Monday, March 9, 2009

Environments of Rock and Rap Concerts: expectations of violence versus actuality

My fiance talked me into going out with him and a few of his buddies the other night, and normally I grudgingly go since his buddies are all med students like him, and all they talk about is med school stuff (anyone that knows me knows my brain shuts down when it's bored; science never was my thing which is why I read so much). Luckily, there was beer, and that always helps when I have nothing to input into the conversation--I mean, at least seeing double is entertaining, right?

Anyway, one of the few moments I was able to interject was when I was talking to one of my fiance's friends about the music he listens to. I'm from Detroit, and I moved to Wisconsin about a year ago. I still don't know a whole lot of people, aside from work friends, and I don't seem to click with any of them, and my fiance's taste in music is...dated (I have agreed to marry a man who gets ecstatic any time a fucking power ballad is played--ugh!); so I was thrilled that his friend said he enjoyed rap music as well as rock.

He told me about how he has never been to a rap concert, however, and was interested in the difference between rock concerts and rap concerts. I actually got to see Lil Wayne perform the day after Christmas in Detroit while visiting my family, and so I told him about my experience. This conversation thus led me to write this post, as I think the two environments are vastly different, and as someone who has attended at least one of each, I would like to compare the two.

I've been to quite a few rock shows, and before two years ago I would only listen to rock music. I've been to a Shinedown concert where in order to get close to the stage I had to brave the mosh pit. I'm not a very tall woman, or strong, and if it weren't for the quickness of my fiance (my then-boyfriend) I could have been seriously injured. We mostly stayed to the back of the pit, near the rails by the stairs to avoid crowd-surfers and face-punchers. Then, the crowd started getting crazy, and this big guy in front of me was suddenly shoved back. My fiance had his arms wrapped around me protectively, and he saw the man get shoved--he picked me up and dragged me out of the way. I still got hit--the man's elbow struck me right in the boob, and since I don't have much cushion there, it seriously hurt me. But it could have been worse. This was about two or three years ago at Harpos in Detroit.This last year I got to see Tantric twice in concert--once at New York New York in Chesterfield, MI, and again once I had moved to Wisconsin at the Dane County Fair. The first was a free concert, and thus the place was packed. My friends and I managed to wiggle and scream our way to the stage where I had opportunity to shake hands with band members (and even touch the chest of Hugo--something I'm still thrilled about). It was so crowded that it--thankfully--didn't allow for moshing. The outdoor fair concert, however, meant there was moshing near the stage; people shoving; throwing garbage, full water bottles, beach balls, shoes, other people--anything at hand. Tantric never struck me as a particularly angry band, and since the first concert was fine I naively assumed the second chance to see them live would also be fine. My fiance ended up shoving people out of my way, watching the crowd while I tried to enjoy my favorite band.

Until this last December, these (and other similar rock concerts) were my only concert experiences. So when I decided to take my brother and his friend to see Lil Wayne, I didn't really know what to expect. I had never heard of people moshing at rap shows. In my experience white people either stand still at concerts or beat each other senseless--there's generally no dancing. I like to dance at concerts, and so other white people generally glare at me while I'm having a good time as if I am behaving in some taboo way--I get especially nasty looks from other women who think I'm just dancing for the attention even though I'm clearly with a date and I'm only moving to the music to enjoy it since I do not like sitting still.

I went to pick up my brother the night of the concert and my grandma was in the living room, warning my brother to watch out for me, and make sure no one bothers me. I gave her a strange look and asked what she thought was going to happen. I'll point out right now that my grandmother is a racist woman who despises that I enjoy rap music, I have been known to date black men, and my brother is currently in a relationship with a black woman. I already knew what she was implying in her warning; I just wanted to hear her say it to confront her.

Basically, in her mind, I am more likely to be raped, robbed, or assaulted attending a rap concert. In this there are several prejudices at once: 1. She, like many white people, assume that only black people listen to rap music, despite there being a diverse following of the genre, and despite that not all black people listen to rap music. 2. The myth of black male hypersexuality: in her mind she harbors racist images of hypersexed black males violating the imagined purity of white women. 3. Only black men are guilty of rape. 4. Only black men commit robberies or assault. 5. Only black men carry weapons.

Sadly, all of the above is not exclusive to my grandmother--these racist misconceptions of black people are believed by people of other races, and by people of all ages. Knowing that my grandmother is full of shit, I didn't take her warning seriously. And was not at all surprised that her warning was unnecessary.

What I saw at the concert were hundreds and hundreds of people filling the Joe Louis Arena, all there to enjoy the music--and that is what they did. Everyone was on his or her feet dancing, everyone had a great time, and not one person threw garbage or hit anyone else. It was wonderful! Even in between acts when my brother, his friend, and I were walking around everyone was getting along. It was not an angry environment, which to some degree was expected because of the crowding, but even so no one was pushing. The crowd was also very diverse (which surprised my co-workers when I told them about it--mind you these were the same people who thought that me going home to Detroit would result in me being shot).

I write this because it also reminds me of an essay I wrote a while back about the lyrics in rap music, of which this will now be considered an introduction (expect a follow up in the next few days). There's this myth that while rock lyrics seem to incite white emo loners to commit suicide, rap lyrics incite masses of young black men to unite in violence. In my experience at the concerts of each of these genres, however, I would say that rock music incites masses to violence, since the form of dancing for that music involves moshing which inevitably causes injuries to people; while rap concerts are about the music and about fun--even in Lil Wayne's case, where the lyrics involve violent imagery. Yet you are more likely to find metal detectors at the doors of rap concerts as well as being more likely to be patted down or have your purse searched.

Maybe it's just me, but I would rather not be part of this sort of violent idiocy:

I'm not saying that there are never fights at rap concerts, and I acknowledge that I do not have very much experience. Fights can happen at any place for a variety of reasons and in vast crowds they're quite difficult to prevent. Certainly violence has interrupted a number of concerts, regardless of musical genre, and for reasons that don't necessarily reflect the music. What I am saying is that there's a certain expectation of how to behave at rock concerts, where people attend with the intention to engage in violence: for example, I've spoken to several people who go to rock shows and say the shows suck if they didn't get punched in the face or if they didn't get into any fights. They don't go for the music; they go to hurt themselves and others. Tell me that isn't stupid as shit.

My fiance's friend agreed that he didn't like the atmosphere of rock concerts, that he goes to enjoy the music. I told him how agitated I get at rock shows, scared that at any minute something's going to hit me, break my glasses I can't afford to replace, or hurt me severely. When I was at the rap concert, there was this overwhelming feeling of safeness--an unknown feeling at this new environment. I would easily go to another rap show, or r & b show without a second thought. I want to dance and enjoy music, not partake in a violent environment.


Anonymous said...

You should read about the premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Perfect example of what you're talking about.

Brit Columbia said...

Thank you for writing this post. It was interesting for me to read about, since I'm not really a concert-goer.

I've never understood mosh-pits. I live in a small city in Western Canada, and my husband works security for a couple of nightclubs here in town. Once a band came to play and some of the fans started moshing. My husband later related to me how shocked he was when several big guys started shoving and punching each other, and shoving girls too, including a girl on crutches who was just trying to listen to the music.

The moshing guys were absolutely incredulous when they got kicked out. They didn't think they had done anything wrong in knocking down that girl on crutches.

I think that the need to punch and shove random strangers is a supreme form of selfishness. I'm glad to hear it's not common at rap concerts.

Thanks again for your informative post.