Inside Pukkelpop

18th Aug
23.00 Alright.

Who ever the fuck is responsible for this weather of late, can get raped and fuck off. Three god damn collapses in one summer, after these structures have proven themselves capable of handling any kind of weather.

The last one, in Belgium. Several structures collapsed, even trees came down, killing 5, possibly more.

This is our turf! We don’t build these particular structures (anymore) but this is our steel! We’re the ones responsible for those people’s safety and even if we manage not to blame ourselves for things beyond our control, someone sure as hell will.

 

I know people there, god damn it. The storm killed the cell phone network where it wasn’t jammed in the first place so no one can get through. 3 people died, and no one knows who they are.

23.30
My family is ok, so are my friends. The network was restored briskly and I even got to talk to them. The press released the names of the victims and devastating as it was to be faced with their loss, they are no direct acquaintances of mine. “Thank fucking god” might have been my first reaction but they’re always someone’s friend, someone’s brother, someone’s son. Human loss fucks me up.

On top of that, 11 were badly injured and 60 lightly. For the record, “Badly Injured” includes everything the doctors haven’t declared “deceased” so the game continues. Who ever they are, I’m sure they don’t deserve it but I just hope my friends are ok.

I keep telling others I’m sure everyone is ok, but motherfucker, typing that text message asking if they’re alright has got to be the hardest thing in the world.

What a feeling. My country, my job, my friends. And a shitload of questions.
I’m gonna go sit elsewhere.


20th Aug

Two nights with no sleep, and counting. I’m better now- calmer, but the feeling is still there. Death toll has increased to 5 now, none of them people I know. None of my friends or family are with the wounded either, as far as I can tell.

Friends of mine have looked up the countless witness videos on youtube and described the situation in living colors, but I’ve seen all I need to see and I consider it bad luck to search for things I don’t want to watch. I recognized the collapsed structures as things I’ve built in the past, heard the stories from first-hand witnesses.

Let’s get one thing straight, and despite deeply passionate feelings about it, I’m going to explain this calmly from the point of view of an experienced stage builder.
StageCo, the company who builds the majority of the damaged structures, are the best in their field.
They work by the book and don’t take unnecessary risks. The things they build is calculated, tested and assembled for the most extreme of conditions. When trees, decades old, come down and things fly all over the place, that’s not a storm. It’s a hurricane. The question is not, “Where did the structure fail,” but “How is it possible that, with the 8 stages and countless tents and shelters, only 5 people lost their lives.” If StageCo really had been cutting corners and if mistakes would have been made, this would have turned into a disaster of epic proportions.

Every single testimony that starts with “I was there and…” speaks extremely highly of the organization and first aid. Emergency exits were thrown wide open and the medical teams were on the scene within minutes. There’s no point in wondering how we can avoid this in the future: Things went as well as they could have gone. Nothing claimed lives but 20 minutes of the most extreme weather this area has seen in over a century. No one could have foreseen, nothing more could have been done.

It pains me to see people wanting to point the finger, as is usually the case. Someone has to be responsible for all this, right? Someone we can throw in jail so this doesn’t happen, ever again.
I can understand if you can’t find peace with it but shouting out blindly who is to blame and how they should be punished, will cause the public to spend their energy on matters besides the point- which is giving those directly involved time and space to mourn.

However, what I find equally disturbing, is the praise that goes to the organization for cancelling the festival. Their official website has a statement posted on the evening of 18th of August:

“We will clean up the grounds tonight and ensure that everything is safe again so that we can start tomorrow at 11 am with a new start for Pukkelpop 2011.”

While understandable from a company’s point of view, the reactions on the site say it all: Continuing the festival would be a disgraceful act. I predicted it when talking to friends: There would be no way the festival would go on. The infrastructure was decimated, festivalgoers had all gone home or were planning to, campings and sites were drowned, and the incident had gotten so much media attention that there was no other choice than to call it quits.

And so they did, and now facebook groups are raised to congratulate them. Many even say the original plan to continue was a way to avoid mass movements so first aid teams could do their work, which doesn’t make sense: They have separate routes to and from the festival site, not open to the public. Mass movements are a common thing at the start and ending of the festival.

An interview in the papers stated that the financial repercussions were not a factor in the decision, and I call bullshit. Let’s put this straight: The organization did not cancel the festival out of respect for the victims, and deserves no praise for their decision.
How do I know this? Because the Pukkelpop victims are not the first to die on site. Countless people from our crew, and others, have died during the building and taking down of festivals and live gigs, and the show went on. I know of one case in the Antwerp “Sportpaleis” where people were dancing on the exact spot where a rigger had landed after falling out of the roof structure only hours before, and they never even knew.
No respects were paid during the concert, the show started on time. That’s how much respect these companies have for a human life, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise: Companies in general just don’t. They couldn’t function on this scale if they did.

Credit where credit is due. The real heroes are the ones who helped the person next to them, the colleagues of mine who are cleaning up a terrible mess as we speak, and the medics who responded, working like clockwork. Through this channel, I want to pay respects to the victims, including both those injured and killed, to their friends and families, and the witnesses. I think I can speak for the whole crew when I say, we share your loss.

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