Let’s go surfin’ now

Crowd-surfing is back with a vengeance, but 11 years on from Roskilde, is it really any safer?

Nothing, in my view, can match the intensity and unpredictability of a great rock show. As one of the thousands of sweaty bodies surging and pogoing in beer-fuelled unison, you wholeheartedly accept that for the next two hours, the fate of your personal possessions – money, camera, phone, fags, house keys and even your shoes are in the lap of the gods as you pile into the pit with no regard for your own safety.

But sometimes it’s not enough. As with many extreme pastimes, there are always ways of cranking up the danger meter. Urban climbers always look for a taller building, endurance athletes look for a more ridiculous race. Rock fans, well, they crowd-surf. Inevitably, such activities are not without risk.

The Roskilde tragedy in 2000, in which nine people died in a crush at a festival in Denmark, led to a Europe-wide ban on crowd-surfing. The powers that be decided that this could simply not happen again, but what happens when the ban is flouted? A recent show by Black Lips at Liverpool’s Masque Theatre was halted for five minutes after the band squared up to bouncers in solidarity with crowd-surfers who were being roughly treated. “DO NOT FUCK WITH THE BAND!” screamed basisst Jared Swilley at one of the Masque’s security team.

To those in attendance, Black Lips became heroes overnight. To the hired muscle at the front, they were a constant irritation and a threat to their authority. Taking such a hard line on the perpetrators simply enraged the mob, which could have eventually spelled bigger trouble had Black Lips not hastily departed after one last song.

If the Masque’s security team failed miserably, another venue appears to have got the balance bang on the money. Manchester’s Moho Live is Manchester’s most exciting new gig venue. Not because it gets the biggest bands – its capacity must be around the 400 mark – but because of its layout and crowd control policy. There is no barrier between stage and audience, which means that a certain degree of etiquette must be observed by those closest to the front.

A recent concert there by US melodic hardcore band Boysetsfire proved a tough test for the security team. The place was packed to the rafters and for the first half of the set, the punters were as good as gold. There was an air of camaraderie which was marred only by frontman Nathan Gray having to launch a well-timed kick at a male fan whose penchant for groping had started to wear a bit thin.

But as the beer flowed and the band loosened up, the crowd became more audacious. Crowd-surfing turned into stage-diving and Gray had to fend off a couple of drunken embraces, but eventually entered into the spirit of the event, diving into the throng on more than one occasion. All the while, the bouncers stood idly by, deciding that there was no threat to public safety and therefore no need to intervene. The result was that everyone left the gig happy, albeit sporting one or two bruises.

In Europe, the lessons of Roskilde have been all but forgotten. At the 2011 Groezrock festival in Meerhout, Belgium, crowd-surfers and stage-divers were rampant. At one point during No Trigger’s Sunday afternoon slot, there were more people on the stage than in the audience. Either the organisers had decided to allow crowd-surfing, or had simply treated the issue as an elephant in the room.

So crowd-surfing is making a comeback, it would seem. Medium-sized venues are perhaps realising that the policy is too difficult to implement without risking further violence. Relaxing the rules seems to have the approval of the majority of gig-goers, but is it another tragedy waiting to happen?


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