Italy’s live music business is in mourning after six people, five of them teenagers, lost their lives in a stampede at packed nightclub in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Up to 120 people were injured after one concertgoer – reportedly a 17-year-old male, since apprehended and now in police custody – released a pepper spray-like “stinging” substance in the Lanterna Azzurra (Blue Lantern) venue in Corinaldo, in the province of Ancona, at around midnight GMT (1am local time) on 8 December, according to local media.
The incident occurred before a planned concert by Sfera Ebbasta, an Italian rapper popular with teenages, and coincided with the start of Roman Catholic holiday the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Five of the dead – three boys and two girls – were aged between 14 and 16, while the fifth was a 39-year-old woman who had taken her daughter to the show, according to police.
“We were dancing when we were struck by a pungent odour that burned our eyes,” one teenage attendee told Sky Italy.
“We were dancing when we were struck by a pungent odour that burned our eyes”
Writing on social media, Ebbasta said he “[doesn’t] want to pass judgment on those responsible”, but added: “I’d like everybody to pause and think about how dangerous and stupid it can be to use pepper spray in a discotheque.” He also offered his “love and support” to victims’ families.
Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini has suggested there could have been “more people inside [the club] than was permissible”, and Ancona chief prosecutor Monica Garulli told reporters at the scene that about 1,400 tickets had been sold for the show, against a capacity of 870. Ancona’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, who visited the scene of the tragedy, later said that while Lanterna Azzurra had three rooms, it chose to only use one, which has a capacity of 469.
However, Marco Cecchini, one of the three managers of the venue, disputes the authorities’ version of events. Speaking to QN, he says: “There were not 1,400 people, as everyone is saying. Absolutely. In my opinion, there were no more than a thousand – even taking into account those who were outside smoking, inside there were little more than 800. It is a club that has contained a lot more people.”
In a statement, Italian concert promoters’ association Assomusica says the deaths have left the country “speechless”.
“[How can it be] possible for a moment of joy and socialising to turn into sadness and the loss of young lives?” asked the association. “Assomusica and all its members share the pain […] of the families involved in this tragedy.”
“How is it possible that a moment of joy and socialising could turn into sadness and the loss of young lives?”
It adds that it invites “all our members and artists, from today, to pause for a moment of reflection at the beginning of each show” to remember the victims.
Federico Rasetti, director of venues association KeepOn Live, says it is important what happened in Corinaldo, at an allegedly overcrowded show, is not conflated with the country’s live music scene as a whole, which is professional and organised.
“This entire sector, again, is likely to be misunderstood,” says Rasetti. “Live club shows and festivals are generally well organised, and specialised in producing events […], and just as often these tragedies occur in places where there is no live music.”
He further notes that Lanterna Azzurra is not a dedicated music venue, adding: “We need clarity, to ensure that public opinion and politics do not confuse a live music venue with a pub or a disco.”
Investigations into the tragedy are still ongoing. At press time, two more men had been arrested in connection with the stampede, and police are considering the possibility that the substance was sprayed as cover for robbing club-goers.
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