Jack White confiscated my phone – and I’m here for it

The returning rockstar implemented a no-phones policy on his recent UK dates, and our columnist appreciated the screenless chaos

Barely had I waggled my ticket at the scanner when the mugging commenced. “I need your phone,” said a woman in the foyer entrance with the cold tone of a Squid Game guard.

Now, we’ve all become accustomed to polite and sympathetic robbery every time we pay an electricity bill, and I was fully expecting it at the Hammersmith Apollo last week – only usually they let you get to the bar first. But having only recently lost my last phone to an over-friendly Madrid pickpocket, I was somewhat amazed that I dutifully – nay, pathetically – handed over my iPhone and all of its contents – the years of baby photos, the autosaved banking passwords, the irreplaceable Magnetic Fields playlists – to this smiling stranger. No doubt, if she’d asked, I’d have happily signed away the rights to several internal organs if Jack White had also made that a requirement of entry.

Seconds later, she handed me back my phone, now encased in an impenetrable padded Yondr pouch. She’d open it at the end of the gig, she told me, with all the finality of a ransom demand. The consequences of what I’d done crept chillingly over me like a Tory whip. There’d be no comparing previous setlists or in-the-moment fact-checking for tonight’s review. No sifting through emails or having Quordle revelations in the boring bits. No chance for a self-important Twitter gig brag or any regular updates on my four-year-old’s lavatorial activities for the next two hours.

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Worse still: what if Russia attacked? Jack White’s London fanbase would be entirely wiped out, blithely air-guitaring away right up until the ICBM hit. “We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON,” White’s press release stated, promising a “100 per cent human experience”. But in times of such intense international tension, disallowing mobile phones at your gig seemed, in that instant, like the height of murderous irresponsibility.

Through the doors to the venue, though, chaos was underway. Brilliant chaos. The crowd was more pumped and enthused than any I’d seen in the digital age. Instead of screens in the air, there were hands. Instead of lit-up faces lowered like a 4G prayer meeting, there were bobbing heads entirely engaged with the show. It was as if, when the brainless mundanity of mobile phone addiction was removed from a situation, excitement rushed in to replace it. A thrill not just to be fully connected to the music, but of a long-lost exclusivity too. A sense of watching something that won’t be on YouTube tomorrow, something truly unrepeatable, something special.

I’ll admit, over that 90 minutes of enforced iPhone withdrawal, I suffered. I found myself instinctively clutching for my pouch, some primal part of my brain stem sparking with desperation. Unimaginable FOMO took hold. Maybe the press trip of my dreams had landed in my inbox needing immediate confirmation. Perhaps someone, somewhere, had paid an invoice in good time. As my NME mind-control training really kicked in, I found myself struck rigid with terror at the idea that I was standing there helpless while, out in the real world, Noel Gallagher might have said something.

But having survived the show, I have to attest that Jack White has a point. We’re all sick to death of having the person in front of us at a gig decide to film the best bits from overhead or stream the whole show to their dog. It’s not just a distraction and annoyance for us – it’s a waste of a great in-person live music experience for them too.

The pouches themselves opened at the touch of a magnetic button on the way out, so venues could quite easily pepper them along exit routes to let people release their precious zombie boxes themselves, then drop the pouch in the buckets provided – because who the hell wants to steal a straitjacket for a mobile phone (unless you’re planning an intervention on Darren Grimes)? In a world where mankind has realised the impossible dreams of space travel and Deliveroo wine, it must surely be possible to concoct a machine that releases everybody’s phones remotely as the houselights go up, too. Although that might lead to innumerable injuries as people fail to notice all those flying drumsticks.

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The entire live experience might be improved, too, if bands feel that they can treat us to previews of new albums without the unreleased songs getting splashed all over social media within minutes. The benefits for improved connection between band and fan could be immense, and they could even make pouches that light up whenever they recognise a ballad starting. Imagine what Coldplay could do with these fuckers.

Whether they’re taken up by the wider music world remains to be seen, but the possibility of phone-free gigs is finally, realistically upon us. And from personal experience, I can tell you – when the screens go dark, the whole room lights up.

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