Question: Does Shouting Between Songs at Gigs Make You a Prick?
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Question: Does Shouting Between Songs at Gigs Make You a Prick?

Or, a shallow dive into whether I was an asshole for yelling "FUCK IT UP THOUGH" at a Moses Sumney gig.

A 2012 Drowned in Sound message board thread about The xx has aged spectacularly. And no, this has nothing to do with disgraced British politician Jared O’Mara. The posting, pithily called “The xx live and crap crowds” starts with a pretty standard ‘don’t clap along on the 1 and 3’ demand before getting wild. “2. Don’t talk to your equally fat and ugly mates throughout the gig, staring at each others’ phones, and ruining the gig for those around you,” wrote Zahid, who according to the DiS database is now 32 years old. “I don't think they looked at the stage once. I shushed them once, they started again after one song, and I wish I had screamed at them after that. They might have been so traumatised that they decided never to go to a live music gig again, thereby saving the rest of us. If they weren't women, they would've deserved a good kicking.” In case you thought he hadn’t forgotten this post was all about the music and not about hinting at kicking (and later in the thread, fisting) some women, don’t worry: he ended with “top band though.”


Whew. So… there is a lot to unpack here. But grim veiled threats of violence aside, I mostly want to get into gig etiquette and chat. Gig chat as in talking during gigs. Let me preface this piece by saying: it’s not that deep. The first time I wrote one of these columns it was about death and crying in the office and mourning, and the last was about blackness turning into pop culture currency for white-owned companies. This time around? That’s absolutely not the level I’m working at. I am curious, though, about what behaviour at gigs steps over from ‘fine, just a bit irritating’ and into ‘nah m8 you need to leave and you need to do so immediately.’ It’s on my mind because I can’t keep my damn mouth shut. Apologies to anyone who’s witnessed my… let’s call it my excitement, which generally takes on some form of an enthused shout during the least appropriate, quietly intimate shows. But I’ll come to that in a second.

If you were in the UK and keeping up with ‘be quiet at gigs’ news a few years ago, you might have come across short-lived Shhh Festival. It was pretty much what its name said on the tin: a festival, originally started in London, dedicated to “quiet music”. Active listening underpinned its ethos and thus shutting the hell up was a core element for punters in attendance. Last year’s edition was pulled due to low ticket sales, with a statement posted by festival founder Howard Monk in April a few days before it was scheduled to run. “I've been monitoring the ticket sales on a daily basis and they're just not justifying going ahead,” he wrote. “The truth is that I would have been happy to go ahead and lose a *bit* of money if the event was looking likely to be busy and fun, but it doesn't suggest even that will be the case so I'm putting the stops on this now”.


Before it fell apart, though, the festival made a not-too-loud impact in one corner of the live music business. It made it totally acceptable to shush. A 68-year-old woman called Georgina Walker was quoted as a “part-time shusher” employed by Monk, for the festival’s 2015 edition. “I’m notorious for telling people to shut the fuck up,” she told the Independent at the time. Well hi, Georgina!! “If I’m doing it as a job I’m actually very polite, at least the first time.” I guess, then, that the world could have used a Georgina during art-soul musician Moses Sumney’s recent dreamy headline London gig because I did the sort of encouraging, aunty-in-a-church-pew shouting that probably should have had me ejected from the building.

Sumney is one of those musicians whose voice somehow seems to catch in your throat as it’s coming out of his body. He coos and cries in a falsetto both sweet and sharp, which sliced through the stuffy air in Islington Assembly Hall. Yes, he played guitar. Yes, his tight backing band carried the rhythms of debut album Aromanticism over from the warmth of the studio to the crackling intensity of the stage. But something about how effortless he made it look, all while perfectly nailing every single note in a way that was actually rude, tipped me over. After he finished rippling single “Lonely World”, I yelled “FUCK IT UP THOUGH”, into the space draped over the gap between songs while an audience is stunned into silence. I sort of half-realised what I’d done, even as I instinctively tipped my head back and literally went to cup my hand around my mouth like the white American mums watching their kids play basketball used to in school. Standing near the back, in the zone most often occupied by industry people – PRs, journalists, those who work at labels and so on – my friends burst out laughing after a beat. Strangers turned. One guy with shoulder-length hair was momentarily just not having it, but didn’t say anything.

A few days earlier, I’d watched husky-voiced, expressive indie-soul performer Connie Constance open for Kojey Radical. And reader, I regret to inform you that I’d been so stunned by her rumbling alto voice and liquid-like physicality that I shouted “FUCK ME ALL THE WAY UP” right after she finished piano-led single “Let Go.” This time round, I elicited one (1) smile from a young man stood a few paces to me left, and the sort of joyful giggle from a friend in PR that he usually reserves for 3AM delirium.

This sounds horrible, but I’d not expected either artist to be quite as stunning live as they were. I’d anticipated greatness from Sumney in particular, sure, and didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what the very talented Constance would be like. But what I got? That was disarming in a way that compelled me to shout. I’ve lived in England for about a decade now and have come to understand that a reaction like that, delivered in a silence that lays you bare, is Not the Done Thing. People here – unless they’re a few pints deep on a high street – seem to prefer to let attention diffuse in a room rather than fixate on a fleeting moment where they can’t control their glee.

Not so much for me. I won’t get into the optics of a young black woman shouting at a performance – ‘parishioners in black churches shouting every call-and-response sermon line’ memes and ‘black people yell at the cinema screen’ racist jokes write themselves – because that’s a mess for another piece. But I will say this: sometimes, I’m loud. Sometimes that makes me look like an asshole. The silence in between songs, right before the clatter of applause begins, is a new place where I’ve realised gig chat hovers between funny, attention-seeking and annoying. In my defence, it’s better than the chatter people have while bands actually play, though. That stuff, of the “they deserved a good kicking” variety separates me from the very worst of the gig-goers. Well, at least for now: who knows what new forum posts decrying the ‘woman who keeps whooping and swearing over my applause’ may have now taken the place of 2012 Drowned in Sound rage.

You can find Tshepo usually just RT'ing and not yelling on Twitter.