I won’t keep you long before you get to read this one, just wanted to add a bit of context, since this is a more personal story.
This is mostly kept the same from a short story I wrote when I was about eighteen. I’ve cleaned up the wording and tweaked a few things, but I’ve tried to leave it as similar as possible to what I wrote back then. It was written after I attended my first-ever metal concert — literally I went home and the next day I wrote this because it was still rattling around in my head.
I’ve been to a few more concerts since then, and my perspective has definitely changed, but I still go back and reread this story sometimes, just to remember what the first one was like.
I’ve also kept the band anonymous, partly because, well, if there’s one thing I’m extra-special paranoid about it’s copyright infringement, and partly because I feel like knowing provides too much context, in a way. Buuuuut if you know the band, you could probably guess from the details. You decide for yourself if you want to guess or not.
Anyway. The story.
The feeling you get while queuing up for the concert is one of the strangest you’ve ever known. The tension begins to build; you’re only waiting for the line to move and let you through the doors. You chat with your friend to pass the time.
A huge man takes your ticket and examines it. He passes it back to you without a word, and reaches for the next person’s. You’re checked for dangerous clothing. Your wristband is fastened on. And then you’re free. You take the stairs down two at a time.
You thought you’d be too late, but to your delight, you’re ushered into the crowd in front of the divider. You high-five your friend, and move closer to the front. The first support act has already begun, but the reaction is lukewarm. Some heads are nodding, but no-one’s really interested. No-one resists as you and your friend walk to the front of the crowd.
You listen to the backup band. They’re not too bad, you suppose – the stage is bare, unadorned, and the crowd is unenthusiastic, but the lead singer leaps around the stage like that doesn’t matter. You respect him for it – pouring all his energy into an unresponsive crowd, and still finding more. It can’t be easy.
He thanks the crowd at the end anyway, just as if they’d all been dancing or singing along. You know he must have realised the crowd was lukewarm at best. You wonder if the lie is for their sake, or for the band.
There is a break. The crowd mills, and you chat to your friend. You’re both excited, and she asks you if you want to move a little closer. A couple of men stand before you. You sneak around them, feeling a little like you’re pushing in line at the school canteen.
On the stage, something is happening. Something is rising from the floor – a giant screen, with something on it you can’t quite see yet. Your friend points, and you nod. This band is more famous – even someone like you, so new to metal, has heard the name. They move onto the stage, introduce themselves, thank the main band for letting them tour with them. They begin to play. People begin to move, a young man next to you, lips and nose obscured by metal piercings, is bobbing his head. The music throbs; it’s louder than you expected. The beat is quite catchy really, even though the singer’s screaming into the microphone. You’ve never been a fan of screaming in music. Still, you suppose this band is alright. After all, you’re getting caught up in the crowd dancing now.
Without warning, you’re shoved to one side. A circle has formed over to your right, huge men pushing you back. There’s a moment of confusion. One of your feet is stepped on. People jump into it, and begin to run. You’ve heard of Circles of Death, usually as violent things – people kicking, stomping. This seems to be … only running. Not that you’d be able to tell from the outside, the wall of humanity blocking your view. Something in your head tells you to jump in, too, but you’re half the size of anyone else in there, and besides, this thing operates on unspoken rules, and you know none of them. Or maybe you don’t have the simple abandon that the runners in the circle do. One of them stops running, and whirls his hair around in a huge circle in front of him, like some corn-coloured helicopter blade. People run around him, and he stands in the middle of the circle, just spinning his hair. You worry that asking why is a sign that you have somehow missed the point of the exercise. Of concerts in general.
All of a sudden, the circle collapses in on itself. The border breaks down, people rejoin the dancing. The band shouts at the audience, saying you’re all great, and announce the name of the next song. The crowd cheers, the band plays. As the beat pulses, people around you begin to jump. You jump as well. You have to; the people around you are pressed so close that they carry you up with them. For a moment at the apex of the jump, you are weightless. A brief thought of your Physics classes crosses your mind, but you find that you are more interested in wishing that the jumping would continue, and that you can continue catching that feeling. But the song ends, the jumping stops, and you find yourself disappointed.
More people have arrived now, since you’re getting so close to the main event. You’re feeling squashed, and you can barely move. Someone runs into you. Another circle forms, closer this time, and you grab for your friend’s arm, so you don’t get separated. A man standing behind you, hair spiked up, beard braided, his shirt bearing the logo of the band you’ve come to see, steps aside and lets you move together again. Wordlessly, he checks if you are alright, making sure you don’t fall over as the crowd shifts. Even if he tried to talk to you, you wouldn’t hear him over the crowd and the band. You nod to him in thanks, and he smiles. He steps into the circle and starts running.
The band finishes, and they thank the audience. You cheer along with them, willing to be caught up a little bit in the atmosphere, but you know you’re thinking too much. You wish the next band would come on, so the crowd would start moving again, and maybe you can lose a little more of yourself to it.
You and your friend slip out to buy a bottle of water. Outside, you’re listening through cotton wool. Your friend brought earplugs, and normally you hate them, but you both put them in. You feel odd for it, like you shouldn’t be worried about silly things like hearing loss at a concert where people can whirl their hair in the middle of a running crowd without needing a reason. But still, you put them in.
You get your bottle of water and drink it on the way back into the crowd. You finish it off as quickly as you can, so you can throw it away before you go in. The icy cold makes your sinuses tingle and burn. You can tell from the expression on your friend’s face that it’s doing the same to her. It makes you both laugh. The bottle isn’t quite finished when you throw it away, but neither of you can drink any more, and you’re anxious to get back into the crowd.
There’s music playing over the speakers. A song starts, that you don’t recognise at first, but causes laughter among the audience, and the groups of people around you start singing along. Soon, most of the audience is also singing. You recognise only the chorus. It’s a silly song, loud and a little violent, in a Tom-and-Jerry sort of way. The crowd laughs and hoots as they sing. It’s odd – all of the songs have been rather serious so far, growling things. This was not what you expected from the crowd. Once the song is over, the crowd goes back to milling, that moment of unity now, apparently, over.
As soon as the lights appear on the stage, the crowd’s eyes are drawn. Red spotlights shine twin band logos on the black curtains. The crowd is silent. The first song begins.
You know it well, and you love it. The whole crowd is singing or screaming along, and this time you know the words. Barely thinking about it, you’re singing, too, one voice among so many. Your friend, who doesn’t know the band so well, is just listening to the song. Both of you are grinning. It’s better than you thought it would be.
The crowd has changed. No circles of running people form. No-one takes their eyes off the stage long enough. You’re caught up in jumping again, as the band plays song after song. Images flash on a board behind them, some grotesque, some strangely beautiful. You watch them, and the singer. The singer puts his hand in the air, and so does the entire crowd. He needs no words to tell the crowd what to do; they simply do as he does, and love every second of it. He doesn’t need to say anything, so he doesn’t. They just keep playing.
They’ve been on stage for three-quarters of an hour before he speaks to the crowd. He requests nothing, only welcomes the crowd, and announces the song. He brings the crowd up to him, and it’s infectious. Excitement courses through your veins, making your blood tingle under your skin. The band plays your favourite song, and you scream along with everyone else. Your voice is hoarse, and you know you can’t sing so well as you did at the beginning of the night, but you try anyway, breaths coming in gasps, pressed up against the person next to you and your friend on the other side. The floor is sticky, and you’ve stepped on more discarded water bottles than you’d care to count. Your own body feels wet from sweat, both your own and others’. The lead singer’s voice is deep and guttural. The screen above shows a dead dog, flies crawling over its bloody head, and a virus embedded among red blood cells, streaming through an anonymous vein. The whole thing feels unclean – everything about it seems dirty; the songs about death and mutilation, terrible loneliness and worse company, the sweaty meat-grinder of the crowd, the sticky floor, the knowledge of what the volume is likely doing to your eardrums even through the earplugs. You chide yourself for that, tell yourself it’s just one concert, and why can’t you ever just stop thinking for long enough to enjoy yourself?
But that’s the charm of it, isn’t it? You like this music because it’s messy and dirty and unclean. You’ve always had trouble with messiness. The singer lifts his fist and the crowd follows him, in perfect unison, like singing that song between acts, but this time serious, not joking. The atmosphere is different. It’s more intense. Above the band, the camera pans across the crowd, and people shake their fists at it, as though if they do it hard enough, they’ll be able to prove later that yes, they really were there, putting their fists in the air for the man with the microphone.
You do it, too, and you don’t know if there really is some deeper unity behind the action, some great thing you’re joining by obeying the speaker on the stage, or whether you just want to believe there is. Whether you want this moment to feel more important than it really is.
The crowd starts jumping, and so do you, fist still raised. You feel the bodies around you lift you just that little bit higher, and for a moment, you fly again. The band’s mascot stares at you from the screen. Its eyes burn, its half‑concealed face grins at you. You salute it, grinning back. Nobody sees. It might be the first thing you’ve done the whole night that is just for you.
At the end of the song, the band stops abruptly and walks off the stage, only a brief goodbye. You know this ritual, you’ve seen it before. The crowd knows it, too, surely, and yet you scream at the stage as though the betrayal were real, chanting the band’s name together. Part of you wants to not follow the rest of the crowd, to prove that they will come back, even if you don’t shout, but after a few moments, you’re shouting anyway. You’re here for the experience, you remind yourself. What happened to not thinking?
The band leaves you hanging for a long time, but you still chant. And then the ritual is complete. They return. The crowd cheers. They begin to play again. You take deep breaths and watch the crowd and the music.
The band finishes, the singer speaks one final time. He tells you the audience is special, that you are indestructible and perfect. Maybe if this unity is an illusion, it is at least one you share with the man behind the microphone. He tells you to repeat his words and you do. Like the rest of the audience, you scream them back to him, putting all your energy behind them, trying to be louder than you have been all night, a simple phrase.
The lights turn on, people drift out of the arena, and spread through the lobby and into the frigid air outside. You feel like you shouldn’t tell anyone else what the singer said. Like it must be some sort of secret, though there were thousands of people in that arena, and the recording will surely have been recorded. Maybe even broadcast somewhere. It will certainly appear on the Internet within hours. Perhaps minutes.
For days, you cannot get the memory out of your head: the man who made more than a thousand people put their hands in the air simply by raising his own.