn’t you choose to go out in the first place because you were sick of watching those shitty YouTube videos? Pictures can be easily deleted, but you’ll keep those mental images forever, so bask in the moment. Not even the stuffiest Pitchfork subscriber is too bourgeois to clap or let out an overjoyed “Woo!” for an opener who left it all onstage. If you get bumped, get over it. If the ladies in front of you ask you to save their spot while they go get drinks, at least try. And remember, it’s always time to dance. Behold the spectacle unfolding right in front of your face, because nothing awesome ever happened while you were staring at your Twitter feed (except for that one time Kanye erupted at Kimmel).
I hate to be the geezer in the room, but we “millennials” are slowly eating away at the generally well-received rules and traditions Generation X set before us. Those guys weren’t too shabby at what they did. It’s time to start taking notes and stop being afraid to have fun the old-fashioned way.