Are cameras at gigs cutting us off?

On Tuesday I went to a great Kosmische gig upstairs at the Garage in Highbury. Caesar Romero belted out their rumbling, vibrant fury of latino-tinged horror-fuelled instrumentals, with their stunning dancer giving it her all. Groop shone as ever, a colourful burst of deep grooves and righteous energy. And the headliners, The Vanity Set—sleazy, theatrical NY rock fronted by the wonderful Bad Seeds drummer James Sclavunos—crowned the night with their grandiose, self-deprecatory musings ("I started a joke that made the whole world start crying / I didn’t realise / The joke was on me") and impressive musical talents (hats off to Meredith Yayanos‘s spine-shaking theremin and stunning vocals).

But what struck me most was the army of cameras. I got to thinking about how technology has armed us all with these image-grabbing machines, to the extent that their proliferation at gigs has caused selections of Hakim Bey’s writings to start bubbling up with sombre warnings against imagistic dematerialisation of spiritual energies. Mostly I thought of his portrait of a band of western(ised) tourists in ‘Overcoming Tourism‘:

Nothing ever really touches the life of the tourist. Every act of the tourist is mediated. Anyone who’s ever witnessed a phalanx of Americans or a busload of Japanese advancing on some ruin or ritual must have noticed that even their collective gaze is mediated by the medium of the camera’s multi�faceted eye, and that the multiplicity of cameras, videocams, and recorders forms a complex of shiny clicking scales in an armor of pure mediation. Nothing organic penetrates this insectoid carapace which serves as both protective critic and predatory mandible, snapping up images, images, images.

One could argue that it’s only bands with small followings whose audience can be cut off from the stage by a wall of frenzied image-grabbing. Or—with good cause—that if I’m noticing all this and thinking about essays on ontology, I’m just not immersed in the moment enough. But there’s also the creeping suspicion that as a culture, we’re infected so deeply now with the drive to perceive everything through a media lens, to protect against and prey upon, that it’s starting to dominate even the most grass-roots of our social rituals. I recall the absurd spectacle as two women, doing an S&M piercing bit at a very non-commercial ritual performance night in Vauxhall, were swamped by a broadcast camera, a few camcorders and some digital cameras, the recording of the event becoming by far the most dominant aspect of it from the audience’s point of view.

This all hit me again last night at a Peaches gig. I go into it a bit in my review. The fact that the crowd lit up most enthusiastically when the image of Iggy Pop appeared to virtually duet with Peaches on ‘Kick It’, seemingly more excited by his projection than Peaches’ flesh, bemused and kind of worried me.

Before the gig, I’d bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, and she was showing me pictures of some other old friends on her snazzy mobile phone. I’d said to her that if she caught any good shots of Peaches that she should email them to me to use in my review. In the middle of the gig, I had a drunken moment of clarity, and realised that actually I should start refusing to put photos of performances with live reviews. It’s a gesture more than anything. But I feel the mere conception of gigs without recording devices, for me, for now, to be something very inspiring. A reminder of what we’re sliding towards.