Venue experts tackle rise in crowd disorder
European venue experts have spoken out on the increase in unruly audiences at live events since the business returned from the pandemic.
The issue, which has been reported on by a number of UK publications, was explored during The Venue’s Venue at this month’s ILMC in London, chaired by The O2’s Emma Bownes and OVO Arena Wembley boss John Drury.
Teeing up the discussion, Bownes spoke from personal experience in saying the problem was not limited to one form of entertainment.
“It’s fair to say that at The O2 we’ve definitely seen, across multiple genres, a change in audience behaviour,” she said. “I go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival every year, and I noticed a massive trend in quite aggressive heckling. Heckling’s always been a thing in comedy, but it’s not as prevalent as it definitely is now.
“I’ve heard racist heckling. I’ve heard heckling to the detriment of the entire show, where two drunken members of the audience just wouldn’t let an issue go with a comedian and it’s ruined the show for everybody. We’ve had really poor and aggressive audience behaviour at country shows, pop shows, comedy shows. As I mentioned, it’s not specific to one genre.”
“I feel like there’s an increased expectation when you get to the gig. With some individuals, if it’s not perfect, then they’re willing to kick off”
Katie Musham of Oak View Group’s Co-op Live in Manchester, and Sybil Franke of Germany’s Velomax Berlin, noted that the trend had not been mirrored at venues outside the UK.
“I spoke to my counterparts [in the US] and they’ve not experienced anything to the detriment that we’re seeing in the UK,” said Musham.
“I haven’t heard of any incidents across [Germany],” added Franke. “We do have such incidences, but at New Year’s Eve public gatherings or after football games, not in venues from what I have experienced.”
Bownes questioned whether the rise in disorder was related to people having less disposable income than in the past.
“I feel like there’s an increased expectation when you get to the gig,” she said. “With some individuals, if it’s not perfect, then they’re willing to kick off with the audience member who might be stood up in front of them.”
“Just before Covid, through Covid and post Covid, there was definitely a change in the audience”
“I think we are seeing that certainly,” agreed Drury. “Actually, there’s a conversation as well about the level of abuse that we should take. I had a customer who was unhappy about something. She was screaming down the phone at me, and it was so loud that the speaker was distorting on the phone. None of us should have to put up with that.”
Crowded space expert Prof Chris Kemp of Mind Over Matter consultancy put forward some of the sociological factors – explaining that the changing crowd dynamics pre-dated the pandemic.
“This is a window into our society, and what’s happening in society is being mirrored by what’s happening,” he said. “Just before Covid, through Covid and post Covid, there was definitely a change in the audience. I was working on a lot projects, and I was finding that things weren’t the same.
“There’s a polarity in music at the moment between the protest songs emerging from a number of genres and sub genres, and also, simultaneously, this new kind of relationship between concertgoers and artists where the crowd is more fragile.”
Kemp said there had been a rise in “young male on female assaults”, plus instances where security has been deliberately distracted to enable fans to “jump from the seating onto the floor, which causes severe problems”.
“This is about an audience recovering from the immense impact and emotional challenges caused by a pandemic as well”
“This is about an audience recovering from the immense impact and emotional challenges caused by a pandemic as well,” he added. “We’ve also seen concomitant rise in challenges in both society, and more from a kind of micro viewpoint [with] the recognition of autism, Tourette’s, ADHD and other, often hidden, conditions… coming to the fore. That’s been quite an interesting development, alongside difficulties with mental health. Also, it shows that the event is not a one-size-fits-all scenario; it needs a graduated response to take into consideration the many things that are changing in the industry.”
Responding to a question from the audience, Kemp agreed with the assertion that fans who had bought tickets pre-Covid were attending the rescheduled shows “in a completely different mindset” and were harder to impress and less patient as a result, with that potentially contributing to unruly behaviour.
“I think you’ve got a possible link there,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s a great many people, but it may be one or two, and it only takes one or two people do incite violence.”
In conclusion, Drury said the debate had shown the subject to be more nuanced than it might initially have appeared.
“I think you make a really good point about mental welfare, and people going back into society who might already have some issues that are exacerbated by the reopening of society,” he told Kemp.
“It’s interesting that when when we look at the headlines of ‘have audiences forgotten how to behave’, and ‘has Covid sent them crazy? They’re coming back out to see events and they just don’t know how to behave,’ it’s actually a lot more complicated than that.”
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