Reflecting on Astroworld – from someone who has seen Slayer and Slipknot

Photo Courtesy (Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

BY JUSTIN “BOOMER” SABATA

On November 5, a multiple-casualty event took place in Houston at the Astroworld Festival during Travis Scott’s performance when a crowd rush crushed and killed ten people. For some reason, this particular tragedy has been difficult for me to shake. It is never easy to see a youthful celebration result in mass casualties, regardless of whether you like the artist or genre of music. 

The complete collapse of communication on all levels during the concert only adds to this feeling. What occurred after the initial emergency was hopelessly morbid. But at the same time, sole blame can not be placed on the event organizers, the robotic-dancing Scott or his fans. It takes the incompetence of so many people for something like Astroworld to happen. 

Before you get those argumentative fingers flying, this article is not trying to pit rap culture against heavy metal. Hip-hop and metal were side-by-side during the Great (Tipper) Gore Wars of the 80s and 90’s when bigwigs in Washington attempted to censor explicit music. At the end of the day, 2 Live Crew fought the same battle as Cannibal Corpse. 

Astroworld did not happen because of rap. Just like The Who concert tragedy in 1979 did not happen because of rock music about pinball machines. It happened because the energy within the music and within the venue was controlled with the same care as Chernobyl. Acts like Scott (and Slayer and Slipknot) unleash a fury of rhythm and aggression that few do, which is then reflected by the audience through moshing (and hopefully only through moshing). 

Things will get physical regardless of whether it is right and regardless of your stance on it. And it does at these shows all the time. And everyone involved – organizers, the fire marshall, fans, security, the artists – should know this heading into the event. 

But if/when the energy in the building reaches dangerous levels, there still needs to be a level of awareness and responsibility on the artist and those communicating with them. For Scott, this is where I see the most cause for criticism. 

I will never know what it is like to be on a Travis Scott stage. But if Slipknot’s Corey Taylor can see when things are getting out of control through a mask, why couldn’t Scott have any similar sense?

There also needs to be a level of responsibility when you’re in a pit pushing people. Usually, it is concert common courtesy (and just human decency) to quickly assist someone after they have gone down. And to briefly stop acting like a maniac around the fallen comrade. 

I can’t totally assume at the time if the opposite occurred at Astroworld, or if the crowd collapsed for other reasons. Still, it is easy to assume that the actions of certain people resulted in the injuries of others. 

I have had the honor of seeing Slayer three times and Slipknot once. And I have yet to experience anything as dangerously awesome as those shows (with maybe the exception of Lamb of God, but LoG also opened for Slayer). And throughout the entire course of the concerts, I never felt as though I or the crowd were in a deadly level of danger. 

Sure, someone would get the occasional elbow to the face in a mosh they don’t want to be in. Nobody likes that it happens, but we agreed to the risk when we bought the ticket. It would be like getting upset at foul balls at baseball games. 

Obviously, Astroworld was different. The unstable elements that come with physical concerts were not contained with care. And the lack of preparedness was painfully obvious. We must remember that it is unrealistic to blame only one aspect of the tragedy since crushes like these do not occur often at all. And when they do happen, it takes the disregard of so many parties. 

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