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Crowd Surfing and Moshing

For some people crowd surfing, stage diving and moshing are part of a cultural 'norm' , for others it's seen as totally anti social and spoils the event, what are the issues?

We thought it might be interesting to look at some of those activities that are seen as a bit controversial and which may or may not present a real risk for concert goers and those around them, specifically exploring the risks associated with crowd surfing, stage diving and moshing. We will also be looking at what a very small survey of random people have said about injuries and the concerns they have when at events.

For some people crowd surfing, stage diving and moshing are part of a cultural 'norm' and seen as a natural part of the whole music scene, the risk of injury is accepted and they have a sort of informal 'code of conduct'. For others these activities are seen as totally anti social spoiling the event, some people are deterred from attending concerts as a consequence.

Opponents of these activities (crowd surfing in particular) point out serious problems in that injuries often occur when a surfer is dropped by the crowd from a height of several feet injuring the innocent concert goers below as well as themselves, these injuries can be serious, lead to disability and in some cases prove fatal. Audience members who happen to be nearby are kicked in the head, face and body by crowd surfers and can suffer significant injuries including head injuries. Scratches, bruises and cuts are often caused by zips, chains, studs and boots. Audience members may be knocked over by crowd surfers and moshers with the result that they may then be trampled on by the surrounding crowd. Critics of these activities say that this makes the activity both anti-social and dangerous.

Crowd surfers themselves are at risk of having personal items stolen, or their shoes or clothes removed and thrown away (known as "mosh-lobbing") female crowd surfers may be sexually abused by male audience members.

Members of the rock concert community who support it consider crowd surfing and stage diving to be a fine art, or even a version of 'extreme sports' and will often boast about any injuries they have sustained in the act, wearing their wounds as a 'badge of honour'

Supporters of crowd surfing, stage diving and moshing will state that by standing in the mosh pit the audience should expect such behaviour as being part of the rock culture and that by standing more towards the side or rear of the venue they can easily avoid any problems. They also say that serious injuries caused by crowd surfing are rare. Those who encourage and support these activities will also argue that most crowd surfers are considerate and will wear soft shoes such as trainers, and refrain from wearing jackets in order to minimize injuries, on top of that it is common mosh pit etiquette to pick up anyone who has fallen over.

There is little doubt that a concert environment can be have some hazards that the average concert goer is probably unaware of, crowd surges, dynamic surges lateral and medial shifts can take place amongst a fairly unstable mass of people, obviously wherever there are dense crowds there is a potential for accidents. There have been serious consequences at times, for example the death of Bernadette O'Brien at The Point in Dublin happened in the mosh pit, Patrick Sherry (front man from Bad Beat Review) lost his life due to a stage dive. There are other examples of serious injury at major events including 11 deaths at Roskilde and 2 at Donington. Despite the fact that there have been incidents, festival and concerts here in the UK are astonishingly safe and in reality have few incidents when you consider just how many people attend. Given that fact should crowd surfing be banned?

Some venues and promoters have been banning stage diving and crowd surfing at events, most tending to use the 'three strikes and you're out' method, the first time you get put back, the second you get a warning, the third you're out. However, despite this ban it doesn't really appear to be working and we haven't seen anyone evicted for crowd surfing, crowd surfing remains very much in evidence at many events. Numerous artists encourage the crowd egging them on to liven things up and get a pit going or start crowd surfing. More recently security at events are preventing people from sitting on shoulders claiming that this is also a 'danger' in the crowd.

It appears that there is quite a divide over this issue and on the whole large numbers of fans think it an essential part of their fun, at the moment there is no reliable statistical information to support those who claim that this is a highly dangerous activity, the number of recorded deaths due to these activities appears to be very low and there are no reliable statistics collected with regard to the injuries sustained by the audience, both those who undertake these activities and those who are injured as bystanders.

The results of a very small study undertaken by a student may perhaps indicate that there are more injuries sustained at events than are generally recorded and reported. However, this was a very small study of just 40 people and cannot be fully representative of the wider picture, however, it may suggest an area that would be  interesting for further study.

Of the 40 people surveyed 32 said they had feared for their safety at some point during an event. Thirty of the forty respondents had actually been injured during a music event, that's 30 out of a random survey of 40 individuals.

The injuries acquired in crowds by the respondents varied from the less severe cuts and bruises, to concussion, bruised ribs, back damage and broken bones. Many of the respondents expected to get injured in crowds but despite that didn't think it was acceptable and saw it as a failure on the part of the industry to provide sufficient, adequate safety measures and implement them.

Nearly all of the respondents think that security should do more to remove trouble-makers from crowds, they identified the presence of people behaving in an inappropriate manner (i.e. aggressive, intoxicated) as a leading factor in what they perceived to be dangerous crowds. Many feel that it is often the presence of a minority of such people who cause injuries such as black eyes, ripped body-piercings and sometimes concussion. But very importantly, the majority believe that crowd safety is an issue which needs to be addressed and improved. Many believe that organisers need to do more to prevent injuries occurring in crowds by managing crowds more effectively.

The types of injuries the respondents reported in the survey were:

  1. Bruises
  2. Cuts
  3. Fractured ribs
  4. Fractured wrist
  5. Fractured nose
  6. Concussion
  7. Bruised ribs
  8. Bruised coccyx
  9. Black eye
  10. (Dehydration)
  11. Sprained neck
  12. Glass broke in hand causing cuts
  13. Gash to head
  14. Piercing embedded (pushed through lip)
  15. Whiplash (hospital treatment)
  16. Dislocated finger
  17. Back sprain
  18. Damaged back

Cuts and bruises were very common amongst those surveyed, almost all of those injured suffered from cuts and bruises. Many had complaints of bruised and fractured ribs due to being crushed against barriers; many also have suffered minor head injuries due to being punched or hit by flailing limbs and kicked by crowd surfers. Many had chosen not to seek medical assistance for their injuries, some did but not until days later.

Those surveyed were asked what sort of things they had witnessed at music events and they said:

  1. People passing out
  2. Fights in the crowd
  3. People being crushed
  4. People being trampled
  5. Nose bleeds
  6. Ripped out piercings
  7. Lacerations to face
  8. Dropped crowd surfers
  9. One respondent saw someone being stabbed
  10. One respondent witnessed a person being 'bottled' at Reading
  11. Dislocated shoulder
  12. Broken arm
  13. Broken leg
  14. Broken teeth
  15. Stage diving injuries
  16. One person witnessed someone trying to choke another person with a trouser chain
  17. One respondent witnessed someone break their neck in a crowd-surfing incident

So, a very small but random survey indicates that it is possible that more people are getting injured at music events than would be expected with a number of incidents also being witnessed, this caused some concern amongst those who took part in the survey.

Interestingly, it would appear that individuals are not reporting injuries and incidents because most seemed to feel that either it wasn't worth reporting or they didn't know who to report it to. The respondents to the survey also stated quite strongly that they wanted better security at events and specifically noted the lack of action to remove trouble makers from the crowd.

Our own safeconcerts survey suggests that people are sustaining injuries and are concerned for their safety at some events. Some are getting injured and have told us:

When I saw Muse at Earls Court in 2004 there was huge crushing at the front. With my arms draped over the front barrier and thousands of people leaning on me from behind my shoulder began to really hurt. I got pulled out and taken to a medical room where I was told I had pulled a ligament and nothing could be done but give me some painkillers.

I fainted twice at my last concert and couldn't escape the middle of the crowd to find water, would have felt very unsafe but luckily I had friends with me. I'd feel safer if I could see an exit but they are never clearly signed.

a guy jumped off the speaker stack from the stage into the crowd, he landed on top of me breaking my nose and knocking me unconscious. I have been knocked unconscious numerous times at festivals and indoor gigs usually from crowd surfers being thrown around and falling over in the "crush"

I've had deep cuts, grazes, bruising and a black eye

broken ribs due to someone being rather inconsiderate in a mosh pit and kicking me. was to be expected in a pit tho

dislocated nose, broken skin knocked unconscious, concussion

Some witness things they find disturbing:

On the final night of the reading festivals, several mobs went around trampling and setting fire to tents. They were not stopped by security or police

people being seriously injured by idiots throwing gas canisters onto campsite fires

2 people moshing ended up covered in severe facial cuts and nearby persons were covered in blood

A guy crowd surfed and when he got to the front the security guard pulled him off the crowd and he landed funny on his leg so he couldn't get up. the security wanted him to move so tried to pick him up/drag him which then made him hit his head. so the guy still didn't move and the security guard hit him

Some don't feel safe because:

It is noisy and crushed, and if I were to pass out I do not think anyone would notice for a while and no-one would hear me when I yell for help by which time I could have fallen beneath everyone's feet to get trampled; bit extreme but I worry about it anyway

I felt I was going to get crushed or knocked out by a missile. and I wasn't even anywhere near the front

Many people think that security could and should do more to make crowds feel safer but they also seem to think that security are inadequate when it comes to actively intervening to protect people in the crowd. Many have complained that they felt security just stood around watching and not taking action when things happen, specifically when bottles are being thrown and drunken groups are upsetting people around them, some have complained about a lack of action when gas canisters have been thrown onto fires.

Most people who have responded to the survey rely on the crowd around them for help and support, they see very little point in reporting injuries and incidents because they have no idea who or where to report incidents and certainly don't feel that they will be taken seriously if they did report things, there was also an element who wouldn't report incidents because it would take them away from the concert and they would miss things.

Many people feel unsafe getting into and out of events, most expressed real concern about getting out in the crush and some described being forced by security into a heaving crowd where they were just carried along and were unable to put their feet to the floor, those who experienced this found it frightening.

People did make a number of suggestions that they felt would improve crowd safety from their perspective at events. The sorts of suggestions they made were that:

  • More water should be handed out to the crowd
  • There should be a well publicised moshing etiquette and designated areas specifically for moshing
  • Crowds should be more segmented and have more barriers to lessen numbers in various areas. There should be cushioned barriers at the front
  • There was an identified need for more bouncers/stewards and a request that they are more observant. People also felt they should be more proactive and customer orientated
  • Many felt that stewards and security should be more involved with front of the crowd and that there should be a better security presence within the crowd
  • Many events are seen to be overcrowded, they felt that numbers should be reduced
  • There should be more seating in venues to reduce the standing crowd
  • Tighter controls over alcohol and drug use in venues
  • Designated areas for 'special' ticket holders, section crowds up, closer the section is to the front charge extra on ticket to cover extra stewarding/security costs. Limit numbers in each section
  • Removal of troublemakers- heavily intoxicated people and violent/overly aggressive people
  • Crowd-surfing should be banned and those caught excluded
  • Ban sharp objects
  • Adapt stage design to restrict crowd surges and control crowd movement. 'T' shaped stages

People felt that even minor changes in the above areas would make a significant and positive difference. There were a number of people who felt intimidated by overly aggressive and violent members of the audience and felt strongly that security should be far more proactive in dealing with and dispersing trouble before it escalates. Some people had been put off attending events due to a combination of factors that made them feel unsafe.

So far our research seems to suggest that more people are getting injured at music events and concerts than would be recognised or expected, the vast majority would appear to go unrecorded for a number of reasons but many people feel it isn't worth the hassle or they have no idea how to go about it. Proper adequate statistics are not being kept and people are not encouraged to report incidents. People are quite clear about the sort of things that cause them concern and are good at making suggestions that the industry might find interesting or helpful. Crowds seem to be quite adept at helping each other out in the main, so overall crowd etiquette seems to be working well and effectively.

Activities such as crowd surfing, stage diving and moshing are quite a divisive subject, the current bans don't seem to be very effective and most artists are not on board with it, so it would seem appropriate that more research might be undertaken in this area,  just what are the real facts? is it as dangerous as some would suggest?  should or could there be separate areas for those who want to crowd surf? is it appropriate for security to be banning people from getting on shoulders?

The reality is that the subject raises more questions than it answers, crowd surfing and all those things that go with it have long been a factor at festivals and gigs and for a lot of festival/gig goers it is integral to the whole rock and roll ethos making it a huge part of the event for fans. Most of the information surrounding the subject seems to be anecdotal as opposed to being based on proper or adequate research, maybe there is more work to be done, but the ban on it does seem to be open to question.

Of course, it isn't all down to the industry to sort out, crowds of 100,000 upwards are difficult to manage but a stronger emphasis on crowd management as opposed to crowd control would be beneficial. Individuals who attend events need to be aware of those around them and the effect that their behaviour can have on others.

There are some good tips for keeping yourself safe and getting the best out of festivals in our festival survival guide.

If you're attending an event it's a good idea to do some homework - check out the rules and regulations on the back of your ticket, call the venue if you're unsure what you can or can't take with you. Check out the festival websites - they are beginning to give out more and better information. Check out the parking situation and be prepared. When you get to a venue have a quick look around - where are the exits? The toilets? Have a designated place where you can meet up with your mates if you get separated. What would you do in a crowd crush/crowd surge? Is it worth pushing and pushing into an already overcrowded space? Where is the welfare? drinking water? Is crowd surfing/stage diving/moshing banned? Have a look at the sort of injuries people are getting from these activities does it really add to the experience? Have a great time at whatever event you go to this year - but remember that other people want to have a good time too.

Definitions of certain concert activities are as follows:

Crowd Surfing
Individuals are lifted above the crowd and moved horizontally rolling their bodies above the heads of other crowd members, the actual intention is to move toward the stage in order to perform a 'stage dive' Said by some to present a high risk of injury both to the crowd surfer and also to the audience around.

Stage Diving
As the name implies this is where here a performer or fan dives from the stage into the crowd. The intention is then that the crowd will support that person above their heads while they crowd surf. Nowadays this is much more difficult for fans to accomplish given the presence of security and stage barriers; some now resort to finding other places within the venue high enough to dive from. Many musicians have made stage diving a part of their stage act. It represents an exciting act of audience participation and musicians have found that it can make an ideal climax to a show. Stage diving has caused some serious injuries and has resulted in death when the stage diver has not been caught by the audience below therefore hitting the floor with some force, sometimes head first. On 20th July 2005 Patrick Sherry front man from Bad Beat Review died following a stage dive which went badly wrong.

A term used to describe what seventies Punk Rock culture called slam dancing . An intense ritualised form of dance where people literally slam into each other. Although moshing looks extremely violent it is said that it is not intended to be. Moshing usually takes place in what is known as the `mosh pit ` A mosh pit can start spontaneously anywhere in the crowd and as such is an activity as opposed to a place.  Many supporters of moshing view it as a kind of extreme sport. Violence is usually directed against others in the pit, and often only escalates when it is badly received by someone who is outside or not used to the pit.

In its original form Skanking was also a term for slam dancing, the it's now more likely to be used to describe a type of mosh pit activity, often referred to as the 'circle pit' where a circle forms within a crowd leaving space in the center. This part of the crowd then moves and rotates in a circular route whilst simultaneously slamming into each other. The spectacle resembles a North American Indian war dance, or when done to extreme it looks like a heaving whirlpool. The size and duration of this undulating, rotating circle depends on the number of people that are drawn into it.
Some say that this activity actually incites or condones violence and it's obviously true to say that violence on the concert floor will inevitably lead to injuries.

This activity originated in the seventies during the punk era, it's basically a dance ritual characterised by people literally jumped up and down on the spot as high as they can, often giving a gladiatorial type of salutes whilst slamming into others. The activity is still popular with a range of rock culture crowds and can happen anywhere in the crowd. There are even tougher versions of the pogo, for example the "pig pogo", where people kick and lay about, the risk of injury in this is higher, although you are not supposed to hurt others deliberately.

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Crowd Safety
23rd November 2008
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Crowd Surfing and Moshing
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