Stage Diving: Fight or Flight

“We went to see Die Antwoord in June. There was this one point where Ninja makes a run at the crowd a couple times to fake them out and then he actually jumps,” says Joelle Wagner a 23-year-old bassoon player for Epistasis, a classically influenced doom metal band. Wagner describes a moment when one the artists leaps into the crowd and lands on her friend’s head as she propels the artist back onto the stage. At a rap-rave show like Die Antewoord, which took place this past June at the House of Blues in Boston, stage diving and crowd surfing can prove dangerous when there’s no room to breath. “That show wasn’t so much moshing as it was smothering,” says Wagner.

Ashley Svendbye has worked security for Harvard Square’s concert venue, The Sinclair, for about a year. Both Svendbye and her co-workers deal with stage diving and crowd surfing during most shows. She attributes an increase in injuries to Americans’ lack of common sense. “It really depends on the band or musician who are playing, and what type of crowd they attract,” said Svendbye in an email. “I think it’s also very American of people, to mosh, or stage dive or crowd surf.”

Stage diving, and its next of kin, crowd surfing, doesn’t exactly have a known point of origin. Perhaps it began during the punk rock and thrash metal scenes of the 80s. To paint a picture, stage diving refers to the act of leaping off a concert stage of any height in hopes that the crowd below you will catch your body and safely, or not so safely, pass you along the heads of the audience. Some music fans use it as a vehicle to get closer to their favorite artist; others use stage diving as an adrenaline rush, and a way to feel like they’re flying (granted, on top of the heads of others). Crowd surfing usually follows a stage dive, if the audience is lucky enough to catch the diver and move them along the sea of bodies. Alternatively, crowd surfing can start in the audience with a boost from a friend, and maneuver its way towards the stage. However, that action can either transition into a stage dive or an escort out of the building. Whatever its purpose or method, stage diving has turned from concert entertainment and excitement to dangerous and irresponsible.

In light of recent events

In the past couple years alone, stage diving has produced a plethora of incidents and injuries across the globe. According to the website Metal Sucks, a heavy metal opinion and analysis site, late last year, rapper George Watsky injured two attendees and himself after leaping from a 35-foot stage. He issued a formal apology shortly thereafter. In January of this year, the stage diver and diver victim both died during a metal show in Zurich, Switzerland. And more recently, the band Joyce Manor publicly shamed a stage diver in the middle of their set after setting down a rigid ‘no diving’ rule.

“It depends on how large the crowd is,” says Wagner. “If you’re a newbie, then enthusiasm is great…The front is inherently dangerous. There’s places to go and not be hurt.” Wagner recounts a show where she did not intend to be up close and personal with the writhing mosh pit, so she knew to stay back towards to walls of the venue instead.

Knowing when to be a wallflower

            Considering the nature of rock, metal, or punk bands, the intended audiences are usually predictable. If you visit any local venues in Boston, such as the Paradise Rock Club or Brighton Music Hall, large, white signs try to enforce the ‘No Crowd Surfing’ rule.

There is technically no stage diving allowed at Harvard Square’s Sinclair but many patrons do not adhere to the rule. “We ideally do not want them getting onstage, and we also don’t want them falling onto the ground and injuring themselves and/or others,” said Svendbye. “People who usually [stage dive] obviously tend to see it as something fun to experience at an event. However, for the musicians, and production crew on stage, it’s potentially damaging expensive equipment, disrupting the musicians and possibly the show itself, while also potentially injuring themselves.”

The Sinclair has a concrete floor, which is not ideal for flailing limbs. However, when Svendbye and her coworkers are able to ground surfing bodies, they don’t kick out any patrons. “We expect it to happen and usually pretty frequently during the set so we just try to remove people as quickly as possible,” says Svendbye.

Part of the culture

“A lot of them [concert attendees] know what they’re getting into,” says Michelle Kwong, concert photographer for Roman’s Rap-Up and Indie Minded. “They know there’s going to be moshing, they know there’s going to be crowd surfing. It’s part of the experience of the band you’re seeing. You can choose not to mosh.” For some, that choice is an easy one. However, some bands make the decision unavoidable.

Trash Talk, a punk band from California who record short, energetic songs, thrive on the moshing culture. At a recent show they opened for The Dillinger Escape Plan at Brighton Music Hall. Lead singer, Lee Spielman, demanded that every wallflower was to be dragged into the chaotic mess of people near the stage. Understandably, Spielman was trying to get every audience member involved in the music, but some were just there to enjoy the show. Some bands, such as Joyce Manor, ask the opposite, to provide safe environments for their fans. After clashing multiple times with stage divers at their show, Joyce Manor frontman released a statement. “I wasn’t able to watch people being hurt so I asked people not to act in a way that was hurting people. It that means you don’t support the band, I respect that….I saw someone whose full intention was to harm people and was upset.”

            “That’s also not promoting the culture of your music,” says Wagner. “But I guess what seems like common sense doesn’t register. Hard bands have to give that disclaimer.”

What are your intentions?

The dangers of stage diving rely heavily on the band and the environment. Some bands now announce requests ahead of time, while others remain indifferent. Trina Baker, who was heavily involved in the hardcore scene of the 1980s, figured out the dynamic of punk concerts early on and loved the energy at those shows. “People always got hurt,” said Baker in an email. “I always saw a bloodied nose or some other body party at one these events, but they were mostly accidents. Most of the constituents policed themselves. The camaraderie in the group really changes with the band.” When bands and security cannot control the situation, Baker says that patrons should be responsible for the risk. She suggests that concert tickets should contain a liability waiver similar to ski tickets.

While bands and venues have changed, the dangers have not. “The world has changed,” said Baker. “Even hot coffee can carry a lawsuit now. The papers are looking for a sensational story and lawyers are looking for a case.” Baker does not think crowd surfing and stage diving are safe. “But surviving is part of the excitement,” she says.


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