I find that many things in life are all about finding a balance between 2 extremes. It’s often difficult to do, but I think most people have the innate ability to get it more or less right, and it’s very subtle differences of opinion which cause rifts.
I just spent the bank holiday weekend at the Leeds Festival. It was an awesome experience, I saw a lot of my favourite bands and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but there was one thing that spoiled it, and apparently spoils it every year. After the Manic Street Preachers finished the last gig on the last night, what had for the most part been a peaceul crowd turned into a mob. I knew that there generally is a bit of a riot at the end, and that a few years ago my friends got involved in an altercation with the riot police, but experiencing it first hand, it’s nothing like as fun as it might sound to some.
It started off in our area with a tent going on fire about 40 or 50 metres away. It may well have been the tent’s owner that burned the tent, but nevertheless within fifteen minutes all the tents within a 20 metre radius had been thrown on top of it too. I’m an experienced camper and I know that tents catch on fire very easily, and with everyone’s tents so close together it would be very easy for a whole section of the campsite to go up in flames, perhaps taking sleeping people with it. I was very much on edge.
People were throwing gas canisters onto the fires causing huge explosions with mushroom clouds above them, and massive crowds assembled near the fire by us, making the explosions all the more dangerous. My friend and I were driving home and as we knew we wouldn’t be able to sleep with all that rioting happening so close by, we thought it would be safer to drive home last night rather than risk being too tired this morning. My other friends were planning on getting picked up or taking coaches and trains the next day so they stayed, but as it worked out the rioting got so much worse that eventually they all left too.
What gets me is that I know most of the people in those crowds were probably perfectly decent people, but get a few drinks down their throats, put a few hundred of them together and you don’t have a group of individuals; you have a mob, easily led astray by the most extreme. It’s like the Nazis leading the German people in the extermination of the Jews, or in modern day terms, xenophobes calling for the expulsion of foreign people and getting more and more support for their cause every day. People predisposed to coersion are easy targets. I just wish they’d think for themselves.
On the other hand though, when I woke up safe in my own bed this morning, I heard that the famous Mathew Street Festival was still on. I was made up because I thought it’d finished the day before, so I rode off to the train station and over to Liverpool to take a few pictures, and my impression was that it was… reserved and restrained. People were standing around watching the bands, but from the look of them you couldn’t tell if they were enjoying it or not. I didn’t recognise anybody playing on any of the 6 stages dotted around the city centre and to tell the truth they all looked like middle-aged hasbeens, so I just pottered around for a while and went back home.
At one point at the stage near the Birkenhead Tunnel (the stage where the biggest crowd was drawn), I saw some older people telling off some teens just because they were jumping around to the music, telling them to stop messing before they got hurt. I got angry at them, all the kids were doing was jumping up and down having a good time, they weren’t harming anyone at all, and if a few more people had followed their example, the festival would have had a much less stifled atmosphere. Here was me, just back from a massive festival, where I was just 10 or 20 rows from the centre front for big bands like Metallica, Rage and Queens of the Stone Age, and there we were crushed, pushed from all sides and thrown around like rag dolls whilst pits opened up in the centre of the crowds. No I didn’t particularly like it, but it built the atmosphere up and I accepted that that’s what happens at big concerts when you put thousands of people in the same place, and by the end of the gig I wouldn’t have had it any other way, it was so exhilarating. I didn’t throw my scorn at it as dangerous or irresponsible. The only people I did think were being irresponsible were the physically small and weak people who went to the centre front only to be crushed and complain about it afterwards; they should have known better.
But after seeing those teens being told off, I realised that like many things, it was just my own subjective judgement. And that got me wondering whether I should be angry at the rioters at Leeds, as in that situation I was being just like the middle aged fuddy duddies. It’s all relative. I thought about this for about three nanoseconds and then stopped myself. The rioters were putting people’s lives at risk, and that cannot be dismissed as a bit of harmless fun. That isn’t a subjective value I’m placing on it, it’s pretty objective. They’re the ones who tipped the balance too far. It didn’t put me off completely because it was such a good weekend, but if one year the line-up isn’t as amazing as it was this time around, I won’t bother going, it’s not worth the hassle.