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Gig dancing etiquette

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James McLaren James McLaren | 08:00 UK time, Monday, 17 October 2011

Last night I went to see old-school, 'crusty' politicopunks New Model Army at Cardiff University and I was the youngest person there, pretty much. Seeing as the band formed in 1980, that's not too much of a surprise. But what did surprise me was the participation of the heroically-grizzled audience.

New Model Army crowd build impressive human pyramids

New Model Army crowd build impressive human pyramids

Despite the distinct vintage of the fans, they danced with aplomb and delighted in building elaborate human pyramids with willowy women atop the piles. Buttressed and structurally-sound, these triple-height edifices were surely the work of engineering students of the 1980s. I doubt a media studies student of today would know how to do it.

I was accompanying my girlfriend who assured me that this kind of behaviour was all the rage in the alternative rock and goth scenes of the 1980s: all waved arms and pogo-ing. It made me realise that I'd not seen this kind of dancing for many years. Surely it can't have fallen out of use?

If i think back to watching footage from Reading or Glastonbury in the early 1990s, pogoing was the de facto way in which to dance to the rock and indie of the time. Up and down on the same spot, with a spot of well-done crowd surfing, even to the harder stuff. It wasn't until you got to the pretty extreme metal that people began beating the whatsit out of each other.

The circle pit, the slam dance and the wall of death were the preserve of punk and hardcore gigs, slowly working their way out of the NYC and DC dives.

By the time I was DJing at Cardiff Barfly's pop-punk shows in the early part of the last decade, though, dancing had changed. I hauled a 13 year old reprobate out of one crowd for wall-of-death-ing with feet first, into the face of a girl; and it wasn't uncommon for kids to go flying with bits of themselves bleeding or bruised, from a circle pit.

All very enjoyable I'm sure, but to me gig dancing should be aid the communal consumption of the music. It's not unusual these days to see what are essentially pop-rock bands full of radio-friendly hooks to ask the audience to get a circle pit going, or a wall of death. I'm sorry, but unless you've made the choice to see a hardcore band that you know advocates dancing like that, it shouldn't be foisted upon you.

The overly-macho, testosterone-fuelled, elbows-and-knees japery of punk (and god knows I've loved that on occasion) means a disconnection between the band and the majority of the audience. By creating a vacuum at the front, filled only with tousle-haired teens and the occasional fat old punk, the rest of the audience find themselves caring more for their own safety than what the band are playing. It can turn a good vibe sour.

I'd like to see a return to more old-fashioned ways of dancing to rock bands. It's possible to get close to the band and their music by having a good old pogo. If it worked for Nirvana it's good enough for anyone.

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  • Comment number 1.

    This particular style of pyramid dancing has its origins in the Catalan region of Spain.

  • Comment number 2.

    I bet the security guards loved it when the crowd started doing that. People having fun? Not on their watch.

  • Comment number 3.

    I was there myself, dancing with grizzled aplomb, and there was no security problems at all. The only downer in the whole gig was the overpriced and crappy beer.

  • Comment number 4.

    Ah bless, been going to the wrong gigs 'ey? The mosh pit is part of the culture of New Model Army proudly established since 1980. The energy of the band fuels the energy of one of, if not the most, loyal followings in the land - and elsewhere in the world. Why do we go? Cos we love it. If it ain't your scene, then best to stick to reviewing the X Factor next time perhaps. If you took away the pit you'd lose the essence of the thing. The last time bouncers tried to deal with the pyramids, someone bust a leg cos he got pulled down. Why is everyone so concerned with health and safety at gigs nowadays, as Justin Sullivan himself said at a festival this summer when security looked set to try to move in and spoil everyone's fun again: 'Don't worry about them - they've all been on three week training courses in Cornwall to learn how to do it safely!' Live and let live ain't a bad motto to go by even in this age of reason.

  • Comment number 5.

    Have to disagree, the crowd were a very mixed bag, some under 18s there. Has the "journalist " ever been to an NMA gig before- Was the gig any good? We should be told.

  • Comment number 6.

    So in an article in a blog that bills itself "as a guide to MUSIC in Wales", there is not a single mention of the MUSIC.... at all?? Having been blown away by the band in Northampton on Friday night I find it difficult to imagine that the MUSIC just two days later was unworthy of comment. If you would really/unbelievably rather discuss dance etiquette then I will stay on topic by adding that at the gig on Friday night parents with their two young sons (both aged under ten I would say) were dancing to the MUSIC next to me about four rows from the front.... even closer to the front than me was a lady in her wheelchair. Not the "overly macho" threatening scene that you intimate at. A review of your review is 'must try harder'.

  • Comment number 7.

    Pazza & Josie - I got a completely different point from James' writing. It seems to me that he came to see NMA and was so impressed with our (the fans) ability to express energy without aggression which he is lacking in the current alternative scene, and that he wishes all rock fans would dance more like *us*. Look -- up at the top he says that people used to dance like that in the 80s, then right on the last line he says he wishes for a return to old-fashioned dancing. OK, he could have been clearer but I think that's what he's trying to say here. Unforgivable though not to mention the MUSIC!

  • Comment number 8.

    There are many things in life that are unforgivable.

    Not talking about New Model Army's music in a blog about Wales isn't one of them.

  • Comment number 9.

    Am I missing the point? A welsh Music blog, A gig in Wales, No mention of the music- What was the point

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi everyone
    I loved the gig - GalloiseBlonde is exactly right. I liked the involvement of the crowd in the gig, loved the interaction, the devotion and the etiquette. I didn't review the music as they're not Welsh (it is very rarely we review gigs by non-Welsh bands), and I occasionally talk about random themes and topics about music, which is why it is in the 'miscellany' section.

    josie_evans - I'm afraid you completely missed my point; the overly-macho dancing I refer to has become the norm at a lot of gigs I attend, not this one.

    Thanks for commenting, however.


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