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Concert safety and musician responsibilities: a divide between the Americans and the English?

Sam Cooke discusses the tragic unfoldings which happened at Travis Scott's Astroworld last month.

tw: death of minors

I’m sure it isn’t news to anyone who has opened any news or social networking apps over the past two weeks that Travis Scott hosted a music festival that resulted in multiple casualties, many of which were minors. It has been reported that ‘members of a densely packed crowd surged toward a stage and were crushed against each other’. Many of the victims are still to be named, their injuries are too severe to be recognised by friends or family. Other victims are being treated for PTSD symptoms and more generally have broken bones or fractures from the surge.

It’s no secret the lack of care that the American economy has for the sick in their healthcare system, making this disaster even more devastating. However, what seems to only now be being reported on is the rapper’s actions during the event. It’s been reported (from his wife and PR team) that he was unaware of the injuries until after the event. Yet, in footage taken by a fan where, although ‘he can be seen interrupting his performance to ask for help for a fan who had passed out’, he also appears to ask "Who asked you to stop? Y'all know what y'all came to do.". His later sympathy video, posted after the event in black and white, seemed like a mockery to the injuries and deaths of many. He stated he would ‘help them get the help they need’, which is empirically obvious not to be the case.

Comparing the reports of this event, to experiences I’ve had and heard of during concerts and festivals that have ‘gone wrong’ has been interesting. Specifically comparing that of American artists and British/European artists, the culture of protection over fans seems to differ enormously.

People my age or older may remember the 2017 Boardmasters crowd surge during Stormzy’s set. He was at the peak of his career, with the recent release of ‘Gang signs & Prayer’, arguably switching him from a grime (maybe even light drill) artist to a much more mainstream and genre-ambiguous figurehead. Because of this, the crowd was much bigger than perhaps originally intended, and there was a ‘dangerous’ wave of energy in the crowd.

It seemed to be a perfect storm, as Boardmasters, a previously surfing centric festival was becoming more mainstream and increasing dramatically in capacity. Like most performers, the rapper had the best view of the crowd, stopping the set completely when he realised what was happening in an attempt to calm the audience. This resulted in not only the safety of those who had been injured (a majority of which were broken arms or fingers) but actually increased his likeability in the eyes of the public. Such statements like ‘We would like to extend our thanks to Stormzy for briefly pausing his set to calm the audience’ and ‘I’m so glad Stormzy paused for everyone and I know he was supported by the crowd in this. Unfortunately, things like this do happen at festivals and what matters is that Boardmasters and Stormzy acted accordingly’.

So why is it that the American artists act in such a different way with regards to crowd safety? Maybe is it purely venue-based, the British security measures (or at least legalities surrounding concerts and big crowds of people) are better and more efficient? To me, the answer seems obvious. At the risk of sounding blunt, and furthering a stereotype in American celebrities, there are many who say that there needs to be a huge cultural shift in Hollywood culture in order to keep safety a top priority, for fans and artists alike. The whole culture breeds these artists into God-like status after a matter of weeks or months fame.

Those who state this issue to be purely an ‘American’ one clearly are not adequately educated on the matter. In 2017, Arianna Grande held a concert in Manchester, where a man detonated an explosive devise and killed multiple people with the bomb, and many more with nuts and bolts that were attached to it. Many have said that Ariana was the leading light in how to act publically in matters like this. She visited victims in hospital, paid for funeral, and hosted a further concert with increased security regulations to help raise money for the victims of her previous concert.

So perhaps it seems that it’s not a separation between American and English artists that causes such an inhumane response to these terrible events. It’s the culture of overnight success. If someone doesn’t have to work for perhaps quite so long, it begs the development of a deluded, euphoric ‘god-complex’ rife in the consciousness of artists like Travis Scott.


Words by Sam Cooke


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