Is London’s nightlife turning into Berlin’s?

Mobile phone rules mean we’re getting more Berghain by the minute


Mobile phones are used in clubs to take photos, film the DJ and record tracks to look up later.

On the one hand it ruins the atmosphere, collapses “the moment” and shines a light rudely in the DJ’s eyes. On the other, many believe clubbing should permit you to save memories and take something away from the night.

The no mobile policy at Berlin techno Mecca Berghain – the benchmark for European clubbing – is almost as notorious the club itself.  For years, our clubbing culture has been trying to shake an association of cheap lager and Jägerbombs for the lads: one step towards sophistication would be to remove phones from the equation – a rule private members clubs have been enforcing for years – and to try to be more like Berlin.

And some are doing so. Phonox in Brixton, which opened last year, has mandated it. “Please avoid using phones or cameras to take photos: our dance floor’s for dancing,” reads a statement on the club’s website.

“We’ve got a very specific plan and set rules for ourselves to make the club into the place we want it to be,”co-founder Andy Peyton told RA last year. “A dance floor full of people with smiles on their faces and not facing the DJ with camera phones at the ready.” The club prints the rules on cards: bouncers show you the card if they spot you with your phone out.

Performers have mixed opinions. “I don’t think it’s excessive for them to enforce a ban, you should be enjoying the moment” says George Mayfield, a London-based house and garage DJ. He adds, “I reckon they like to make it out that DJs care more than they actually do, though. Obviously someone shoving their phone in your face is annoying, but I think it’s more of an issue for the crowd.”

House legend Theo Parrish offers, “everyone knows there are far too many phones on the dance floor. The DJ, the song, and the people need to move as one”. Right then.

Cabernet nightclub The Box Soho has a strict “no cell phones, no Blackberries, no cameras” rule. When I ask them about it, they explain: “We don’t want people to be on camera when they’re having fun. It’s about being in the moment.” Fabric also has a no phones policy. Cirque le Soir has asked people to put their phones away in the past. 

It’s not just London: some university towns are raising their nightlife’s game. Joe Wilde recently started up his own night in Loughborough. He is enforcing a no phones or videos policy, which the club makes clear at the door. “We even go so far as putting stickers over people’s phone cameras as they enter, Berghain style,” he explains.

“When I went to Berghain last year it was the greatest clubbing experience of my life,” Joe adds. “Partly because the crowd was so in the moment. Free, uninhibited and not even considering their phones. If people want to take selfies or film videos with flash then there are plenty of other clubs where they can still do these things.”

In some ways, though, taking photos or streaming videos on a night out is part of the atmosphere over here. DJs like Four Tet can be seen Snapchatting from the DJ booth.

“I couldn’t care less if people film me, unless their phone is right in my face ,with the flash on,” admits Oliver McPheely, a techno DJ. “People get aggy about it, but it should be up to the promoters to decide. For example, if you’re going to a techno night then there’s already a culture across Europe of no phones, and that helps the night.”

Photography isn’t the only reason you’d pull out a phone. Many want to use clubbing as an opportunity to identify the beats that melt their minds during their favourite sets. Facebook pages like The Identification of Music Group are full of people posting recordings so they can hear the track again. It’s like a crowd-sourced and more obscure version of Shazam.

“Sometimes you might want to get an audio recording for an ID,” says Chris Nelson, who regularly films tracks to look up later. “It depends who is playing. I might only want one song all night but when I last saw Pangaea I wanted basically his whole set. I’ve never seen anyone film and upload more than four videos from a night. It’s usually just one.”

Joe Wilde agrees “I don’t have a problem with people doing that. But you can do it with your phone held down by your side, rather than holding a bright phone screen above a crowd who are trying to lose themselves in a great moment.”

For Fabric, it’s strictly about preserving the atmosphere. While they don’t strictly enforce a no mobile phone rule, filming on the dance floor is deeply frowned upon.

“When Fabric opened in 1999 smart phones didn’t exist,” reads a blog post on the club’s website. “Back then, the Nokia 3210 was king. It made phone calls, received and wrote texts, had Snake on it. But that was about all it did.

“Shining a super bright LED light in a DJ’s face so you can record a shaky, blown out three minute epic of ‘that amazing tune’ that you’ll never actually be able to remember will never ever be worth it. It ruins the experience for other people and frankly, it just makes you look pretty selfish.”

When you put it like that they’ve got a point. But is the next step screening clubbers for their music knowledge and their grasp of the “lingo”?