Rock gigs must get act together for safety's sake

PARENTS of teenage children are getting worried about the effects of loud rock'n'roll music on their kids.

PARENTS of teenage children are getting worried about the effects of loud rock'n'roll music on their kids.

It's not the high decibel ear damage which has them bothered, nor indeed the sexually explicit lyrics which are pretty much the norm for 1990s rock. No, parents are afraid their children might get crushed to death at a rock concert.

The inquest into the death of Bernadette O'Brien at a Smashing Pumpkins concert last May, which ended earlier this week, gave a graphic account of what happens when a rock music audience gets out of control. Last Wednesday's concert by The Fugees at the same venue was a sobering reminder that the question of crowd safety at rock gigs has yet to be fully resolved.

On Wednesday there were only two minor injuries, but no doubt there were more than a few fathers and mothers who caught their breath and imagined their own rock'n'roll kid getting trampled underfoot.


Their worries won't be alleviated by the knowledge that a recent concert in the US by the band Pearl Jam, which plays the Point tonight, ended in a full scale riot.

Now, stop the music for a moment. Turn up the house lights and take a couple of steps back. Make a bit of room so you can collect your thoughts. Try to keep a cool head. Don't make any rash decisions. Yes, there is a danger with going to a rock concert - there's always a danger when you cram a large number of young people into a single venue and turn them loose on their idols.

Some of these young people will get out of hand, start pushing towards the front when it's plain that there's just no more room to move forward, begin "moshing" and "crowd surfing" with scant regard for their immediate neighbours, continue to indulge in these dangerous pursuits even though the person they admire most in the entire universe, i.e. the rock star onstage, begs them to desist.

But just because there are stupid kids in the crowd doesn't mean you should keep your own children at home and prevent them from sharing the space with their idols. Remember, the ones playing onstage are the same people who get your kids through the tough times, whose lyrics show uncanny insight into your kids' fears and neuroses, who are, despite your parental protestations, the only ones who really understand.

You can't keep them from going to a rock concert just because there's trouble dawn the moshpit. just as you can't stop them visiting their best friend because they live on the other side of a dangerous dual carriageway.

So how do you make it safe in the big, bad world of rock concerts? In the wake of the Bernadette O'Brien inquest. the Government called on concert organisers to follow voluntary guidelines for safety until such time as mandatory guidelines are in place.

Now is therefore a crucial time for everybody who loves rock'n'roll. and doesn't want to see it suppressed by knee jerk regulatory responses. If the music industry doesn't deal with this issue soon, then the Government might well step in.

The decision to allow a rock concert to go ahead could be made solely by civil servants, who will vet every band for any traces of excitement", "passion", "innovation" and "rebellion", potentially lethal ingredients which might make a gig worth going to. but which might also cause unwelcome audience response.

Only middle of the road acts who elicit polite applause from the front rows will be deemed suitable for mass crowd consumption, while the bands we like will have stickers slapped over their concert posters, reading, "cancelled due to lack of insight". For safety reasons, we'll be forced to listen only to safe music.

It is up to us to take control of our favourite form of entertainment, and make sure we can keep it vital and vibrant without letting it sink into mayhem and muddled thinking.

It's a battle of the bans, and if we are going to win, we have to ensure that safety standards meet the rigorous requirements of the people who matter most: the parents of young rock fans. We mustn't, however, be forced into the invidious position of having to guarantee 100 per cent safety. Nobody can do that, and it wouldn't be fair to ask.

At any large gathering, there is always a small margin for accident and error, and it cannot be wiped out completely. It can, however, be narrowed enough to allow parents to feel that everything possible is being done to reduce the chance of injury. That's all anybody can humanly do, and to demand a superhuman response from concert organisers would be wrong.

LOOKING at the human factor, it seems plain that young people at a rock need to be kept under control, to be prevented from doing stupid things which might endanger their lives and the lives of other young people. To that extent, crowd surfers, i.e. anyone who jumps on top of the crowd and "swims" on the tide of teenage heads, are now automatically ejected from rock venues like The Point and The Mean Fiddler.

This policy needs to be rigorously adhered to, so that crowd surfers realise that their antics will only end in ejection. It may take a few gigs for it to sink in but eventually they'll get the message: no moshing or crowd surfing.

Which brings us to the moshpit, that battle zone of the bands near the front of the stage, where most of the madness reigns, and which can sometimes become a maelstrom, sucking hapless fans to the ground, leaving them trapped and breathless. This is the flashpoint of the rock gig, the place where the worst can happen, and did last May when Bernadette O'Brien was caught in the crush.

At large, outdoor gigs like Radiohead in Galway and Oasis in Cork, the area immediately in front of the stage was ringed in by a semi circular barrier which - a semi circular barrier which - acted as a breakwater, preventing the vast crowd from pushing forward and dissipating the pressure from behind. Perhaps a smaller version could be used in The Point, effectively closing in the moshpit and making it more manageable.

Finally, bands themselves need to be brought into the concert safety equation. After all, they're the whole reason the kids are going mad in the first place, so it stands to reason that they should take an interest in the welfare of their fans. Most bands are responsible, caring people.

After the death in The Point last May, the Smashing Pumkpins were so distressed they seriously considered breaking up. The group stopped their show as soon as they were apprised of the seriousness of the situation, and singer Billy Corgan and bassist D'Arcy Wretzky repeatedly begged the crowd to move back.

The Fugees, on the other hand, showed an apparent lack of concern for safety, encouraging kids on the balconies to stand up and dance. I saw 12 and 13 year old girls leap over the balcony seats with alarming abandon. Performers then stage diving into the crowd, setting a nice example for would be crowd surfers.

The band have now been banned from playing The Point, but perhaps if concert promoters and venue owners liaised with the bands beforehand, ground rules could be agreed and the gig could go ahead, and there would be no unpleasant surprises for the see security people.

Let's make the venue a safer place for rock'n'roll, but let's keep rock wild'n'crazy too.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist