Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Safe spaces?

It hopefully goes without saying that I spent most of yesterday feeling bewildered and profoundly saddened by the terrorist atrocity in Manchester. As heartening as some of the stories were (the dedication and compassion of the emergency services; the offers of emergency accommodation and free taxi rides; the generous support of the public in terms of medical aid, provisions and blood donations; the statements of unity, solidarity and defiance from around the country), unfortunately it wasn't only the best of humanity that was brought out by the bomb - inevitably, there was political point-scoring and the deliberate circulation of fake missing persons images on social media, and a characteristically controversial outburst from Morrissey.

Above all (and in spite of myself), I felt a deep sense of anger. How fucking dare someone specifically target children (as the bomber surely did, by picking an Ariana Grande concert)? How fucking dare he (ab)use a live music event - a source of such pleasure and enjoyment - as an opportunity to kill and main en masse?

Naturally, my thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones. I'll leave it to others to recommend what measures should now be taken to prevent similar atrocities from occurring in future, but, as someone obsessed with music, I've found myself speculating gloomily on what this might mean for arena gigs, and gigs in general.

First, security will inevitably be stepped up. Not only will more intensive and rigorous checks mean longer waiting times to get into venues, they will also push up costs. Those costs, you would imagine, will ultimately be passed on to fans, and tickets for shows like this will become even more prohibitively expensive. As a result, more young music fans will be deprived of the opportunity to see their heroes in the flesh - an experience that might have led to a lifelong love of gig-going.

Second, even if children can afford to go to gigs, they may not be allowed to. While I agree wholeheartedly with the concluding sentiment of Tshepo Mokoena's comment piece for Noisey, urging that we should continue to go to arena gigs in defiance of the terrorists, parents may well not feel the same way when it comes to their children. Those whose kids went to Monday night's concert are now either grieving, enduring the horrible anxiety of hospital visits or living with teens traumatised by the event itself and the thought that a faceless stranger might have wanted them dead. No matter how defiant I might feel personally, as a parent myself I can understand why some might now be reluctant for their children to go to concerts - and certainly to go to concerts unaccompanied.

Third, musicians might be deterred from touring - especially those of sufficient stature to tour large venues like the Manchester Arena and the Bataclan in Paris. It goes without saying that no blame or responsibility can be attached to Ariana Grande, but that's unlikely to stop her from feeling guilt at the knowledge that 22 people wouldn't have lost their lives if they hadn't gone to see her perform. It's a horrendously cruel burden to bear (as it was for Eagles Of Death Metal in November 2015), and one that might prompt more than just Grande to reconsider playing live. Given that it's sales of gig tickets rather than records that now keeps the music industry afloat, such decisions could be damaging to the industry as a whole.

I sincerely hope that none of this comes to pass - though sadly that seems unlikely. These three developments would spell bad news for the music industry and music fans, at the exact moment that the positivity, collective enthusiasm and generosity of spirit that live music can generate are most needed.

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