Off The Grid Gigs | Musicians who want you to ditch the smartphone

"I’d like people to come to the shows and enjoy them like they did in the old days." - Bruno Mars

Jack White

More and more musicians are demanding smartphones be absent from their gigs. Here are some of the singers who’ve waged war against the smartphone for the past decade.

An NME journalist recently described his experience attending a Jack White gig in which he had to surrender his autonomy over his smartphone (or 2nd Brain, or Pocket Computer, whichever you prefer) in order to gain permission from Mr White and his coterie to enter the venue.

The writer, Mark Beaumont, concluded that he’d had a great time, and is all for more musicians taking the same route as Jack White. It seems like the perfect solution to raised arms blocking your vision at gigs, clutching smartphones filming a portion of the performance they could view on YouTube after the show in better quality.

I don’t need to labour the point too much here that untethering yourself for the duration of a live gig, film, or talk, is of enormous benefit. It doesn’t enhance the experience, it just prevents it from being diminished, reduced to a bit-part shadow of what it could’ve been.

Hopefully, with companies like Jack White’s favoured Yondr (don’t worry this ain’t an advert, we aren’t getting paid for mentioning them), who produce safe storage pouches that allow gig-goers to pop their phone in and keep on their person throughout the event, we might begin to see a return to the organic intimacy shared between musicians and audiences in the pre-smartphone era.

Oddly, after doing some research, it appears that 2013 was a landmark year for artists calling time on audiences filming and taking photos. Björk posted a sign (below) at 2013’s Bonnaroo festival in Manchester, Tennessee that read: “At the artist’s request please refrain from taking photographs or recording images. This is distracting to Björk and she would encourage you to please enjoy being part of the performance and not preoccupied with recording it.”

Björk sign


Björk posted the above request at a festival in the States asking her fans to keep their phones to themselves as much as possible.

Several hundred miles north, in Neward, Bruno Mars quite rightly pointed out to his fans that they couldn’t dance properly if they were recording him on their mobiles. “It is our duty to get you dancing,” the singer declared, “You can’t do that when you’re filming the show, can ya?”

In a later interview, he added: “In the old days, if you went into a show with a video camera to record it, you’d be lucky to leave with your camera. Now everybody brings their smart phones and records everything. I’d like people to come to the shows and enjoy them like they did in the old days.”

Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars told fans they couldn’t dance properly if they were filming him.

At a 2013 concert in Minneapolis, folk-rock revivalists The Lumineers halted a performance of their hit ‘Ho Hey’ to tell fans to stop recording on their phones and instead “be present”. Since then, The Lumineers have also utilised Yondr bags to prevent fans from recording with, or even checking, their phones.

The Lumineers

The Lumineers have also employed the use of Yondr bags.

In 2013, Beyoncé was singing ‘Irreplaceable’ and encouraged the audience to sing along. She then gave the mic to some fans in the front row but one of the audience members forgot to sing along and missed his cue because he was too busy filming on his phone.

“See, you can’t even sing because you’re too busy taping,” an exasperated Beyoncé told the audience member. “I’m right in your face, baby. You gotta seize this moment, baby! Put that d*mn camera down!”


Beyonce told off a fan who missed their cue to sing along because they were filming on their phone.

In 2013, Prince set a code of conduct for fans to abide by called ‘Purple Rules’, for several of his concerts, including his performance at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Organisers at that particular festival had to remind the crowd three times to put their phones away. Ironically, Samsung was sponsoring the event.

Prince at Coachella

Prince set down a code of conduct in his ‘Purple Rules’.

At a Yeah Yeah Yeah’s concert, the band posted a flyer which read, “Please do not watch the show through a screen on your smart device/camera. Put that sh*t away as a courtesy to the person behind you and to Nick, Karen, and Brian. Much love and many thanks!”

Fans who were disappointed at not being able to photograph the band were given one opportunity to take some photos before the lead singer Karen O told them to “Put those motherfuckers away!”.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

The New York trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs told fans to ‘put those motherfuckers [their phones] away’.

Alicia Keys is another artist who makes sure her fans place their devices in Yondr bags. If fans do need to access their phones, they have to step outside the venue first. During an Alicia Keys concert in 2016, one manager was asked who would be allowed to use a cell phone. The manager’s reply? “Like, Queen Latifah.”

Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys is one of a number of big names to have postponed the release of an album last year.

And, beginning in 2018 and still ongoing, Jack White pledged his allegiance to the anti-smartphone-at-gigs movement. In a statement, he said: “Upon arrival at the venue, all phones and other photo or video-capturing gizmos will be secured in a Yondr pouch that will be unlocked at the end of the show.

“You keep your pouch-secured phone on you during the show and, if needed, can unlock your phone at any time in a designated Yondr Phone Zone located in the lobby or concourse.” It’s all designed to give spectators “a phone-free, 100% human experience.”

Jack White

Jack White uses Yondr pouches to prevent people from constantly checking their phones at his gigs

And, most recently in 2019, Bob Dylan paused a concert in Vienna after spotting a fan taking photos on their phone of him from the stalls. Dylan notoriously operates a ‘no photo’ policy at his events, and was noticeably annoyed and puzzled at the fan’s transgression. Still, he regained his composure and said, “Take pictures or don’t take pictures. We can either play or we can pose. Okay?”

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