Every year around June/July, Helsinki turns black as hordes of metal heads descend upon the Finnish capital for the annual hard rock music festival Tuska. While this is a great opportunity for listening to some epic bands, it’s an even better opportunity for studying people in a ritualistic setting. This, in turn, has some fantastic story potential.
This was only my second Tuska (the word means ‘pain’ in Finnish). Last year I spent three long, hot days standing amidst other like minded, sweat soaked individuals as we waited for our metal gods to take the stage. This year the line-up was less spectacular so I only chose to endure one day with the band-shirt wearing, long haired, bearded, camo-panted festival goers. That’s the boys. The girls tend to deck themselves out in all manner of get-up including fishnets, torn jeans, feathers, chains, cyberdreads and heels so high only the insane would contemplate wearing them to an all day standing event.
While I definitely go for the music and rock out to my favourite bands as hard as the rest of them, I also enjoy sitting at the back of the open air venue (a dilapidated factory area near the harbour – how much more metal can you get!?) simply observing the crowd. There are some truly remarkable individuals, those with more facial piercings than hairs on their heads, those adorned with a multitude of tattoos, those with shaved heads and metre long beards, those with peacock coloured hair and all black clothing, mohawks, elven plaits, cyberwear, trad goth apparel – the juxtapositions and coalescence of subcultures is overwhelming.
This is a photo taken of the mosh pit during the set by the band Trivium. The mosh pit is kind of like a battle ground for the more belligerent (or drunk/crazy/energetic/reckless) fans. The general age of participants was definitely in the lower double digits but that doesn’t change my astute observations. 1) This is a mostly male affair, young warriors bashing into each other to prove their manliness while a guy in skinny jeans screams on stage to the thumping primal beat of the bass drum 2) Fake blood is optional 3) Real blood is to be avoided and even the frontman of the band asked people to be considerate and pick up their fellow moshers should they fall (very civil warfare) 4) Girls can and do take part in the mosh but they are few and far between. Now Exhibit A – the boys circled in red are great examples of how tribal and primitive this experience can get, going so far as to dab on face paint and fake blood in colours most suited to heavy metal. Exhibit B – the two girls I could see circled in green, both rocking very different aesthetics and both still rocking out to their favourite band.
Now what really fascinates me as a story teller is in trying to understand the human being in all of this, getting into the psyche of the people as they gyrate and bash and shout and fist pump. What’s even more fascianting is the collective reaction to the singer on stage. When he said jump, we did; when he said louder; we shouted ourselves hoarse. For those brief minutes we were united by our love of the music, part of see bigger, thrumming organism and it’s an exhilarating feeling. Sure there are some party poopers who grumble about being told what to do and adamantly stand still despite being jostled by more willing participants. Those rebels fascinate me even more. Why come dressed in the camo and band t-shirt uniform of your fellow metal heads only to stand there refusing to participate in the ritual for which you paid to experience?
I’m not judging anyone in this, I merely find it fascinating in terms of studying and trying to understand human nature. This is where characters are found and where stories are born. I made reams of mental notes, jotting down future character descriptions, thinking out possible scenes and even loosely plotted a story involving the cute, curly haired trash collector who happened to pick up a can lying near my feet.
Today’s experiences are a perfect example of why writers need to get out of their chairs every once and a while, get out and live a little, because stories are right there on the doorstep waiting to be discovered.
Have you had any interesting people watching experiences lately?