Beyond the Boombox
In a generation where technological gadgets have largely done away with listening to music as an isolated past-time, concerts are one of the few things that have remained largely irreplaceable. Even the live streaming of overseas events on video websites pale in comparison to standing in the midst of strangers, watching a select few perform at a volume that cannot be controlled with dials. I started investing in the experience years ago, after I finished university, and now I make sure to make it a yearly commitment, even if I do just one.
Over time, I’ve experimented with seating choices, studied venues, been subjected to various events regulations, found loopholes in said regulations, became a pseudo-expert in the physics of sound, took photographs, trial-ed, error-ed, and even accompanied some friends to their first concerts. Concert photography in particular became a past-time that branched out from the mere attendance of these shows, and has since become my own tradition, as well as a source of evidence of the experience in addition to ticket stubs. They remain one of my prized possessions, and I carefully keep them in the event that I feel the need to recall my youth.
So. How to concert. Here you go:
Wear and Be Comfortable
Dress appropriately for the event. The type of concerts this post focuses on are are not of black-tie nature, so this would mean lightly and with exercised practicality. One would think this tip would pass unwritten, but three years ago, I saw several girls struggling across muddy festival grounds after their male companions in delicate dresses and open-toe mules. So, perhaps it is necessary. Stick with light clothing that can brave the elements of your area. Pack only the essentials in a sturdy, yet easily transportable bag, and leave unnecessary items behind. Use shoes that can withstand the gradual swelling of your feet from the hours of standing and probable intense jumping. There is little use in showing up in an outfit that cannot stand the effects of salt and water. Even in air-conditioned venues, the density of the people within the space is guaranteed to make you sweat.
A word on denim, though. Jeans are generally considered casual wear, but they tend to become heavy as it absorbs moisture. However, if it is still preferred over, say, khaki or other thinner material, wear with caution.
Charge Your Devices and Bring Back-Up Storage
Nothing else brings a damper to a gig than gadgets than run out of juice. Well, maybe except for realising the memory card is missing from the camera, and having no other choice but to rely on internal storage. To save yourself from this grief, charge and load everything beforehand. If you’re capturing moments only from your mobile phone or tablet, a portable external battery is a must-have. Besides, if you’re anything like me and do the juggling act between a phone and proper camera throughout the performance, bring one, anyway.
Let’s get real: what is traffic but many people with the same idea? Unfortunately, this doesn’t dampen the inevitability of it happening hours before a show. Being late, however slight, is especially painful if the featured act is an all-time favourite. Eat before heading to the venue. Trust me on this. Try to allot a grace period between your arrival and when the venue opens, especially if the closest parking area is several kilometres away from the grounds. Half an hour to an hour is usually safe, and achieving this will depend on normal traffic levels during those dates and times. Regular with a high probability of pre-concert traffic? Leave early. Does it take place around the Friday night rush-hour? Leave earlier. Precipitation? Leave even earlier. Does it coincide with a highly-anticipated friendly between the Indonesian national football team and a visiting club? Do anything short of getting up at the butt-crack of dawn. Is that game taking place in the rain? You get the drill.
Get Comfortable Before the Concert
Having some time to spare before seeing your favourite act play always involves processing your ticket — or buying them on the spot, depending on your degree of preparation — is essentially getting ready for a couple lively hours in closed quarters. It may involve reserving a spot in the venue through queuing, but sometimes, there is allowance to mill around. Use this time to make yourself as comfortable as possible. Buy merchandise, if you wish, but sit down when you can. Standing beforehand will not do you any favours, because it will only tire you out faster.
All cravings for food and drink should be satiated well before the drive out, so answer calls of nature the soonest. Get refreshments after the show. It is difficult enough to turn away from the stage mid-act, moreover, to manoeuvre through a gangle of mostly sweat-soaked limbs in order to use the restroom. This is especially vital for those attending outdoor multi-day music festivals, where the only private enclosures would be portable toilets. Unless, of course, it is your dream to experience the mouth of Hell.
The Bridge Camera is Your Best Friend
As tempting as it is to bring professional equipment to ensure quality captures of the gig, most events do not allow SLR cameras into the premises, unless the person holding them are in the media, or can provide proof of profession. They’re also rather hefty. The next best thing would be a bridge camera, which bears a similarity to its heavier counterpart, but is smaller in size, and doesn’t have the options for lenses like the industry standard. Security should be able to let these models pass inspection. Alternatively, a point-and-shoot with an excellent zoom function works just fine.
Prepare to Stand — and Sweat!
After clearing the check-point, securing your spot for the duration of the show is a first-come, first-served arrangement. Also, unless your venue has an option for a sit-down placement, it is very likely you’ll be on your feet for an extended amount of time. Even then, unless it’s required by law and/or social contract, those who have paid for a little more comfort won’t stay seated for long.
Not all concerts start on the time marketed to the public. In fact, there could be a variation from half an hour to a couple hours, depending on the logistics over at the band’s ends. Audience-side, fans would be regaled by the occasional backstage crew member doing last-minute checks and instrumental tune-ups, while the audio system would blare unrelated music. Every now and then, announcements of event regulations would be made to keep people on their toes. This is to be expected. People are still generally giving each other a respectable amount of breathing room, until there is an explicit indication that everything is about to kick off. Expect things to get cosier from that point on.
Concert Grounds, Like Life, Can Be Unfair
Everyone in attendance is trying to maximise their experience as much as they could, which means there’ll be a little pushing and shoving. People much taller than you will be standing in your direct viewpoint, and will take advantage of occupying areas near the stage. The desired shooting angle you art directed in your head may be blocked by someone else’s gargantuan lenses. You may even find yourself standing next to someone conducting themselves in such a way that you wouldn’t be caught dead with associating in any other social situation.
While the safety of all is paramount, the focus of concerts is the artist. Things will get loud, and your personal space won’t be regarded. You will feel it in the ground beneath your feet, and may possibly hear ringing in your ears long after the evening is done. This is part and parcel of the experience. Provided you guard yourself and your belongings, with the correct attitude in addition to the right amount of adrenaline, it’s really a lot of fun.
But, for the Love of All Things Good, Wear Deoderant!
Personally, I can handle camera equipment being placed in my direct line of vision, or standing behind people nearly two metres tall. I was even all right with almost being taken down along with a small group of rowdy hipsters after a Sigur Rós concert. But, one of the things I still cannot endure is standing next to people who have no concept of personal hygiene. I don’t care if it is a secret weapon to expand one’s standing room. It is an assault to the senses, and anyone who is guilty of it should be marinated in detergent.
Every person attending a concert with the intention of visually documenting it at point or another has to deal with the precarious balance of capturing the moment with light or through the mere act of being there. Put down the camera for your favourite song, and bask in the feelings that come with hearing it in person. It’s one thing to invest time in framing a photo properly, but it can never beat giving your undivided attention to a guitar riff so boss that no rendition contained in studio-mixed music file can do it justice. Last of all, find a moment to take a look at the faces of your cultural comrades — malodorous, awkward, boisterous, and all — staring transfixed the same general direction, bound by the same experience as yourself. Even if you attend alone, the beauty of concerts is that they’re never really.
Enjoy the show.
What About You?
Have you attended a concert? If yes, what was your favourite one? If no, why not?