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Crowd pleaser

Professor Chris Kemp examines the changing landscape of crowd behaviour amidst the various post-pandemic obstacles that event organisers are having to overcome

05 Sep 2022

How many times have we been told over the last four decades that the world of festivals and events is out of control? Recent rumours emanated from beliefs that the aftermath of the pandemic and the new audience’s belief in a spurious entitlement on the back of a two-year gap was creating the perfect storm.

In 1809, the “old price riots” at the new Theatre Covent Garden, and the 1763 London riots, when a mob stormed the theatre in the middle of an opera, show us that challenges to the industry have been with us for over two centuries. More challenges have followed over the last century, and most of the lessons learned have not been ignored by an industry coming to terms with an audience so happy to be back at events.

We often fail to learn from previous mistakes. Or we face concerns that are not new but previous challenges that have not been completely ameliorated. An Astroworld was, I suppose, inevitable. Many of the warning signs were there, and by following regression data and viewing the changing musical landscape, may have been spotted. But rising crime rates, disorder, and poor management put a strain on an industry struggling to cope with the successful delivery of millions of events every year, let alone the aftermath of a pandemic.

To understand employment challenges, one has to look at the shifting lifestyles, work/life balance, and the unstable labour market as we work across a continuum from Baby Boomers through to Generation Z. One of the most startling elements is the difference that the Generation Z workforce are bringing to the table.

They are more discerning, focused on diversity, equality, and inclusion and are more likely to seek employment where these elements are upheld. For companies to attract this workforce in a society where you can earn £20-£25 an hour at Amazon or filling warehouse shelves on a 9-5 contract. Generous contract conditions are expected, and they eschew the zero-hours working practices found in security, stewarding, and other event employments.

An Astroworld was, I suppose, inevitable

Although we might be astounded that to Gen Z, a month in a job is loyalty, we as employers do not seem to understand what turns on this emerging generation of workers. Providing a full contingent of staff for many companies is becoming difficult as the pay and conditions do not equate with other employers’ rates or services. Coupled with the leaching of workers out of both ends of the event industry and causing undue pressures, there are less employees with the aptitude and qualifications, and this is a challenge and why poaching is so rife.

With the recent cancelling of a festival in Europe, we have reached a watershed, those savvy enough are admitting the challenges presented and facing into them. At a recent conference in the States, a representative from Coachella festival said, that before Covid-19 he was relying on six companies to provide staff for his back-to-back festivals. This year he needed 13 to provide the same level of service. This is just the tip of the iceberg in supply-chain challenges caused [in the UK] by Brexit and Covid-19.

Many commentators cite rumour not fact underpinned by a media hungry for sensation. The blaming of BLM, hooligan infiltration, “catatonic” drugs, and poor staff is not the answer. In reality, it is the usual mix of venues starting up again and getting used to full capacities at festivals and arenas coupled with a changing demographic. It is not the end of civilisation as we know it, it’s about a rebalancing.

OK, there is a darker side, where some emerging companies shoot from 0-100 quickly and entourages suddenly find themselves as producers or production consultants trying to deliver often unsafe events. However, key professionals have stepped in and reduced the challenges caused. It is not a new thing that everyone works together to keep the crowd safe, but it is new that artists are understanding that they have a responsibility for the audience who consume their music and provide them with the lifestyle that many have become accustomed to.

There will still be challenges and rogue events, and it’s up to us all to make sure these are managed in a professional and safe manner so that this industry continues to be the greatest place to spend time and, of course, is vying to be the safest.

 


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