Exepose writers discuss the difficulties faced in attending concerts
Live music as a non-drinker is… an experience. Two years ago I used to go to rock and metal concerts every once in a while (I’m wearing a Rock and Metal Society hoodie as we speak – shout-out to them). It was, for the most part, wonderful. I still remember Opeth, November 2017: the soaring guitar solos, the juxtaposition of guttural vocals with clear ones ringing above us.
Not drinking at concerts helps me appreciate them more – I feel everything in a very intense, hyper aware way. This does not apply only to metal, but I cried at the Opeth concert, too. What can I say? However, I have never experienced a concert while tipsy, so maybe it is even better. I probably will never know, because I cannot be bothered to drink. But the fact is, although bigger concerts are perfectly fine without a beer in hand, the same thing does not apply to smaller, more local gigs. The point being, there’s a lot more drinking. Exeter Cavern, Bristol Fleece, you name the venue: the alcohol at the bar is plenty and enough. I’m someone small, so I have been pushed around, peer-pressured into drinking, had drinks spilt on me, and it takes away from the experience.
Metal is particularly stressful for me: If I want to see anything, I have to get closer to the stage… where there will always be a terrifying mosh pit taking place. This is not a gendered issue, although there are many of those in music – it is an inebriated one. It does not feel safe to be surrounded by drunk people whose main objective is to push everyone else as hard as they can. Alcohol and live rock music have become synonymous, and it puts off many of us. It asks non-drinkers to be resilient, at the expense of their enjoyment of the music. Being pushed around for the length of a concert makes me want my money back, and while drinking culture, in general, should be reevaluated, its connection with live music is one that needs to disappear soon. Sure, have your beer – but don’t use it as an excuse to justify your lack of respect for other concert-goers, who might choose to experience the music in a different way.
For me, one of the best feelings, one of the purest moments of joy in my life, is finding out that an artist I like is playing nearby, whether it is a big arena tour providing the rare occasion for Florence & the Machine to play in the South West, or visiting independent venues supporting smaller, up-and-coming artists.
However, the ease with which I will book tickets and plan for seeing artists and bands I like has not always been so, with accessibility issues restricting my chances to attend performances, particularly in smaller venues that are not purpose-built with concert venues in mind. Having been confined to a wheelchair and/or crutches for a couple of my teenage years, although this is nothing in comparison to people who spend a lifetime with mobility restrictions, it gave me a glimpse into the difficulties of accessing live music, particularly in smaller venues.
Firstly, the access to venues itself is often difficult, with nowhere to park or drop people off. Similarly, ‘disabled’ access to venues, music or otherwise, are seemingly forgotten in venue design plans, often run-down or less grand than the main entrance, which may seem fickle but attending live music should be an enjoyable experience from start to finish.
Secondly, whilst many venues, including Exeter Phoenix, have special viewing platforms or areas for wheelchairs, it reinforces societal practices of segregating ‘able-bodied’ and ‘disabled’ people. Similarly, if you are one of a group, perhaps family or friends, you miss out on spending time with them as they might be moshing at the front and you are separated from them, one of the main reasons why I did not go to any performances during my wheelchair-bound days, despite having tickets to see my favourite band perform their latest album.
Finally, event organisers should be mindful of all abilities and conditions, including those that are fluctuating or invisible. Not everyone ‘looks’ disabled or has a label to define their access needs. We need to improve the conversation to ask not just what the problem is but how we can help everyone enjoy live music.
When I was 16-years-old, I used to go to one to three gigs a week. It was the beauty of living close to the capital. I got to re-live my emo teenage years at a Papa Roach concert and got in touch with my basic self while seeing Kensington live. What’s more, every year, on New Year’s Eve, I got to see the highlights of Prague’s local punk scene. Being a student in Prague is fantastic, bands such as I Love You Honey Bunny dominate the local club scene often for free or a small fee. However, this was all taken away from me when, at the age of seventeen, my anxiety and what I now understand to have been PTSD, robbed me of the euphoria I often felt at gigs.
My tipping point was when I went to see a Coldplay concert, courtesy of my dad trying and failing to understand my music taste. I went alone, a feat I was used to undertaking back at home. I found getting to lose myself to the music alone, without the external influence of another, comforting. This comfort was taken from me at this concert, where I experienced a panic attack so debilitating, it put me off concerts for a full year. I was in the standing area, packed in like a sardine with lots of sweaty fans.
For a while, I hoped that it was a one-off thing, but every time I went to buy a ticket, I got hit with a question. “What if what happened at Coldplay will happen again?” and I’d cancel the purchase. It’s almost impossible to go to a small-scale, or at least affordable, concert without the sardine-pack, booming bass and excessive heat. I didn’t know why I found these things so triggering. That’s the nature of most panic or stress disorders, you don’t need to know why you’re reacting the way you are.
I just wish that there was a greater understanding of the inaccessibility of concerts to people with severe mental illnesses. I’m okay now, but it’s taken me a while to get to this point. Venues and bands need to do better; they’re losing out on a big chunk of their fanbase.
Going to gigs is one of my favourite things to do. There’s nothing quite like hearing your most loved music being played live, and yet every time I go to a gig I can’t help but feel anxious. It’s not the prospect of being in a large crowd that scares me, I enjoy that feeling. Nor is it finding the venue. After a recent concert at the O2, I realised what causes me to get so nervous. I think it stems from being a woman in those types of spaces.
Besides the much longer queues for the loo, and the fact my smaller stature means I get pushed around a lot more (at my last gig I got both kicked in the crotch and elbowed in the head), there are much more serious concerns for me, as a woman, attending gigs. I love being in the standing area and being surrounded by people who love the music as much as I do, but this comes at a risk. The unfortunate reality is as a woman in a cramped space you’re vulnerable to being groped, and it can sometimes be difficult to discern whether you’re being touched inappropriately intentionally or whether it’s accidental. On top of this, in a setting where people are often intoxicated. You might be too. Those around you can be more aggressive, you could be less able to defend yourself, or both. This is something I find myself being hyper-aware of in a gig setting.
Often, I find solace in the support I have been offered in the past by other girls at gigs and festivals. I’ve had complete strangers help me out when I’ve been put in difficult positions numerous times before, and I’ve done the same in return. I also frequently go to gigs with male friends, who have been understanding and protective when I’ve needed them to be. It’s just really disappointing that even in this day and age women should be made to rely on strangers or male friends for help in a setting that’s meant to be about fun and enjoying music. I should feel comfortable going to these kinds of events alone, without the need for a chaperone.