At least 19 people reportedly died at the Love Parade, a well-known dance event in the German city of Duisburg, and more than 340 were said to be injured as the apparent closure of a gate resulted in a suffocating crush of people. Duisburg Mayor Adolf Sauerland was quoted in German press as saying the Love Parade was “one of the biggest tragedies the city has ever experienced,” and festival organizers announced Sunday that the event would be discontinued permanently.
Yes, the incident is, to put it mildly, horrible. But how the aftermath is handled must be done carefully. The Economist‘s coverage of the event displays a dangerous pitfall in the reaction to the deaths, yet one that’s understandable throughout:
IT IS going to take some time to sort out just what happened at this year’s “Love Parade” and who is to blame.
That statement, specifically “who is to blame,” seems to reside in many of the emotions one would expect to encounter after a tragedy like this. And I fear that in such a state of emotions, the scenario to permanently shut down these kinds of events will move from “an option” to the popularly-supported option, aka “the option.” There’s no doubt that, in the search for “someone to blame” or “those responsible,” part of the focus will eventually focus on the music itself. Individuals will come out of the woodwork to speak out against live music, in this case techno and trance specifically, and others will join in the conversation. It’s already happened in L.A., where the city government established a “rave task force” after a grim death at a music festival this summer [via the L.A. Times]:
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to establish a task force to examine and “enhance rave safety” after last month’s Electric Daisy Carnival led to more than 100 hospitalizations. A 15-year-old girl died last week of a suspected drug overdose after attending the two-day dance event at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum and adjoining Exposition Park, which drew between 80,000 and 100,000 people per day.
While it’s great to see county boards showing they care by creating tasks forces after a tragic event, it’s often painful knowing that, sometimes, these events could have been prevented because of better oversight prior to the event. Take the E2 Nightclub tragedy in 2003, where 21 people died in a stampede at the Chicago nightclub. A report on the stampede [see article sidebar] revealed a number of license violations, ranging from liquor license issues to capacity violations, that were reported months prior to the tragic event. With better communication between the various government branches, those 21 individuals may not have had to die.
While improved government oversight is key, there must be checks and balances. There’s something insidious in a rave task force because it focuses far too much on a specific genre of music, as if outcasting it simply by name rather than by, say, security issues across the board. There appears to be a new movement to place an overwhelming amount of pressure – economically and bureaucratically – on those who host the events, and not at all in a constructive manner.
There’s Chicago’s promoter’s ordinance, which calls for untold fees placed upon mid-sized and small venues. So, rather than a renewed focus on, say, targeting venues with a history of safety issues (such as E2), the legislation merely targets any and all venues. It’s an ordinance that reeks of faux-responsibility, while having the potential to do irreparable damage to the city’s independent music community which lives in the small venues, practically driving underground music, well, underground. Though the ordinance is tabled, it could come back for a vote at any time. All the while a businessman by the name of Kevin Killerman, who has a history of liquor license violations and a handful of bars in his command, has near-exclusive control over alcohol sales at Lollapalooza. Legislation should be made to prevent the irresponsible from handling such massive live events, instead of hindering an entire city’s cultural experience.
The same thing has been in the works in Philadelphia. That bill provides the police department with near-complete control over the entire city’s live music. Again, the potential to kill off many small live music venues due to an overly-bureaucratic paperwork system, mostly because of a fracas at a large concert. And again, a misdirection of focus on those responsible. I fear the same may happen in L.A., in Germany, and elsewhere in the world.
It’s valid when The Economist wisely ponders the question of how long it will take to find those responsible. Yet, the recent-past has shown that responsibility is an ambiguous word. It’s an ambiguous word when the former owners of E2 were sentenced to two years in prison, and the decision was made nearly seven years after the tragedy. It’s an ambiguous word when headline-grabbing legislation is created to defer obligations to public safety to those who have protected crowds from danger day after week after month after year. It’s an ambiguous word when the issue at hand gets distorted by a fear of a foreign sound, be it techno or something else. Here’s hoping that, no matter what happens, those who would go to great extremes to see live music don’t end up suffering.