A Very Brief Study of Crowdsurfing in the Rock Music Scene

By: Claudia Siregar |

A while ago I had the chance to attend the third installment of the rock festival Paguyuban Crowdsurf at Rossi Musik Fatmawati, Jakarta. Presenting diverse local indie rock acts, both up-and-rising and “senior” including Rekah, Dental Surf Kombat, Cumloud, Piston, .Feast, and Tarrkam, Paguyuban Crowdsurf successfully gathered audiences from all over Jakarta. But what they succeeded in, other than garnering a massive amount of local rock enthusiasts to gather at their show, is bridging a certain connection between musicians and their audience through the acts of crowdsurfing and singalong sessions. Staying true to their name, Paguyuban Crowdsurf witnessed a lot of crowdsurfing in the moshpit. Various band members and random members of the audience got to experience the thrill of being carried around by the hands of the chaotic crowd (honestly made me wonder if anyone had the urge to tickle or startle a crowdsurfer, just for fun…nope, please don’t do that, if they got shocked, fell down, and broke a bone you’d be liable for their medical expenses. Be smart and save your money).

It’s important to note that crowdsurfing has its own history in the global rock scene. The act of crowdsurfing goes back to the 1970’s, where Iggy Pop invented the move at Cincinnati’s Summer Pop Festival in 1970 during The Stooges’ stage performance, bonding with his audience as they carried him away into the crowd. Other performers such as Peter Gabriel and Bruce Springsteen soon followed and contributed to the trend of crowdsurfing. Since then, as the move was regarded as iconic by the public, various musicians and audiences have been practicing crowdsurfing religiously. My quite straightforward guess as to why it’s regarded as iconic is that 1) crowdsurfing involves an “uplifted” (both literally and figuratively) musician among the audience, symbolising the highly regarded status of the idolised musician and yet at the same time, the act of “uplifting” a musician also involves the musician jumping into the crowd, 2) symbolising an act of becoming one with the crowd, and finally, 3) symbolising a sense of “oneness” between fans, as they are united by the music they listen to. Either way, the act of crowdsurfing paints both the idolised status of a musician and a sense of “oneness” between musicians and their listeners–and of course, a fan-to-fan bond.

Yet aside from the iconicness of crowdsurfing and the “oneness” between musicians and their listeners created during the act, crowdsurfing, just like every other human-invented act on earth, at times becomes problematic. It is often unsafe for women to crowdsurf as reports of sexual harassment during the act of crowdsurfing have surfaced from time to time, and it would be untruthful for us to deny that these cases are not uncommon. Injuries are also to be expected from crowdsurfing acts. These injury cases are not to be taken lightly as deaths have also occurred due to injuries sustained from crowdsurfing, such as the 2002 Limp Bizkit case (with that being said, kudos to Hantu Records the other day for providing the crowd with emergency medical care during Paguyuban Crowdsurf). It’s not surprising that crowdsurfing has been banned in various music festivals around the world due to fear of accidents and potential lawsuits, including those heavily associated with moshing and crowdsurfing such as the legendary Warped Tour. Five years before its untimely demise in 2019, the so-called “punky” Vans Warped Tour has managed to ban the act (which has been dubbed as “not very punk of them” by Huffington Post). The tour committee also banned bands from mentioning mosh pits on social media and onstage, with band members announcing the issue out loud on social media such as Bring Me The Horizon vocalist Oliver Sykes with his “DON’T MOSH” tweet. The Western Australian government has also issued a national health guideline on moshing – no, I’m not kidding.

So, let’s all get into a conclusion: is crowdsurfing a necessary part of the musician-fan and fan-to-fan interaction at all? Or is it just an irresponsible, selfish, dangerous act by musicians and fans? There is no definite answer for that, and we all know that. Crowdsurfing physically embodies an important bond between people in music–performers, creators, and listeners alike, a union based on music. Yet objectively we cannot deny that crowdsurfing has resulted in tragic occurrences, which can be prevented had people had basic manners and self-awareness. In conclusion, this iconic act has its own pros and cons, just like anything else in this world.

To end my short discourse on band-audience interaction in the local rock scene, let me give you one last fun fact: although crowdsurfing is prominent in the rock scene, it has been done at shows involving other genres and occasions as well. In 2014, an eccentric scientist got kicked out of a classical concert for crowdsurfing to the “Hallelujah” chorus in Handel’s Messiah (which happens to be, in my opinion, a jam. Not even kidding). The act of crowdsurfing has also been done in non-music-related celebrations, such as this Brazilian political celebration. Oh, well. Maybe I’ll try crowdsurfing to Twice’s Fancy and get myself kicked out of a K-pop concert one day. Who knows?

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