How To Shoot A Concert When A Riot Breaks Out

As fans we all remember our first concert experience.

But when you decide to cross that line and write about or photograph live music for the first time everything changes.

I’ll always remember the first concert I reviewed.

Though I was excited, nervous and anxious, I can’t say that a riot broke out during the first show I ever covered.

And I’m not sure how I would’ve responded if the crowd started throwing bottles and glasses and the cops came and started beating fans down and cuffing them.

I know what Colleen endured when she photographed the Wu Tang Clan at Rock the Bells 2007.  She was caught in the middle as she dodged Hennessey bottles and verbal missiles as the Clan incited and sparred with fans in the first row.

So this year at Rock the Bells 2009, Colleen swapped photo gig stories  in the photo pit and heard a compelling “first live concert photo gig” story as she chatted with fellow photographer Jamie Sands.

Necro didn’t show so fans rioted

Jamie’s first photo gig involved shooting Necro, a rapper with an infamous reputation for spitting vicious and brutal rhymes about death and violence. I had heard about the show when reported that a riot broke out when the Brooklyn-born artist didn’t show up to the downtown Vancover club.  So when Colleen said that Jamie was there, I was hoping he’d share his experience.

I didn’t get a chance to speak with Jamie at Rock the Bells, but we connected via email and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about what it was like that night and how the experience has impacted him since.

What was the vibe like before, during and after the riot?

The vibe before hand was kinda tense. Not because the performer hadn’t shown up, but because this was my first assignment for a publication–nothing a beer or two couldn’t fix though. During the riot was a different story. [The press ] had been informed Necro would not be showing at about 10:45) but they didn’t tell the crowd until 12:15 so by the they made the announcement the crowd had plenty of time to get tired of listening to the DJ and even more time to consume lots of liquor.

Emotionz a local MC came out to announce that Necro would not be there that night and as soon as the first glass was thrown it was pretty much a free for all. I was lucky to have already been informed that he was a no show for the event and ended up taking to higher grounds to avoid having my camera smashed.

After the police arrived people were getting slammed to the floor and pulled out of the club. I stayed and shot photos until I was told to leave the club. I made my way outside and there were police everywhere and a lot of people laying on the ground in cuffs. I shot photos until I was basically removed after shuffling around angry police for a good 20 minutes.

Had you ever been in a situation like this before?

I’ve never been in any sort of situation like this. Since this was my first show where I was there as a photographer, it was all a pretty big shock to me. I go to shows pretty frequently as a regular fan and have never seen anything get out of hand like this did. It was all exciting but I had it in my head that I needed to have like 50 usable images, though I probably shot close to 200 shots of flying chairs, tables and police. I took a lot of photos but there’s a lot of good stuff in there but a lot of useless images, too.

What were you most afraid of?

I didn’t have a lot of thoughts aside from “shoot, shoot, shoot.” I had already gotten to the upper balcony since I was pre-warned about the show so I think my main concern was the police taking my camera or memory card or not getting a usable image for the editor [of ABORT Magazine]. Aside from that the people rioting were the least of my worries.

How has this experience influenced how you shoot or feel during a live music event?

It honestly hasn’t effected the way I feel about shows at all. I still go to shows on a regular basis. It has effected how often I shoot concerts though because after I had submitted my shots, decided to keep me around. It’s given me a huge opportunity to build a portfolio and has really pushed me to better myself as a photographer. I just recently launched my website where I have a whole bunch of photos and update it on a regular basis.

Thanks to Jamie for telling his story and providing the riot photo above. I’m glad he was able to shoot and not get hurt. 

I’d like to invite any other photographers to share your concert stories, too. Get more info via Tell Your Story.

As one final video note

There’s a flood of videos on YouTube documenting the Necro riot event from various perspectives, but Jamie provided this video below of the riot as it unfolded and eventually ended up outside.

Warning: I share these videos with you not to shock you. And honestly it pains me to see a riot break out just because an artist doesn’t show up. But the reason I share this video is because it captures the emotions of Jamie’s story. So I hope you enjoy it in that context.

The actual riot footage starts at 3:03 and the video does have language and images that might not be cool for some viewers, so due proceed with caution.

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