Saturday night in Dublin and it’s a tale of two cities. Upstairs At Whelan’s, the intimate venue is buzzing with the sounds of conversation, of friendship and of good music. The Popical Island collective are in the process of launching their third and final compilation and the notion of community is clear. Across town, the atmosphere is not quite so convivial. The second of three major shows at the Phoenix Park has descended into chaos, with the venue and surrounding area a no-go area from early in the afternoon. By the end of the night tragedy will have occurred, the fall out from which is still being felt days later.
While the severity of the events has taken most by surprise, that the event was plagued by trouble has not. Every time you passed a billboard advertising the show, anyone who has attended a gig of this size in recent years will have feared the worst. While the nature of Swedish House Mafia’s music was always going to attract a young crowd with hedonism on its mind, reports of fairly grim behaviour at the Stone Roses and Snow Patrol shows have also come in. In recent weeks I have seen audience members falling around at Red Hot Chili Peppers and arrived at Jay-Z and Kanye West to be greeted by the charming site of three young women dropping their already minimal trousers to a cheering crowd.
Before we get too down on ourselves, this is hardly only an Irish problem (I’ve experienced a similarly unpleasant experience in the UK), nor is it a situation solely restricted to music (indeed the Irish capacity to drink was roundly celebrated at the recent Euros). It could be a simple case of scale – if any gathering has a small percentage of arseholes in its number, the larger the crowd the greater the likelihood that they will make their presence felt. Yet this latest debacle may prove to be the tipping point, with promoters MCD, the Gardai, the drinks industry, the drugs industry, young people and the bands all coming under attack.
On the music front, it’s constantly staggering to see people who have paid upwards from sixty euros for a ticket happy to spend a night completely out of it, or to sit wasted in a campsite while some of the biggest and best acts around play a ten minute walk away. Quite simply, the music doesn’t matter anymore. It’s just the soundtrack to whatever cultural activity hoves into view. As the argument has continued ad nauseam, the easy – often free – access to songs and albums has left the medium devalued, something that is certainly hard to counter when faced by some great oaf in a cowboy hat barging into you. While that attitude, mixed with a culture of excessive behaviour, continues it’s hard to lie the blame at the door of either the promoters or the acts (and whatever you think of Snow Patrol’s music, you’d be hard pressed to find a modern musician more in tune with his responsibilities than Gary Lightbody).
The ones who suffer are the silent majority who you don’t notice, who don’t get discussed on Live Line. The ones who go to gigs across the country week in week out because, shock horror, they want to hear and see decent music. They buy the tickets that support a live industry that feels confident enough to stage large scale events that these very loyal customers can go to, only to find their experience ruined by the weekend warriors. If this core audience start to turn their back on the bigger festivals (as has been evident in recent years) then the outlook for these shows, in an already financially uncertain time, is suspect. Too often of late artists of real standing have found themselves playing to empty tents or even fields because their more mature demographic just aren’t in attendance.
Where it leaves the future of large scale shows in this country is up for debate. It’s unlikely that Phoenix Park will be on the calendar next year and all eyes will no doubt be on Marley Park later in the summer, when the double bill of Noel Gallagher and Kasabian, plus a David Guetta all dayer, will most probably entice the masses out to play. Most worrying is this year’s Electric Picnic, where a more mainstream line-up and lack of Oxegen could well up lead to the normally tranquil Stradbally setting receiving a rude awakening. For those who hold music dear to our hearts and fight to keep it special, this might just prove a battle that’s impossible to win.