Nokia's m-tickets meet Guns'n'Roses' RAWK in high-profile UK trial

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This Wednesday night, fans attending Guns’n’Roses’ Hammersmith Apollo gig won’t just be raising their mobile phones to snap photos of Axl Rose or give absent friends a taste of the opening solo to Sweet Child O’ Mine. They’ll also be digging their phones out of their pockets on their way into the venue, to get in.

The G’n’R gig is one of the most high-profile UK trials of mobile ticketing. Instead of being sent paper tickets, most concert-goers have had barcodes sent to their mobiles, which will then be scanned to gain entry to the gig.

Mine arrived last night, appropriately enough when I was having a load of shopping scanned at a Sainsburys checkout. It’s not much to look at – no band photo or real-tone Welcome To The Jungle backing track. It’s just a regular barcode plus a string of text confirming that the ticket admits one to the gig.

The technology is being provided by Nokia spin-off Ticketrush.co.uk, and comes amid growing activity in the m-ticketing space. Another technology provider, Mobiqa, is working with O2 to provide m-tickets to this month’s O2 Wireless Festival in London – selling a cool £100,000 worth of m-tickets in their first week on-sale. Other firms touting their own technologies include ActiveMedia and mTicket. So will this sort of thing catch on?

Many of the arguments against m-tickets verge on the irrational. When my G’n’R ticket arrived, for example, I was gripped by a paranoid fear that I’d accidentally delete it while trying to manhandle courgettes into a carrier bag. What if my phone battery explodes between now and the gig? What if someone steals my mobile, spots the ticket and goes to the gig in my place? What if I get attacked by a giant puma walking home tonight and have to use my phone to jam its slavering jaws? It’s all a bit worrying.

Of course, when you think about it, an m-ticket is no more perishable than a traditional paper ticket, which is liable to get lost / torn / stolen / dribbled on by a slavering puma. As long as I charge my phone up tonight and don’t spend hours playing Tower Bloxx on the way to work tomorrow, it’ll be fine. It’s just a case of ‘Fear Of The New’ syndrome.

Writing in The Guardian last week, Tim de Lisle pointed out that the rise of m-tickets is a sad day for anyone with a collecting urge. “Memory needs only a jog and there’s something magical about the way a clerical little item can conjure up a pulsating night,” he said, while also accurately pointing out that for most men at least, the ticket-collecting gene goes hand-in-hand with “the layabout gene” and “the haven’t-quite-got-round-to-it gene”.

Like Tim, I’ve got a box full of gig tickets from my chequered past that I haven’t quite got round to organising properly – from the Black Crowes (1994) to Babyshambles (2006) via Blur, Ben & Jason and, er, Belinda Carlisle. And that’s just the B’s. But I’d argue that today’s gig-goers – especially the younger or more gadgety ones – don’t see paper tickets in the same way any more.

Instead, their concert keepsakes are digital – the photos or videos they take with their phone and then upload onto Flickr or YouTube. It’s these that are the true 21st Century gig mementoes, so why not get rid of the paper tickets? By way of proof, Guns’n’Roses gigs are well-represented on both Flickr and YouTube.

Okay, so it remains to be seen how many venues upgrade their facilities to support m-ticketing technology, how quickly they do it, and whether they can retrain their door staff, who in my experience have barely mastered being able to simultaneously scowl menacingly and tear a ticket stub.

And it’s ironic that a whizzy new mobile technology is being used for a gig by a band which arguably peaked in, ooh, 1991. Cock-rawk is clearly cutting-edge after all. Then again, while a Crazy Frog gig might’ve been a more appropriate trial for m-ticketing, he doesn’t encore with Paradise City. At least, I hope he doesn’t…

Stuart Dredge