So much has been made about the terrorist attacks in Paris a fortnight ago, ranging from outcry that several other countries suffered similar atrocities on the same day but went unreported by western media outlets to the newly documented interviews with the people on the ground.
Yesterday I watched the Vice video capturing the candid comments of The Eagles of Death Metal, a rock’n’roll band from California who were an hour into their set at le Bataclan when several gunmen entered the venue and mercilessly killed 89 people, injuring many others. Their ordeal is still very fresh and to talk about it less than two weeks after the event didn’t seem right in this kind of setting. If you’ve watched the clip you’ll know that the members are all clearly still in shock, including Josh Homme who was not in attendance on the night.
It brought me to tears. It was very, very close to the bone. Not to say that previous terror attacks haven’t been any less horrific to me. I catch the tube on a regular enough basis that for a good 5 years after 7/7 I kept my wits about me when getting up to Camden. As if that was going to make any difference. The reason this resonated even more than usual was the main setting for the violence on that night was a music venue. In my haste to prevent sensationalistic media seeping into my head, I have made a conscious effort to not watch any of the footage of people running from gunmen, bodies being loaded into ambulances etc. However I felt it important to watch the interview, as most of you know I love music journalism in all its forms.
What I did not expect was some 90 seconds or so into the video was a short clip of the moment the gunmen entered le Bataclan, with the thick and fast clap of bullets zipping through the air in what sounded like (and was described by a band member as being similar to) the PA system clipping. My efforts to avoid footage like this were utterly in vain, as I knew that (once seen) something as chilling as that would be etched into my brain for a long time.
For the previous 12 days my thoughts had been with the families and friends of those who lost their lives in a tragic and unnecessary incident, regardless of the wider political pressures and world issues that contribute to the rise of an extremist group that would carry out these acts. I chose to seek my own personal tributes as people began to bicker about how best to pay tribute, whether we should pay tribute at all, whether one country deserves more empathy and coverage than another, whether my Facebook profile picture is red, white and blue, the right kind of red, white and blue or not at all. The bottom line is a lot of innocent people died for no reason and we should remember them.
Last night, for the second night in a row I went to The Forum, my local music venue. A place I have visited numerous times and volunteer for happily. I played my first show there as Rosa with my good friends Tom Hunt and Chris Parris around 8-9 years ago and have enjoyed every gig there since, as a performer or a spectator. I feel safe, at home, often surrounded by friends, peers and even surly sound engineers. It’s somewhere I can express myself and also get lost in the sounds of others.
Watching local heroes Joeythin (a condensed version of Joeyfat) with their pulsing electronica infused with live action performance and general oddness (that is incredibly simple and effective) I noted the spectators around me were very different to the crowd that had watched former WWE undisputed world heavyweight champion Chris Jericho perform with his ‘generock ‘band Fozzy. This was a local music scene event. Mike from the Standard Lamps was standing next to me. Alex from The Naming of Things was on my other shoulder. Lectures were the second band on, a group of kids who have heartily contributed to the running of The Forum this year, whilst recording new material they were looking forward to showing off that very evening. I was pretty excited.
20 mins into Lectures set I was really getting into it. I mean, I love Radiohead too. They’re clearly very talented chaps and lovely to boot every time I’ve talked to them. I love atmospheric synth driven music mixed with telecasters. They had their own sound and it was distinctly more downtempo, so I knew I’d made the right choice to come and see them. During their 4th-5th song I heard two thin clicks as the PA coughed out a fault in the set-up, as the signal was either lost for a split second or the sound was too high. Having a trained ear after playing music for 13 years I heard it, wondered what it was and forgot about it all in a moment. Then a synapse flared that connected with the Vice video and le Bataclan shooting to what I’d just heard.
Suddenly flight mode began to engage and I had very little time to figure out what was going on. I jerked around to see what was behind me which ended up being a swathe of local audience members mesmerised by the sound and lights of the show, collectively lost in the moment. I was with them not 2 seconds before but now I was utterly elsewhere. With no sight of any disturbance I turned back (lest I caught someones eye, how embarrassing would that be!?) and began to consider my options.
‘Fuck that, how annoying’, I thought ‘I’m having a great time and now all I can think about is how many people are in here, where the exits are and how quickly I can move’.
I stayed impatiently for another song, mentally wrestling with the decision to stay or leave. I turned and walked out to the front where Jason Dormon (venue owner) was standing outside smoking a rolled up cigarette. After explaining the situation he told me about his feelings on the situation and did his best to reassure me. I’d unfortunately gone beyond the point of rational thought. To write this now, I’m fully aware that should an extremist group want to repeat the events of Friday 13th, they would be unlikely to target a 250 capacity independent venue on the Kent & Sussex border. Tunbridge Wells seems an odd candidate for terrorism to rear its ugly head in our country. But in the moment I just saw a room full of normal people, like any of those in le Bataclan, and was fearful for our lives.
I know I have a flair for the dramatic and I’m sure this will be denounced by some of you as ridiculous, but I felt it necessary to share these thoughts. I know so many people through the common thread of music that will regularly be at venues up and down the country this weekend and for many weekends to come. I don’t want the tactics of extremists to ‘work’ and prevent people from enjoying their passions. This isn’t going to stop me from going to gigs. I’ve booked Tesseract for me and 3 friends for next February, but when the tickets arrived that grain of doubt was in my head. I’m going to Wrestlemania in Texas next April for fuck sakes, that’s 100,000 people in a stadium! I’m not going to stop my life for these things, but last night for a split second, I felt like they had won a small victory.
Go out and enjoy yourselves this weekend. Fuck terrorism and fuck extremists.