In a never-ending tsunami of culture, films, books and music, it’s easy to feel lost and for your most beloved art forms to still seem indiscriminate and distant. As such, in an evening of mutual participation, live music offers a more intimate experience between artist and fan. However, with this comes a certain amount of idealisation; we expect to go to a gig, see the whites of the eyes of our idols and listen in awe as we witness pure creativity come alive before our eyes. Inevitably, artists fall short of our expectations and friction can arise from this dissatisfaction.

To a certain extent, I have a lot of sympathy for touring bands; with nonstop travelling and an endless stream of anonymous venues, touring isn’t quite the road trip many would like to think it is. That said, many artists do seem to have an overly provocative approach to touring. Morrissey famously had his fans search for meat before a gig last year. Guns N’ Roses are notorious for their erratic nature and Axl Rose’s tendency to overreact to the slightest bit of crowd aggression. Infamously, Kanye West threatened to have an entire section of the crowd ejected when one fan – presumably applying for a job –  threw his business card on stage. This friction between the crowd and performer can result in a ruined evening for both and create resentment between the two.

However, there can at times be an underlying enjoyment to aggressive crowd participation; it can liven up a stale concert and apply some necessary pressure to encourage a performer to pull out all the stops and truly deliver a magnificent performance.

Bottlings – perhaps a source of hilarity, for the crowd at least – have come to define the Reading and Leeds Festival ever since Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler were bottled off stage in 1989. Daphne and Celeste, Good Charlotte, 50 Cent; the list goes on for bottling casualties at this event. As unfortunate as this may be for the artist, you cannot help but find these instances to be at least somewhat entertaining, especially when witnessing the artists’ reaction.

Perhaps one of the strangest, yet appropriate examples of aggressive crowd participation comes in the Punk genre, especially Hardcore Punk. Punk shows are infamous for their bratty and vehement nature; the crux of these shows is made up of volatility that is intended to churn up momentum and energy. At times, this means that the audience and the performer get involved in fights and storm the stage, leading to all manner of other violence.

However, I should highlight that going to gigs isn’t all bottlings, stroppy stage exits and gratuitous violence. Jeff Mangum, who has recently returned to performing, is well known for encouraging the entire crowd to sing along as loud as possible, no matter how off-key they may be.  An interesting example of crowd interaction is Minehead’s All Tomorrow’s Parties, the fringe festival, which is revered by artists as a weekend of interaction with their core fans. This can lead to some tremendous moments of spontaneity. For instance, mid-performance, No Age invited two members of the crowd to come on stage and sing two impromptu Black Flag covers. Flying Lotus decided to end his set with a requested remix of Waka Flocka Flame’s ‘Hard In Da Paint’. In this sense, the individual nature of the shows make them feel far more like a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience rather than the same tired set-list a band have been endlessly playing for months.

Overall, crowd participation is that unpredictable element that can make or break a gig; it breaks up the monotony of conventional live shows and adds a level of excitement to the evening. At times, the stagnancy of gigs can make the whole performance feel rather redundant and crowd participation can serve to remind both the crowd and artist of the reason why there are gigs in the first place: to entertain – whether this is through an inventive live style, discord between the artist and crowd, or by involving the audience. It’s this impulsiveness, which continually attracts me to gigs and is second to none when it comes to visceral entertainment.

Ben James

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