I was 16 when I went to the Leeds Festival, my first music festival without parents to steer the ship. In addition to the usual advice about staying hydrated and carrying an old Nokia 3310 instead of your new iPhone 3, one rule was drilled into my head: don’t sleep over on Sunday night. Legends of burning tents, robberies and general anarchy were passed down from generation to generation among attendees and when I arrived in 2009, Sunday night at the Leeds festival wasn’t an option for anyone who didn’t want to be in the thick of it. of a riot. It’s safe to say I never stayed around to find out if the rumors were true.
The anxiety I felt about that anarchy was revived by watching Netflix’s new three-part documentary series, Train Wreck: Woodstock ’99. After the planning, execution and eventual fall of the 1999 festival, a continuation of the original celebration of “peace and music” in the 1960s, the film is a shining example of what happens when unrestrained masculinity and disillusionment meet. meet with a relaxed attitude towards the safety of festival goers. The answer? Total chaos.
What was supposed to be a fun party and demonstration against the rise in gun violence in the United States quickly turned into what one journalist described as “hell.” Driven mad by aggressive acts like Korn and Limp Bizkit and enraged by endless price gouging: By the end of the festival, water was as much as $12 thanks to the lack of available drinking water (an attendee explains how she contracted “trench mouth” at the festival) — revelers began trashing the festival’s infrastructure, surfing on the wooden panels that once surrounded the soundstage. With little or no security in place to take control of the situation, radio towers were toppled, ATMs were raided and bonfires were lit at the airfield where Woodstock ’99 took place.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been going to festivals in Britain for a long time, but some of the activities described by the talking heads (security staff, technical assistants, people in the crowd) in the documentary didn’t seem that shocking to me. Were the people naked? Taking drugs? Maybe even having sex? These people have clearly never been to Glastonbury’s Meat Rack at 5am. But what scared me was the animal look on the faces of these young men; not only did they not care how much damage they were causing to the festival, but they also lost respect for each other’s safety. I’ve seen bloody noses in mosh pits and been thrown to the ground by the sway of a crowd, but luckily nothing I’ve experienced comes close to the mob mentality on display in derailed train
What was embarrassing, but depressing, hardly surprising, was how the evil turned on the women present. What began as blatant sexism (gazing at women who chose to attend the festival topless and telling Sheryl Crow to “take your boobs out” during her performance) ended in sexual violence. During Fatboy Slim’s DJ set in what was pragmatically dubbed the “hangar rave,” revelers managed to commandeer a van and began driving it into the center of the crowd. The show stopped and the few security members still around managed to get to the van with the intention of leading it back outside. In the back they found an unconscious, half-naked girl, about 15 or 16 years old. Next to her, a boy, visibly dazed but compos mentis, was putting his pants back on.
Nothing ever came of that incident, it was never followed up at the festival or afterwards. In the weeks after the event, four women filed complaints of sexual assault. One of them was allegedly raped in the mosh pit while Limp Bizkit was playing on stage, while others applauded the attackers. Some of my happiest and most liberating moments have been in the crowd at a music festival; That this could happen in exactly that space makes me sick to my stomach.
The documentary tackles sexual assaults in the last 10 minutes of all three episodes, with many of the women interviewed, from an MTV reporter who was there at the time to the festival organizer’s assistant, alleging that the #MeToo movement has put a stop to this type of attack at musical events. But that is not strictly true. In 2018, a YouGov survey revealed that two out of five festival goers had been sexually assaulted or groped at an event and in 2017, the Swedish festival Bråvalla made international headlines when four rapes and 23 sexual assaults were reported.
Woodstock ’99 is certainly an outlier when it comes to festivals. With the exception of last year’s Astroworld, where overcrowding led to the deaths of 10 attendees, lawlessness rarely strikes musical events on such a large scale (when it comes to crowd behavior, other factors, like terrorism, can also hit, as he did at a 2017 Ariana Grande concert in Manchester). But sexual violence against women is common, so much so that earlier this summer a group of 103 British festivals, including Latitude and Reading and Leeds, signed up to tackle sexual violence with the help of the Association of Independent Festivals. (FIA).
It’s enough? Maybe. I have no doubt that with more security and more care for those who bought tickets, some of the women injured at Woodstock ’99 would have been better protected. But it is more difficult to point to the intention of the men present. “You can’t help who buys your tickets,” says event organizer Michael Lang, and he’s right. But you can make sure they act appropriately and not give them ammunition to give in to the worst of themselves.
Yes, derailed train it is a portal to a different time, when violent masculinity was the norm. We like to think that we are not like that anymore, but the evidence suggests otherwise. We may never see another festival like Woodstock ’99, thank goodness, but I have no doubt that the attitude towards women that was fostered there still exists.