To read | Security in the performing arts : what are we talking about?
- Myrtille Picaud, sociologue, CNRS
C’est un moment vaguement déconcertant mais maintenant ritualisé : arrivée au concert ou en festival, un agent de sécurité inspecte le fond de mon sac, une agente palpe brièvement mes poches. Oui, le fond de mon sac est rempli de tampons, ce n'est pas vraiment des armes de guerre, quoique, ah mince j’avais oublié mon couteau suisse et ok je vais vider ma gourde – c’est que de l’eau. À Istanbul en 2018, c’était carrément le sas type aéroport, avec scan des sacs et portique, qui m’attendait dans une grande salle de concert. Il y a quelques années de cela, à Berlin, j’avais dû déposer mon appareil photo et une plaquette de paracétamol dans une boite avant d’entrer dans le club, c’était une politique encore différente, et plus tôt encore dans mes souvenirs, on n’y m’y prenait pas : je planquais des bouteilles de vin entamées dans les fourrées à l’extérieur pour les finir en fin de soirée.
It’s a somewhat off-putting yet ritualized moment: upon arriving at a show or festival, a security agent checks the bottom of my bag, a female agent briefly pats my pockets. Yes, the bottom of my bag is filled with tampons – not really war weapons (or are they?). Oops, I forgot my Swiss-army knife, and okay, I’ll empty my water bottle, it’s only water. In 2018 in Istanbul, as I entered a large concert venue it was pretty much like going through airport security, with bags being scanned and a metal detector. A few years ago, in Berlin, I had to put my camera and a tab of paracetamol in a box before entering a club. It was yet another policy, and even earlier in my memories, I wasn’t getting fooled: I used to hide half-full bottles of wine in the bushes outside to finish at the end of the night.
In the vast majority of European cities, security and controls are increasingly growing at the entrance of music festivals and venues, even though they vary depending on the size and level of institutionalization. It used to be better…Really? If security and music are often presented as opposite worlds, it’s not always that clear. First, nightlife spaces have been subject to police scrutiny for a long time. But internally, too, security has been a concern as evidenced by the above examples, but also by the presence of bouncers or security guards, and even the evolution of audience behaviour in venues: at the opera before the 20th century, people yelled, fought, and didn’t hold back, not even a little – a far cry from today’s “disciplined” audiences. Should we make a parallel with punk shows? While the answer to this question remains open, we see that live music venues are also places of discipline and audience control. Nonetheless, since the attacks on music venues that took place in many European cities1, the safety protocols surrounding live music have gone up a level. I propose to explore these issues based on my research on live music venues and their personnel2, and more recently, on their security policies. Who is kept safe, and from what? What is the impact of these security policies on music scenes?
After the 2015 attacks at the Bataclan, when security checks popped up in all venues, it seemed obvious that it was intended to protect audiences against external threats, namely of a terrorist nature. Meanwhile, behind the scenes unfolded a warlike political rhetoric advocating a cultural and ideological model, in which visiting patios and music venues was presented as an “act of resistance” against jihadist terrorism3. This rhetoric contributed to feed various forms of discrimination and racism at the door of many nightlife establishments. Beyond that, the implementation of live music’s safety policies quickly showed that it wasn’t always that easy to know who was being protected, and against what. In 2018, several music festivals as well as various unions came together to speak out against the rise of security costs4. Indeed, under French law, a specific stipulation allows for police officers’ time to be partially billed to event organizers. They pointed out specifically the inequality of the bills between various events, and the risks that it posed to cultural diversity5.
In the investigation I carried out on the subject6, one can see that the amount being billed happens to vary according to the image held by representatives of the State of the potential audiences of specific events.
In the investigation I carried out on the subject6, one can see that the amount being billed happens to vary according to the image held by representatives of the State of the potential audiences of specific events. These representations are globally linked to music festival’s genres – if classical music audiences don’t seem to pose a threat (and these festivals aren’t even always getting billed), the same doesn’t go for electronic music or reggae, for example. It is then no longer clear whether security is meant to protect festival goers from external aggressions, or to protect others from the disturbances that some audiences seen as dangerous may cause (namely because of their use of psychoactive substances). This type of notion echoes the historical repression of raves7, the higher security standards surrounding hip hop concerts8, or the violent and dramatic management of events such as the 2019 Fête de la Musique in Nantes, where Steve Maia Caniço died following police intervention.
This shift, from protected to dangerous and targeted audience, goes hand in hand with the increase of security protocols at music events and in venues, at the financial expense of organizers. Public funding grants were allocated to support these efforts; however, they remain insufficient, putting in jeopardy independent and non-commercial events that contribute to the vitality of music scenes.
Additionally, the reinforcement of security protocols can also feed discrimination (specifically racial and social) at the entrance of music venues, thus heightening existing barriers to accessing culture. Inversely, these policies do not protect the public from other risks more frequent in nightlife spaces, such as sexual assault, and sexist, racist, and anti-LGBTQ attacks or those linked to the consumption of psychotropic substances or alcohol.
The rise of music events’ security protocols has put venue and festival staff on the front line, creating new organizational, material, and economic pressures in the process.
The rise of music events’ security protocols has put venue and festival staff on the front line, creating new organizational, material, and economic pressures in the process. For security personnel, these often translate to worsened employment and working conditions. We have seen that security isn’t a new issue for music venues. Perhaps the time has come to think collectively and explicitly about the forms that audience security can or should take. Music venues don’t have to be experimentation grounds for new forms of digital control9, pushed by an expanding security market. They can welcome the development of alternative discourses and models, to recenter other political and social issues whose solving would relegate these security issues to the margin.
This article appeared in the second print issue of Periscope Magazine Creative Spaces for Innovative Music, produced as part of the European Offbeat project.
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