Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Guide to Proper Crowd Violence

Before the Guide
It's been a rough few days, physically speaking. On Saturday I played ultimate for over two hours , which would have been strenuous on its own, but I was also wearing my brand-new Nike Mercurial Vapors and they took the skin off my heels. That's the actual color, by the way. I thought I might be able to get neon pink, but they only had the green in size 12. I could not have gotten a tasteful color if I wanted to (and why would I?). Anyway, we're way past blisters--the blisters have developed, been popped and sheared away, and the skin beneath them as well. It's just what happens if you don't take it easy with new cleats--and honestly, it's gonna hurt even if you take it easy. So have fun, deal with the pain, and complain about it afterwards on your blog. Also, buy Neosporin and a lot of band-aids.

That was Saturday. Sunday night, The Humboldt hosted a group excursion to San Francisco's "DNA Lounge" to see the Australian metalcore band Parkway Drive. The DNA Lounge has no genetics- or helix-themed themes whatsoever, not even a spiral staircase. Slim's is presumably named after some shifty and probably fictional proprietor, who put Playboys in the bathrooms back when people were capable of being offended by something so tame as exposed breasts and genitals. I should be able to understand why you gave your club this name, is all I'm saying. The East Bay punk/hardcore act Set Your Goals opened, and they owned pretty hard. The crowd was ROWDY AS HELL during their set, which was obviously enhanced by the fact that these guys were local. I was getting knocked around pretty well and the stage dives were going--it was clear at this point that we were all in for a bumpy night. If these relatively tame punk rockers ("Gaia Bleeds" might be their heaviest song) had the crowd this riled up, the very legitimate brutality of Parkway Drive might actually incite a riot.

When the time came, even I was not prepared. To be fair, it's not the first time this has happened. It was the most violent show I've ever been to, though a couple others have come close. Circle pits--typically the most dangerous things you'll encounter at metal shows--were the least of my problems. We all got separated immediately, and the surges going back and forth across the crowd were easily enough to knock people off their feet. Stage divers, when they started up in the first song ("Samara/Unrest"), were wild and got wilder. The singer made matters worse at every turn, escalating the violence by demanding MORE MORE MORE. See, a true frontman makes YOU want to please HIM. Only by the intensity of your devotion will he ever accept and love you, and you NEED that love. As Stephen Colbert has noted, the craving for the love of a distant authority figure whom you can never truly satisfy marks all the best relationships. Parkway Drive's Winston McCall was insatiable on Sunday, demanding more stage dives and more circle pits and more crushing of the floor. Always more. It does help that the whole band is really appealing in general; not only do they write amazing face-crushing music, but they're all effortlessly handsome, fit Aussie surfer guys. My sister (who came to the show and risked her surgically repaired back on multiple stage dives, proving yet again that she's way braver than me) was drooling over them, and even if you don't want to bone hot Aussies you can't help but be dazzled by their smiles.

The problem was this: the crowd's energy was probably the best I've ever experienced personally, yet it was so sloppy and out-of-control that it ultimately detracted from the experience. It's not Winston's fault (I would never blame you!). It's the crowd's fault. It was a young crowd (all-ages show, what can you do?) and so I understand their sloppiness. What I don't understand is their fashion taste, or their utter lack of shame in promoting said taste. Shame is an important part of teenaged life; it's one of the few things that can actually regulate their awful behavior. Every teenager is an awful embarrassing stain on the Earth, and if you aren't appalled by the memory of your teenaged self you don't have a good memory. The point is, I'm here to help. But you've gotta cut your fucking hair.

Now It's The Guide
First, let's talk about general behavior; you're up near the stage in standing room, but not looking to do anything crazy (crowd surfing, stage diving, or going in a circle pit). We'll leave wall-to-walls out of this; that's some really advanced stuff and honestly if you ever participate in one you need to evaluate your life choices. If you're standing and the crowd is surging back and forth, these are the important things:
--KEEP YOUR FEET. No matter what happens, keep your feet on the ground. Falling is the worst and most dangerous thing that can happen. If you are really confident in your footing, you can dance or jump around. If you choose to do this, try to keep your movement vertical only. You've seen what happens when a basketball player lands on somebody's foot? He gets hurt, and like all mammals you also have feet. Plan accordingly.
--ELBOWS OUT. These are your best friends in the crowd. Keep your arms up and elbows out, to make sure you have a bare minimum of space. If you're crammed so tight that your chest and back have other peoples' chests and backs pressed against them, you can be pushed off your feet. Remember rule 1? Yeah. Also, like in rule 1, this rule can be broken if you expand vertically (putting your fists/hands in the air) and you have enough space.
--CORE STRENGTH. This isn't really something you can work on at the show. But if you do a lot of push-ups, sit-ups, or other core exercises you'll find it MUCH easier to deal with occasional surges. Go along with them, bend, but don't break and fall. Also, if you have a cut stomach or something there's always the chance somebody hot will notice. I mean, it's never happened to me, but there's a lot of things my ass don't get. "Like pussy and respect!"

Next, circle pits. This is the biggest problem a typical concert-goer will run into. Or rather, get run into by. Because that's what happens; people careening at high speed around a pit smash into the walls. The walls are made of people! It's an irritant up until the point when you're getting hammered so hard that you have to turn away from the stage to watch the pit and protect yourself. If you do decide to get into the pit, they can actually be a lot of fun. I dove in several times myself during particularly awesome segments of particularly awesome songs. Normally I don't do this, for two reasons. First, I'm a pussy and I don't like getting hit. I love watching football, but I'm sure I would have hated playing it. Second, in my experience the circle pits are always dominated by the most orc-like denizens of the venue. 5'9" guys who weigh 230, took their shirts off before even entering the club and probably have at least one neck tattoo. I'm willing to bang bodies with my fellow rock fans, but I'm not looking to get drilled by a drunk'n'angry bulldog. See: the above speculation on playing football. At this particular show, there were so many teenaged kids that I was one of the bigger, stronger men in the venue (standing an imposing 6-foot-nothing and 160 pounds).

If you hop in, go with the flow. Clockwise or counter, try to move in the same basic direction as the other moshers. This lets you enjoy yourself without high-speed collisions, where people fall. KEEP YOUR FEET. If you hit other people, use the meat of your shoulder or the palms of your hands. Stay away from joints and bones, because they hurt. Above all, beware of a particular kind of mosher. He's young, often a teenager, and possessed of all the myriad jackasseries endemic to his race. He will often wear a shirt commemorating over-caffeinated guttertrash bands like A Day to Remember or Bring Me the Horizon (if there's a four-letter acronym, that's a bad sign). His style of moshing can best be described as "fighting the invisible ninjas," as he kicks his legs and windmills his arms in furious punching motions. Nobody knows why they started doing this, but on the Internet these children will actually defend their ridiculousness by claiming "it's about protecting your body." I suppose so, in the sense that punching a complete in the face is self-defense. Space is limited in a circle pit, and the last thing you want to do is piss everyone off by smashing your fists into their bodies if they get anywhere near you. Honestly, the best solution is to drill the kid directly in the back with your shoulder. It's the one part of his body he can't protect with his fists, and it'll typically wipe him out into the wall of the pit. He might get kicked in the face, and it might be a learning experience.

Finally, stage dives. These were a big thing on Sunday night, since the only security employed by the DNA Lounge was stationed outside the venue. Which made sense, I think, in case an army of gun-toting hoods tried to take the club hostage Die Hard-style. That didn't happen, so the arrangement was a smashing success. People could jump onstage at any time, and did so with abandon. Mr. McCall encouraged this by letting them scream into the mic, high-fiving them, and explicitly demanding more stage dives after every song. I heart you, Winston. During the set there were an average of 1.4 non-band-members on the stage at any given time. During the encore, it was probably 2.3, which is to say a LOT of people were taking dives. And, well...a lot of them were getting fucked up. This happened for a variety of reasons, because 16-year-olds are prone to a variety of mistakes. Let's review some important tactics:
--PEOPLE ARE NOT FURNITURE. If you want to stage dive, you need to get up to the stage and climb up on it directly. While you can be crowd-surfed to the stage, getting up over that crowd should be done with the assistance of your buddies. Your buddies, not random strangers. I had a half-dozen kids try to vault over my shoulders to get up, and it feels really weird to get jumped from behind like that. The good news? I don't have to put up with it, and would just drop my left shoulder every time. The stupid kids then lose their balance and fall on their faces, serving the cause of Justice. For those kids: use the stage, or your buddies.
--THE CROWD HAS LIMITS. Any time you stage dive, you are asking up to a dozen complete strangers to carry you, lest you smash your face into the concrete floor. Keep this in mind. Particularly if you take a leap, that's a lot of work that needs to be done. If stage dives are happening fast and furious--as they were on Sunday--divers need to take care that they dive into a region of the crowd that can actually support them. If one long-haired douchebag kid dives and is absorbed by the crowd on the left side of the stage, and his skinny-jeans-wearing douchebag friend dives into the same general area, what's going to happen? Sorry, skinny jeans, hope somebody grabs your arm before you faceplant. So, no matter your size, even if you're a girl (they always get caught), wait at least ten seconds before diving into roiling waters.
--BACK OR STOMACH. If you're willing to take the extra risk, you can take a big leap. But remember, somebody has to catch you, and that somebody really needs to be like five somebodies. Those five guys need to have somewhere to grab, so you present surface area, meaning your stomach or back (ladies should obviously go back-first to keep the groping to a socially acceptable level). If you lead with your head, nobody's going to catch you. If you do a backflip, nobody's going to catch you. If you jump feet-first, I hope you break your fucking legs because the LAST thing anyone's catching is a pair of rock-hard shoes flying at them. You're going to kick somebody in the face. Speaking of which, I was kicked in the face by some guy at the show who pulled this exact shit. He hurt my neck and cut my forehead, and I went after him with the legitimate intention of socking him in the eye. Because if you get to kick me in the face, I get to punch you in yours. My initial shove of challenge caused him to fall, terrified and flailing, back into the circle pit where he got stomped on. Call it a draw. Interestingly, I could have beat the shit out of this kid without a single security guy in sight. Something to think about, DNA Lounge.

We'll close this with a Parkway Drive live video, to commemorate their spectacular performance. I wish they'd played this song and a few others, but that's how set lists go. Also, the show started late and had to end at midnight. It's not a perfect world.

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