Do You Want Dress Codes At Gigs? Two Writers Battle It Out

Arcade Fire play their first UK date on Monday at Camden’s Roundhouse (November 11). Just as they’ve done for other dates they’ve played this year to promote new album ‘Reflektor’, there is a dress code. It’s something that’s becoming more common in live music. But is it a good thing? Here, two NME writers battle it out:

Lucy Jones isn’t so keen..
In June Laura Marling imposed a dress code of vintage black tie on gig-goers for an ‘immersive’ performance experience in an abandoned school. A couple of months later Lady Gaga enforced strict rules for her iTunes festival show; “acceptable attire” included seahorses and starfish. Azealia Banks threw a costumed Mermaid’s Ball at the London Aquarium a while back. Now Arcade Fire, on tour as The Reflektors, have been telling ticket-holders that “formal attire or costume is MANDATORY.”

Mandatory. Acceptable. Dress code. Rules. Enforced. Imposed. Enough! These are not words we should associate with rock or pop music. There’s nothing wrong with fancy dress – but isn’t it a little demanding of bands to insist we wear particular clothes to their shows? Do they expect that you hire black tie or buy a costume on top of a £40 gig ticket (and the booking fee, T-shirt, drinks and cloakroom)?

And what if you hate dressing up in formal clothes? I imagine some people won’t want to feel like a trussed-up chicken forced into wearing heels and a little black dress they don’t like at a night that’s meant to be enjoyable. Arcade Fire fans are also allowed to just wear a ‘costume’ but who wants to watch a show standing behind someone dressed as a banana? It feels weird to see Arcade Fire betray their indie roots, if you take the a key foundation of rock and indie to be anti-authority, fuck-the-system anthems for outsiders. Can you imagine Lou Reed telling people to dress smart to hear his music?

The truth about organised fun is this: it’s rarely actually fun unless you’re doing it with close friends. Team-building exercises? Awful. Bedtime storytelling nights where everyone wears nighties? The worst. Pub crawls? Usually a mess. It’s like wearing a strait jacket at a social engagement. Call me a killjoy but it’s got to be a choice.

Apparently there were five people who didn’t dress up for the Laura Marling night. They probably felt a bit stupid and embarrassed, like turning up to a wedding in flip flops. To this I call bullshit. It’s an extra dimension to gig-going we don’t need. Thankfully the Roundhouse have added a note to the gig listing on their website: (please note, dress code is not strictly enforced). Still, I’m interesting to see what Joey Barton turns up in…

A dress code at a gig changed Andy Welch’s life
Six months ago I would’ve been dead against it, but everything changed in June when I went to the Laura Marling’s Secret Cinema show at an abandoned school transformed into a fictional hotel for the month.

When I heard the three-week residency was billed as an “immersive experience” I was sceptical, my ‘hipster nonsense’ sensor sounding loud and clear. When I found out I’d have to walk through Bethnal Green in vintage black tie attire, carrying a photograph of an old lover, a secret gift for a stranger, flowers for the mistress of the house, Lady Undine, and either an old record or a satchel full of unwanted books or clothes, I could barely think of a worse way to spend a Friday night.

But then I remembered the previous time I’d seen Marling play, at Hammersmith Apollo. Devoid of any sense of occasion, and with many intricacies of her music lost to the cavernous hall, a large proportion of the several thousand people there mistook the chance to listen to her perform with an opportunity to catch up with their friends. It was OK, but the fact I remember the talking more than the songs probably says it all.

I then thought about this Secret Cinema gig differently, and after breaking the news to my friend Loo that she’d have to come dressed as a Great Gatsby extra, decided to embrace the invitation in the spirit it was intended. Aside from the croquet lawn, billiard room, period cocktails, vintage snacks, actors playing out their parts with conviction and breath-taking attention to detail in the décor (not things I ever thought I cared for until I arrived), the gig was mesmerising.

Of the 250 people there, perhaps five didn’t get involved and dress up. Fair enough, each to their own. Those that did, however, had their little effort rewarded with the kind of group experience that simply doesn’t exist or at least very rarely exists anywhere else. Tribalism, in the old sense of the word, is long dead. Live music is no longer a treat’ it’s next to the cinema as a go-to social function.

At it’s worst, live music means the band being overshadowed by the relative horror of the environment; overcrowded venues, queues, being stuck the tallest person in the room and piss-weak, warm lager at a fiver a pop. But at it’s best, as this Marling gig emphatically proved, it can be every bit as magical, transportive and, whisper it, fun, as the artist hoped it would be.

If Arcade Fire are asking you to dress up, don’t think, just do it. It might lead to something that changes your life.