As best as I can remember I’ve never gone to a show dressed in any sort of elaborate costume or taken my appreciation for the music to the extent of putting on makeup or mirroring the performer on stage. But some of my favorite moments while at concerts are when I turn around and look out at the audience and see a fan dressed up in full costume and rocking out to the music while everyone around them grins and screams approval at the outward display of adoration and appreciation for their favorite band.
Some recent fan self-expressions I’ve seen at recent shows have been excellent examples forcing me to rethink and reevaluate my dedication to the music I love and question my level of self-expression at a live show.
While at a Justice show at the Riviera a fan dressed in a Daft Punk robot costume watched and robotically jigged from the balcony as if making sure Justice never forgets their French-house roots and sonic inspirations. Before the show I had a chance to meet the fan but our conversation only consisted of a robotic head nod when I gave him (or her) a thumbs up. I guess the fan had to stay in character until the end of the show.
And a few weeks later while at the Abbey for a Brother Ali show I saw several fans doing a different kind of self expression that we all have come to know as break dancing. There were no costumes involved, only what the fan wore to the show and what his mind and body felt when the DJ dropped the beat, resulting in his body obeying with a twisting of limbs in true Krush Groove fashion. Break dancing is one of the most fascinating forms of live personal self-expressions and responses to live music, mainly because it allows for the greatest opportunity to improvise and truly express how the music is making someone feel in that live moment. And as I go from show to show, watching each unique group of fans respond to whatever is blasting from the speakers, hip hop shows remain at the top of the list when it comes to see fans outwardly express themselves in dance form without a costume.
And speaking of costumes, I recently watched the 2007 film Glastonbury that examines the festival’s evolved history of fans taking their love for music to extremes beyond the music and plunging deep into a very personal expression of freedom while at a weekend festival. I watched the film, wondering ‘what is really at the heart of that type of extreme expression?’ as festival founder Michael Eavis spoke about Glastonbury roots in the wake of Woodstock and how his festival has grown from a statement bordering on creative and social anarchy into a contemporary festival—much like US festivals today—that is no longer immune to consumerism, corporate sponsorship or having an identity crisis. If you’re like me and haven’t been to Glastonbury but are curious to see how other countries and cultures put on and enjoy festivals, it’s a great DVD to watch that has interviews, live footage and tons of bonus features. But most of all is does a excellent job of adding a bit of context on the current madness of outdoor summer musical festivals that seem to pop up everyday. I chuckled to myself numerous times watching it as Eavis recalls the festival’s founding in 1970 and his thoughts on all the fans in all their various rebellious and creative costumes walked among the often soggy Glastonbury grounds. And what was most interesting was a comment by a fan who said those three days during the festival was the only time that he could truly be himself or be whatever he wanted to be and that the festival was his only moment to escape from the 9 to 5 weekday grind he loathed so much.
If that’s the case for the average music and festivalgoer, then what is it exactly that allows us to let loose at musical festival or live show? And more importantly why don’t more of us wear costumes to the shows we attend? I think it’s a cultural difference when it comes to comparing a festival like Glastonbury to a American festival. And when I look at the difference between crowds of the shows I attend, I see a definite variation of expression depending on what type of music is being played and what venue we’re at. And, for the record, not everybody at Glastonbury gets all freaky and the same goes for American festivalgoers who don’t have a slick Daft Punk costume to wear but usually find some way, however minor it may be, to express ourselves.
But what about those moments when you do want to express yourself by just dancing or doing what ever it is you want to do to express yourself, and for whatever reason decide to hold back?
There’s many barriers that hold us back from outward forms of self expression at a live show. And I’m not talking about expressing yourself to the point where it intrudes on someone else’s experience, like that annoying fan who thinks slamming dancing or moshing into you is something you want to do, too. I’m talking about asking ourselves what barriers keep us from getting to the level of self-expression that challenges our comfort zone but doesn’t impose on anyone else like slamming-dancing Sammy; I’m talking about the kind of expression that when done right, is contagious and inspires others to do the same.
For starters, I would say we, ourselves, are the first barrier. And if I was to take it a step further, I would also say that most of us struggle to express ourselves outside of a concert experience to begin with and that it’s the darkened low-lit atmosphere of a club or concert hall that allows that (usually) self-imposed barrier to subside in the shadows just enough to allow pleasure and enjoyment to creep in and take hold of us as long at the music lasts.
Daft Punk costume or not, we have a lot of work to do when it comes to experiencing those genuine moments of self-expression more often. And it’s a weird and unfortunate dichotomy that we put on each other as music fans and I hope someday we can all be comfortable enough in our own skin to allow others to be comfortable too and all enjoy the music together. And with the summer festival season upon us we have plenty of chances to experiment amongst ourselves.
Drop me an email/comment and tell me what you think of self-expression at live shows. Good or bad? Let me know what you’ve seen lately.