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Inside & outside the mosh pit: Two festival perspectives

October 31, 2016

At one of Britain’s biggest music festivals, several Movement Strategies’ staff were on site, either to observe the crowd movement or to be part of them.

Introduction

Crowds at festivals are made up of (groups of) individuals, and every individual has a distinct festival agenda. Be it the acts they want to see, while sitting outside the tent with their mates; each person has a place to be and a time they need to be there.

Creating a festival event that is both an amazing weekend and safe for everyone involved is no small task. At one of Britain’s music festivals this year, several Movement Strategies’ staff were on site, either to observe the crowds or to be part of them. Understanding the individuals that make up the enormous crowds at these events is vital for the event organisers, in terms of running the event and reacting to incidents that happen, or for planning next year’s Festival.

Meet Christel and Tom, two of Movement Strategies staff. Christel is working the long weekend observing, to provide insight for next year’s festival. Tom, a festival goer, is there to enjoy the music.

Let's take a dive into both Tom and Christel’s weekend to see what can be gained from having two individuals experiencing the same festival in completely different ways.

Before the Mosh

Christel arrives on site Friday morning, bringing a bag of clothes and freshly acquired knowledge of the English phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie etc.). After checking into her hotel and receiving a compulsory safety induction, her first task is to become familiar with the site and everything it has to offer. Following the instructions sent out a couple of weeks earlier, finding the staff entrance to the arena to meet her manager is easy. At a first glance the site seems immense, only a handful of people roaming around.

Tom, having boarded the 9:28 train from London, arrives a few hours later. Without the aid of a personal set of instructions, Tom and his friends have to navigate to the festival ‘blind’. Fortunately, that turns out to be quite straightforward. By checking maps on the festival website, and following the other tent laden festival goers, finding the buses to the arena is no trouble. A quick scan of the festival set-times tells him when he needs to be in the arena. With time to spare, Tom and his friends check into their hotel and grab a bite to eat, before heading towards the buses.

 The Festival organisers know their crowd and the individuals that are about to fill it. People come from across the country to this event via bus, train, plane or car. Signage is set up at each of the main stations and throughout the city, no matter where someone comes from, finding their way to the festival is made simple.

During the Mosh 

Through security, without a hitch, wrist bands on; Tom and his friends head straight to the Dance tent. In the tent, Tom’s goal is simple: get to the middle and get to the front. Shuffling through the crowd, everyone moves in sync to the music. The hardcore ‘moshers’ in the middle form massive holes in the crowd just to collapse them again in a frenzy.  With the ground a little drier than usual, these mosh holes drag up huge clouds of dust. ‘Moshers’ pull up makeshift facemasks, using their shirts or bandanas, if they have them.   

The performance over, Tom’s goal changes: get to the water stop and shake off the dust. 

Christel, on the perimeter of the dance tent, is kitted up with a radio. As the performance goes on she relays crowd conditions to the team up in the ’control cabins’. The control cabins analyse visitor flows and crowd densities in order to assess if the appropriate number of festival staff are in the right place. If a performance is unexpectedly crowded, support staff and security gets reassigned.

Noticing the clouds of dust, Christel and the other crew jump in the pit to help hand out water to thirsty moshers. When the performance is over, she helps direct the crowds towards the water stops and bars across the arena.

While the line-up for each day is designed to spread the crowd across the various stages in the arena, sometimes it doesn’t work out perfectly. Having a swathe of support crew ready to react to issues as they occur is vital to keep the event running smoothly.

After the Mosh

As the last acts finish, Christel is very visible in a high-vis jacket and subsequently becomes a knowledge beacon. Festival goers swarm, some asking for bars, some for toilets and others for cashpoints. The majority ask which exit is the nearest to the tent. For Christel, answering these questions is easy; the giant, illuminated signs around the site usually provide the answer.

In between answering questions, Christel keeps an eye on the crowd, noting how people move over the site. While campers travel back to one of the seven huge camping areas surrounding the festival, day ticket holders head towards the exits and public transport facilities. As everyone leaves at about the same time, this puts pressure on the exits. Bottlenecks or exits with unexpectedly high demand are identified and again security is shuffled around to manage the crowds.

Tom and his friends, all content with seeing all the acts they want to see, decide to head back to their hotel. Doing a quick scan of the horizon, they find a huge illuminated ‘BUSES TO TOWN’ sign. As they make their way across the arena, Tom spots a festival helper in Hi-Vis, as if unsure on the clarity of the sign he quickly asks the festival helper “how do I get to the town centre?”. The helper points over at the ‘BUSES TO TOWN’ sign. While the answer may have been fairly obvious, getting something concrete from an ‘authority’ figure just seems more absolute and reassuring.

Conclusion

For Christel and Tom, the festival experience was very different. Christel was able to see the large scale crowd movement across the site, and able to identify and alleviate pinch points, bottlenecks and opportunities for system improvement. Tom was able to see how information was displayed and identify customer difficulties and frustrations with crowd management on the day.

Movement Strategies encourage its employees to attend events; both as part of the support crew and as part of the crowd. Having a “rounded” understanding of how the events work on the day is invaluable for providing the best advice to the festival / concert / stadium organisers or operators who we support.

Movement Strategies have provided design and management advice to the organisers of many festivals for a number of years. Our recommendations have been taken on board to improve the visitor experience at these events, with a focus on how people move into, within and out of the site. Our ongoing involvement builds our understanding of the crowd and the needs of the individuals that make up the crowds.

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