When I was 15, I set foot for the very first time in 924 Gilman, the Grand Temple for Berkeley’s weird, jaded, and desperately lost. My best friend had just started an anarchist punk band, and they were playing their first gig that Friday. That fateful night, I arrived with the band (read: way too early). Nestled in Berkeley’s warehouse district, between a brewery and a mosaics shop, lies a squat little shack with exposed brick and dirty windows shuttered by stickers and spray paint, under a battered vintage sign bearing the words “The Caning Place: Entrance on 8th.” Inside is a massive warehouse, vandalized on every wall with arcane murals and such gems as “Have you punched a Nazi today?” A tattered couch rests on the back wall opposite a stage just two feet tall.
I expected Gilman to be just another junkyard where some kids liked to make music on weekends. But as people piled in—senior hippies, middle-aged punks, young goths, and toddlers in tiny denim jackets—it started to feel like a phenomenon.
The show was chaos. A thermometer on the ceiling beam read over 100 degrees. Skaters and band nerds and indie goddesses thrashed side by side, launching themselves into the mosh pit, elbowing and kicking and headbanging until everyone walked out soaked, tired, messy-haired, bruised, and smiling.
Through the rest of high school, Gilman was my Narnia. Whereas at school I was some unstylish nerd who ate on the hallway floor and took too many classes, at Gilman I was just another kid in ripped sneakers and a dirty old shirt thrashing and laughing. Punk was not just a rebellion I craved; it was a force on which I subsisted. And to this day I am stunned at how a warehouse full of strangers can, in three short hours, turn into a family. There was never a show where I felt unsafe. Predatory behavior was never tolerated, and all forms of hateful prejudice were firmly prohibited. When once a college kid got too violent in the pit, within seconds the sound tech hopped out of the box, marched into the crowd, grabbed him by both arms, and pulled him outside.
The difference between a good show and a bad show at Gilman is not the quality of the act: poorly-tuned, poorly-timed bands can still make a great time. It’s the quality of the pit. When anyone feels uncomfortable at a show, the tension is palpable. The pit will thin until only the few rowdy jerks remain, realize they are alone, and leave in shame. The best shows I’ve been to are ones where, when someone falls, they have six hands to choose from to help them back up. The ones where someone splits a lip, and two strangers help clean them up. The ones where crowd surfers are cared for and carried the whole way.
So my complaint with Lawnparties 2021’s headliner is not the music. My complaint is with the pit.
Princeton touts a respectful campus community where everyone is made to feel safe, so I had higher expectations for our student body this Sunday—and was sorely disappointed. The overwhelming entitlement and disrespect the “pit” showed today made me pine for Gilman more than I have in years. What began as a fun, light afternoon music festival turned into an unruly mass of thoughtless partiers. Some students yelled, shoved, pushed, trampled, while others fainted, bled, and had to be carried away for medical attention. It came to a head when the former refused to stop, or even listen.
You should have moved the first time the stage tech made an announcement. If you are foreign to the music world, let me enlighten you: a stage tech is not a security guard. They are not supposed to prioritize your safety; they are supposed to prioritize the equipment. When a stage tech comes out and tells you your behavior is inappropriate, it’s not Public Safety telling you be careful. It’s someone telling you you’re being a jerk.
If that wasn’t enough, you should have moved when the security staff gestured. Concert security are used to a lot. If they say you’re too rowdy, they’re right.
If that wasn’t enough, you should have moved when someone in the front started bleeding. The apathy and aggression this announcement elicited was mortifying.
If even that wasn’t enough, you should have moved when the DJ stopped the music. It’s stressful as an artist to enforce rules because so much of a performance is intended as people-pleasing and maintenance of a unique persona. Having to break character and hold your audience accountable for bad behavior in order to keep people safe is a huge decision that should not have been taken lightly.
For those who booed and heckled the stage tech, the security staff, the DJ, and our peer—who should be thanked for booking this gig in a week: you are not entitled to this space. An audience is a community, and if you disrespect it, you do not deserve a place in it.
For those who, when you heard “Move back or you will be ejected,” responded with “Eject! Eject! Eject!”, do not consider yourself righteous.
In that moment, my heart tightened. I took out my phone and texted my friend out West: “I’m missing the punk scene right now.”
We’re supposed to believe that punks are seething, violent anarchists. I guess it’s true that if you don’t come out of a mosh pit bruised and disheveled, we don’t consider that “moshing.” But community care is a core punk value. If this were Gilman, we would have backed up when the stage tech got on mic (and not just because we know Joey by name). If this were Gilman, the student bleeding would have five people around her offering amateur first aid. If this were Gilman, the music wouldn’t have to stop because the second someone got aggressive, bent the barrier, injured a neighbor, disrespected a stranger, or heckled someone else who is just doing their job, the whole pit would spit them out like a bone in a bowl of warm noodle soup, and they would not be welcome back.