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Gig Etiquette

Gig Etiquette

A guide to appropriate in-venue decorum


The oldest music ever discovered is a three-thousand-four-hundred-year-old cult Sumerian folk song, recorded on a tablet in the Hurrian language and unearthed several centuries ago in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit.

It’s awful.

That said, I respect the Sumerians’ attempt to try something new, and it’s certainly more listenable than portions of Lou Reed’s back catalogue.

There is a time in everyone’s gig-going life when they start to feel distinctly Sumerian in age. For me this moment arrived at Reading Festival 2006, a misjudged attempt to repeat the glorious past of six years’ previous, only to find that I was a twenty-three-year-old surrounded by drunken, irrepressible teenagers intent on staying up all night singing, banging drums and falling over other peoples’ tents. Just as I had been back in 2000, in fact.

The difference was that I didn’t spend the final night of my festival staggering around offering people free hugs or setting toilets on fire.[1] Festivals are an acquired taste at the best of times, but I noticed that in the months following Reading 2006, my tolerance for antisocial, disruptive and occasional inexplicable behaviour at shows dwindled and I became more easily frustrated; more likely to voice my dissatisfaction at those breaking with gig etiquette and ruining it for those around them.

Here then follows the ultimate evidence of my descent into middle-aged gigging: my own, non-comprehensive and highly subjective guide to appropriate in-venue decorum.

1) Don’t speak. At least, not all the time. Those surrounding you haven’t paid £20 to listen to the story of your day or the issues you’ve been having at work. Nor have they paid for the pleasure of hearing you wax lyrical about the band you’re supposed to be watching. You’re not a character from High Fidelity, and your opinions are most likely dreadful.

2) Don’t be tall. This is admittedly a challenge if you are tall, as I am. Try and be mindful of the fact that you’re almost certainly standing in front of the shortest person in the venue. Also, no Chewbacca costumes, or similar. Save those for the cricket.

3) Don’t push your way forwards. We all want to gain a better vantage point, but there are easier ways to get to the front without steamrolling your way through the middle, infuriating everyone in your path. Go to the left or right side of the venue and proceed – it’s quieter there and you’ll find less resistance to your efforts. Then you can move sideways into the centre of the crowd. It’s still a nuisance, but at least people can see you coming and move their bags, beers and children out of the way. 

4) Don’t pour beer over everyone around you, unless they specifically request it.

5) Don’t heckle incessantly. I tried to shout something at Ed Harcourt once at Madame JoJo’s and committed the cardinal sin of making an unfunny heckle. Had there been any tumbleweed in the venue, other members of the audience would have piled it into a makeshift bonfire and burnt me at the stake. Since then I have forever held my peace and, unless you’re Jimmy Carr, I’d advise you to do the same. And pay your taxes.[2]

6) Don’t video every song. YouTube clips of gigs are a wonderful thing; holding your phone aloft for ninety minutes, obstructing the view of those behind you, is not. These days some people start complaining if their camera is nudged or the people around them are singing too noisily and impinging upon the quality of their recording. Artists already struggle to make ends meet, so go buy the live DVD, rather than moonlighting as an amateur filmmaker.

7) Don’t urinate into plastic cups. And certainly, don’t throw the cups out into the crowd. Earlier this year, for the first time in my life, I was hit by pigeon excrement as I walked down the road towards my house. I received this unwanted gift with weary resignation. Everyone gets hit once during their lives, I’d survived the indignation for more than thirty years and, after I’d cleaned myself up, my mood brightened in the knowledge that I was now safe to live out the rest of my days free from further incident. Thus far, my trust in such matters of fate has served me well. However, the incident did impress upon me just how deeply upsetting it can be when unknown and dubious substances are unexpectedly dispersed over your person. At an Oasis gig in 2009 the gentleman next to me, a copious drinker and, I suspect, a rather shady character, appeared to take great pleasure in repeatedly employing his bladder into his empty pint glasses before sending them airborne into the mosh pit. This is antisocial.

8). Don’t attack those around you. There’s always a degree of pushing and shoving at the front of gigs, particularly when watching the more boisterous and rowdy performers. However, an inadvertent shove should not serve as an excuse to turn around and headbutt the perceived culprit in the face. This happened to my brother while we were at an Oasis show in 2008 at Wembley Arena, just a few hundred metres away from the Stadium where the later pissing incident occurred. Other incidents at Oasis gigs I’ve attended include several youths in the crowd openly snorting cocaine in front of my mother, my ex-girlfriend falling out with me after I looked up to see a girl on my neighbour’s shoulders exposing her breasts at Liam Gallagher’s request, and a friend who shall remain anonymous defecating in his trousers after taking a suspicious looking unmarked pill given to him by a passing drug dealer.

9) Do not try and order a cocktail at the bar. It is a gig, not a corporate soirée, and there are thousands of people to serve.

10) Finally, play nice. Live music is euphoric and blissful; the best live shows are timeless and stay with you forever. Be respectful, courteous and civilised, so that your peers remember the show for the music, rather than as the night that their friend accidentally shat themselves.

[1] In contrast, I spent my final evening of Reading 2000 sitting in the mud behind a burger stand, inarticulately declaring my love for a seventeen-year-old Berkshire girl I’d met on AOL Instant Messenger a few years earlier.

[2] Not strictly gig etiquette, but a good way of avoiding resentment and unpopularity (unless you’re at a Gary Barlow show).

It's Christmas time

It's Christmas time

Pop Life is released!

Pop Life is released!