punk and the lawyers

By Brett Killoran

Let me tell you that I’m pretty pissed off, more pissed off than usual. Punk is being suffocated and this time it’s not the Queen. Once upon a time, boys and girls could see their favorite band shred away their worldly troubles by jamming out with a room of wild-eyed strangers in rambunctious harmony. The bustling crowd would be ablaze with the fires of passion, freedom and unity, but now under the threat of legal action the venues are carrying extinguishers and it’s pissing me off.

I’ve been a fan of the punk and alternative music scene for a long time. It all started when I caught some run of the Sex Pistols on television while my parents were busy arguing about some bullshit just prior to their nasty divorce. I was probably no older than fourteen. Writhing in a cocktail of adolescent angst and bitterness towards my absentee father, I sat down on our basement couch and gaped at our marked up flat-screen. Scrubbing through the banal nightly cable programming that was always pouring into our household, I landed upon a bustling pile of hands clawing towards Johnny Rotten and his flamethrower hair. Johnny was flailing around on the stage, spitting all over the mic, and cursing at the crowd. The crowd was going totally nuts for this angry dude. At fourteen years old I didn’t quite understand what drives people to go so crazy at a show like that. Some years later I would be a part of those crowds and let me tell you, it changed me.

It’s now 2014 and the scene has taken a different form. Punk may be dead, but the spirit isn’t. There are still angry kids. There are still angry adults. I fucking love these angry people. There is nothing I love more than to throw down a few bucks to dive into a sea of angry bodies. What I don’t love is when security stops the show and cuts the sound so a venue representative can bellow over the PA that we need to calm down, that they are concerned with the safety of their patrons, us, and that our “aggressive dancing” is putting everybody in jeopardy.

Allow me to paint the picture for you. It’s a Saturday night. After a rough week of work at shitty jobs with shitty pay, a few mates and I decided to drive down to Philadelphia, PA to catch a noise-punk band from Syracuse, NY under the gleefully explicit moniker Perfect Pussy. Now, Perfect Pussy is not your average Fuck Buttons or Double Dagger kind of noise-punk, these kids are pure napalm. If you could hook a blender up to an amplifier you’d have Perfect Pussy. The walk from the overpriced lot is long, but at least its brimming over with adrenaline and dopamine. We flash our tickets and endure a mandatory pat down search (because kids totally hide drugs and weapons in their pockets nowadays). Upon entering the venue, the smell of stale beer and cheap cigarettes greets us like a car salesman on commission. Even before our eyes have adjusted to the dim incandescent lighting we can make out the silhouette of our new closest friends for the next four hours. We snake our way through the giddy crowd to the center of the venue because we know damn well that’s where all the magic happens.
The Perfect Storm!
After what felt like a lifetime, we are back in our element. “We” speaking not just of me and my mates, but all of us. Every single one of us in that crowd has had to deal with the same bullshit—paying bills and doing laundry and ignoring drunken phone calls from our sloppy ex-partners. Thankfully, none of that matters in this moment as we huddle together in a blanket of black t-shirts and worn combat boots. As soon as that black velvet curtain lifts up we will be enlightened. A beat and the stage lights pierce our retinas. A combative front-woman donning ripped leggings and a vintage baby doll dress hops up on the crest of the lacquered platform. We are the damned and Meredith Graves is our savior. She begins to spew pseudo-dadist lyrics on top of a cacophony of distortion and I could swear our bodies had been shot out of a cannon. Immediately, our hands are behind us, in front of us, on top of us. The music flows through our meaty trembling bodies crafting an army of spastic boxers. We are vessels for the sound and for the first time in way too fucking long we are free. As we mosh to the bass pedals, our faces wear grins and our legs wear the shins of another. Thrusting. Flowing. Dancing. These nights make everything worth it.

Two songs into the set, a pop of the power being flipped resonates through the pit. The ambulatory lights wipe across the venue and we all turn to stare at the stage. A straggly man wearing an Iggy and the Stooges tee moseys over to the microphone with a paper note in his bony hands. The greasy service monkey draws out something to the tune of “The Theater of the Living Arts appreciates your enthusiasm for our program but we would like to remind you that the safety and security of our patrons is of our utmost priority. We request that all attendees refrain from crowd surfing, moshing and any other forms of aggressive dancing for the remainder of the show. All those who do not adhere to these guidelines are on grounds for ejection from the venue without a refund.” Sid Vicious sneers in his grave.

Is this the end?
The rest of the show was not the same. Sure, we all got to stay at the concert and experience the rest of the set, but were we really experiencing the set? Can you really watch a movie with your eyes closed? Can you really enjoy a juicy cheesesteak when you’re stuffed up with a cold? We had been shackled. The drive home was fucking long. The drive home fucking sucked.

This is not an isolated incident. This is not the first time our mosh culture has been stifled. For the last five years, concert halls, music festivals and small venues have been cracking down on aggressive dancing and similar safety-threatening antics. On February 21, 2012, Boston cops cited the House of Blues for violating their license due to a mosh pit at a Flogging Molly show. Even though no injuries were reported, a Boston PD inspector said the aggressive mosh pit dancing violated safety rules and that club security should have intervened. ( bans-moshing/).

Don't let this end!
These castrating ideals don’t just stop at the venues. They are asphyxiating music festivals, too. When I was younger I would attend Vans Warped Tour, a touring music festival that would cater to lovers of punk, alt rock, hardcore and every music genre in between. In its prime, bands like The Casualties, The Bouncing Souls and Anti-Flag could entertain burgeoning crowds of crazed fans as they collided and bopped to their hearts content. Due to the large span of the outdoor venue spaces and a slew of fans crowding around a single stage, new forms of aggressive dancing would be born right in the experience of the music.

There was the “circle pit” where the most crazy, the holy ones, would begin running around a center point within the crowd, forming a human tornado of unity and strength to the beat of the music. There was the infamous “wall”, where show-goers would line up at opposite sides of an open pit and rush towards one another like gladiators into battle. Granted these were dangerous affairs, but we danced to lift the music and the bands to the highest levels of punk consciousness. Now, Warped Tour is plastered in signs reading “You Mosh, You Crowd Surf, You Get Hurt, We Get Sued, No More Warped Tour” ( latest-news/warped- tour-bans-moshing-crowdsurfing-video-surfaces-of-warped-tour- crowdsurfing). These signs have become the doleful poster of a changed age wrought with fragility, fear and punitive legal action.

It is important that our ways are understood. The way we enjoy our music may differ from that of other cultures and to an outsider it may appear violent and antisocial. We do not wish those around us harm or attempt to violate the respect of our fellow concertgoers—we mosh in exultation. If a fellow show-goer is injured or falls to the ground whist surfing over the crowd we all gather to assist our fallen comrade. We look out for one another. Under the dusty rigging of a poorly lit venue we band together with the sole purpose of enjoying ourselves. When some yuppie poseur sprains his ankle and sues the venue, it is we punks that pay the price.

Ow, I'm in pain
I feel the world has become fragile. Humankind has suddenly evolved to have thinner skin. We’ve become obsessed with the safety features in our cars. We’re now fussing over the lack of railings on a staircase. We’re putting height limits on children’s rides. Pretty soon, you’ll need to be thirty to order a drink. We’re cracking down on bullying. We’re pointing our finger at fate, circumstance, culture, everything except ourselves. We’re creating victims, victims with a false sense of security that when things get crazy the safety monitor will bail us all out. In a mosh pit you understand that your surest past to safety is other people with a clear sense of what’s danger. Let’s not lose that in litigation.

Until I know I can rock in peace, I am not fucking happy. I feel like I’m watching the end of an era. I feel like I’m being evicted from my home without a notice. I feel it’s time for the punks to do what we do best and fight for what we believe in. It is our first amendment right to mosh, goddammit. We are the world’s forgotten boys and now we’re searchin’ to destroy it.

©Brett Killoran and the CCA Arts Review

No comments:

Post a Comment