In November 2019, the legendary Lakota Nightclub in Bristol brought a brave twist to their Halloween club edition – a ban on mobile phones. 

Eats Everything’s Halloween Digital Switch Off.was designed to revive the old-school rave experience and give club-goers a taste of the club scene pre-smartphone technology. The iconic venue, running for almost three decades now, rose to prominence in the early nineties, establishing itself as the dynamic driving force behind Bristol’s electric underground scene. Lakota’s organisers wanted to recapture this no holding back attitude that ravers had when the club first started out and let inhibitions run wild. 

We caught up with Lakota’s Head of Marketing, Eoin Fenton, to find out how the digital switch-off went down with the Bristolian ravers. 

Eoin shares that the Halloween edition was a roaring success! There were no complaints on the night, and more importantly, there was very little resistance to the concept of locking away mobile phones. This response backs up the findings in Eventbrite’s report on The Changing Rules Around Mobile Phones at Gigs. The study revealed that 70% of respondents find phones at events irritating and 69% agreed that some action should be taken to minimise it. 

The club teamed up with Yondr who provided lockable phone sleeves for the occasion. Attendees had to place their phones in the sleeves to gain entry to the club and could access them again upon leaving. He says that the entry and exit process was surprisingly seamless. 

Lakota blog - phone bags

The digital switch-off succeeded in transforming the rave experience for club-goers. Eoin describes how powerful it was to witness people losing themselves in the music and the hedonistic aspect of it all. People were living in the moment, rather than trying to capture it with a phone. 

“There is always the thought that there could be someone filming and watching you. But when there are no phones on the dance floor you really can let go, which feeds into the hedonistic element of this show. Looking over a dancefloor and not having a sea of people filming every moment was special. I’ve never seen anything like it, personally.”

While the Lakota’s digital switch-off ran smoothly on the night, Eoin explains that hosting an event like this shouldn’t be taken lightly. For a lot of people, locking away phones takes them out of their comfort zone, so it’s important to understand your attendees and help them to get on board with this concept.

For Eoin, three key factors played into the success of Lakota’s digital switch-off:

1. Use surveys to generate valuable feedback

Eoin and his team launched pre and post-event surveys to gather insight into the expectations and reactions of the digital switch-off attendees. 

Eoin explains that the pre-event survey was important, not only to gain a deeper understanding of the feelings and concerns of attendees, but also to anticipate any issues that may occur on the night.

While 23% reported feeling anxious about the event, raising issues such as getting lost and losing friends, the majority (almost 60%) shared that they felt excited.

The post-event survey also generated valuable feedback that can be used to inform future phone-free shows.

Almost 70% of attendees reported feeling happy or excited about not being able to use their phones on the night and a whopping 84% of attendees said they would like to attend another phone-free night.

2. Meet your attendees in the middle

As a means to quell the concerns of anxious attendees, the Lakota team designated a small phone-zone in the smoking area to allow club-goers to check their phones.

Lakota phone zone

“As much as we want to create a no-phones area, it is 2019 – we can’t completely starve people of checking their phones.”

Eoin also understands that capturing images is an important part of live events for many attendees. They wanted to find a way to allow people to record meaningful moments, without disrupting the phone-free experience. To bridge this gap, the Lakota team handed out disposable cameras so attendees could capture their night the old-fashioned way. 

3. Choose the right acts

The Lakota team curated a carefully designed, dynamic lineup that was guaranteed to crank up the energy levels and inspire people to truly lose themselves in the music. The lineup featured Lord Leopard, Alexis, Little Gay Brother, and an electric five hour set by Bristol native and ex-Lakota regular Eats Everything? 

Lakota club

Eoin stresses the importance of choosing the right acts for a phone-free experience. He explains that selecting highly engaging performers was central to the success of the digital switch-off. 

“Little Gay Brother pulled off an outstanding performance which further engaged the crowd and got them dancing, they were a lot of fun!”

Gigs are all about shared experiences around music. Removing the barrier of phones means artists can achieve deeper and more meaningful connections with their audience. Eoin speaks about the magic of this connection on the night. In the absence of phones littering the dancefloor, there was a marked increase in people engaging with the music. 

The future of phone-free events

When it comes to key learnings for future events, Eoin explains that a few attendees did use their phones outside of the designated area. This undoubtedly impacts the experience for everyone, so going forward they want to find a way to better sanction the ban, without making it feel like they’re policing the club. Afterall – the concept is all about letting go!

When we caught up with Eoin pre-event, he told us that the ultimate aim of the digital switch-off was to showcase that these kinds of things are doable – that people don’t need to be connected 24/7. 

Lakota blog

“Hopefully, it will show people that they can switch off and be in the moment and have just as much of a good time. It’s about breaking down the barriers that people have against it.”

Lakota’s digital switch-off undoubtedly succeeded in achieving this. Eoin feels that events of this nature have huge potential to grow, challenging the omnipresence of phones at live events and inspiring more attendees to live in the moment. This is a trend we’re excited to see more of! 

Feeling inspired by Lakota’s story and want to hold a digital-free event of your own? Check out our latest report on The Changing Rules Around Mobile Phones at Gigs.

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