A year ago pretty much to the day, I wrote a piece that did a lot of things. Some things I’m proud of, some things I’m not, and some I am still baffled by. I’d been writing for a long time by this stage, but it wasn’t until this particular piece was written and picked up by many a major publication that my writing career really began to take off. As grateful as I am for this, but what it really proves if anything, is how much of a universal topic and problem pit violence actually is and not just in Newcastle. To date, it’s still the most controversial issue I’ve written about, the one subject matter that receives the most feedback (both positive and negative) and the one topic that I have promised myself that I will not stop writing about until something changes. Because what good are words if they go unsaid and what good is a platform when you aren’t willing to use it.
A year ago I wrote an open letter to gig goers in Newcastle, after one particularly violent gig at the Small Ballroom. The bands were not the issue here, so I won’t bother naming them a second time, but I will apologise profusely again on behalf of the people of Newcastle for the behaviour which occurred that night. Something inside me snapped, I just couldn’t sit back anymore and watch our town be tarnished by the dickhead few that think the soul purpose of going to a gig is to cause as much trouble as possible, yell at the people on stage just trying to do their job, and generally make the experience for those around them anything from uncomfortable to downright unsafe.
That piece was written in a flurry of anger and frustration and fuelled by the pride I have for my home town. But now? Now I’m just exhausted and honestly so disappointed I’m almost starting to agree with the bands that are boycotting Newcastle choosing to play the Central Coast instead. Sure, you can agree with the Herald if you like, who went out of their way to personally discredit my theory and my piece (if some people don’t hate your work, you’re not doing it right) but maybe take a second to examine some of the tour posters for yourself and see just how many are choosing to skip Newcastle entirely. But every fan loves a road trip, right?
Has anything honestly changed in a year? I’m going to break this down a little because as always it’s a bit from column a touch from b.
Violent behaviour in the pit:
The short answer, no, nothing has changed, in fact I personally think things have gotten worse in the last year. And I’m not just talking about Newcastle either, I’m talking across the board, but a small majority of Novocastrians in particular seem to take it upon themselves to single handily give us this reputation. Take the Horrorshow gig at the Bar on the Hill for example, actually any gig by which the artist on stage has had to stop mid set to address the behaviour of the crowd.
And sure. It’s all well and good for those in the age bracket above my own to do what the generationally inclined always seem to do and blame the youths. However, those who attended the Placebo gig a few months ago I’m sure would have something to say to the contrary. Brian Molko literally stopped mid set to have two punters ejected from the venue. Sure there was some controversy over the actual perpetrator of the incident but the fact that it’s happened, is still a testament to our reputation. Suddenly it wasn’t all punk kids and the youth “ruining it for everyone.” Suddenly it became a “cultural issue” that had to change. Because yes, every single person that attends a gig, show, play, whatever, has a right to feel safe wherever they choose to stand.
My personal experience? I saw a girl almost get fly kicked in the face at a gig late last year. I was standing next to someone that was groped at a summer festival. I’ve been groped, grabbed, harassed, punched in the face and physically picked up and moved at many a local gig. I’ve also been told “girls don’t belong in the pit sweetheart”. And this is regardless of genre, venue or circumstance. I’ve seen artists heckled and abused for not doing a shoey. (On that note, yeah, ya know, we’re still known as the town of the shoey. Awesome.) I have worked, and written about every single live music venue in Newcastle. It is my job to write about and report on this stuff. I have mates in Canberra (usually the next stop on any regional tour an artist takes) and have them ask me “mate what happened at the Newy show last night”.
A push back against pit violence:
This phenomena is from artists, both local, national and international, as well as self aware and pro active punters. A shining local example is RAAVE TAPES frontman Joab Eastley after a gig at the Argyle was beginning to get out of hand. He addressed the issue, cut the set short, finished with an acoustic cover or Paul Kelly’s How To Make Gravy and stamped out any instance of violence before it occurred. I’ve seen girls turn around and confront the sleaze bag behind them, I’ve seen guys watch out for their mates and call out behaviour as it happens. There is a push back, slowly yet surely our tolerance and patience for this kind of behaviour is wearing thin.
So my thoughts a year on? Seem to be exactly the same. Hopefully a year from now, I’ll be telling a different story.
“Please. Can we stop putting Newcastle on the map for all the wrong reasons? Can we not be the town where artists stop coming to because of the way we treat each other in the pit… But please. Stop punching people in the pit. Stop starting fights. Stop groping women. Stop assaulting people. Listen to the artist when they say ‘look after one another’ and far out… Just stop being an idiot. Be that one person who chooses to stand up and say something. Let’s keep Newcastle on the touring map for the bands we all love. And for God sake don’t be a dickhead”.