A question often asked by people that haven’t been to a music festival or maybe have been to smaller festivals but not visited a BIG festival like Download before, is whether it’s safe. We decided to get an experienced view from the one and only Pit Troll, who has been a regular fixture at Download on both the security side and also as a paying customer.
In general, we feel that there are many aspects of Download Festival that, despite its reputation as a hard rocking festival established during the Monsters of Rock era, make it one of the safer festivals on the UK’s festival calendar. The nature of rock crowds, the age range of attendees and a sizeable security budget compared to smaller festivals all help to create the right balance of fun and safety. You are probably a lot safer at Download than on a Saturday night out in most towns and cities in the UK.
With a background in gig and festival security allied with a reputation as a mosh pit General when on the crowd-side of the barrier, 6’10” Pit Troll has a unique, close-up and personal perspective of the festival front line from all angles. He is also a tireless social media campaigner for reasonable behaviour and safety at gigs and festivals.
FVL: Greetings Pit Troll. First off, what’s your background with Download Festival?
PIT TROLL: My first experience of Download was in 2014 when I was part of a response team working for Showsec. I was back again in 2015 working as part of the pit (area between the stage and the barrier) security for the Avalanche stage the whole weekend, where we had pretty full on bands such as Beartooth, Every Time I Die and Bodycount to deal with (The absolute best job in the world!)
The first time I attended as a guest was in 2016 where I had the pleasure of living and partying with the Boardie Corner bunch. I enjoyed it so much, I stayed with them again the following year too. I was well looked after by the other guests on both occasions and forged many new friendships for life. This is something that seems to happen to anyone who attends Download, whichever camping area you stay in, even through the absolute worst of weather.
FVL: We understand you’re pretty vocal about crowd safety.
PIT TROLL: Haha, it’s been said! After 18 years in private security, it’s something that’s become very ingrained in me and I’m actually very thankful for that. If you want examples of me being vocal;
Few months ago, I was working security for Attila. I’m pretty friendly with their frontman Fronz so he let me use his mic to address the crowd and ask them not to throw crowd surfers towards the barrier and instead just pass them over. I also made a YouTube video discussing crowd surfer safety with the help of ETID guitarist Andy Williams.
I write reviews of gigs for my website https://www.pittroll.com/ and have used this medium to highlight security concerns and praise staff whenever appropriate. There’s several posts on the Pit Troll Facebook https://www.facebook.com/PitTrollMosh/, Twitter https://twitter.com/PitTrollMosh and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/pittrollmosh accounts discussing various aspects of crowd safety too.
FVL: What do you think of crowd security at Download Festival?
PIT TROLL: On the whole, it’s pretty good. I love the fact that both of the primary contractors (Showsec and Specialized) that have secured Download over the last few years have employed staff that really get into the spirit and become part of the vibe of the festival.
For instance, this year the Avalanche security did an Icelandic football clap in unison, they eventually got the whole tent to join in and the atmosphere was brilliant. That’s the way it should be! It shouldn’t be an us and them mentality.
Despite this, guaranteed every year security will get slated on both the official and unofficial Download Festival Facebook groups. In my experience, when complaints are challenged however, they’re often not grounded in reality due to having no hands-on experience. People just love to moan, feel validated for a short time by jumping on any outrage band wagon.
Having said that, I’m not pompous enough to believe there’s never been bad security at Download at all. Like any festival, it can happen. But it’s like going on a night out in any town or city in the world, you will eventually come across pub or club door staff who are dicks!
FVL: How does the crowd at Download compare to other festivals?
PIT TROLL: I’ll probably get it in the neck for saying this, but rock fans are arguably more friendly and cooperative and that’s because the Download crowd includes a wide age range, fans from 17 to 70, it seems to make for slightly better behaviour than you might encounter at some other festivals.
By and large, the vibe at Download is very cool. I’ve only dealt with a minority of idiots both when I was working there and when I attended as a guest. People obviously do daft stuff but there’s generally never any malicious intent involved. Often, it can be really funny.
Something people who aren’t fans of rock and metal often find surprising is that the threat of violence at a gig is minimal. Energy and aggression is released in the mosh pits, which with or without my presence are self-policed.
If you want to have your eyes opened and get a sense of how friendly Rock/Metal gigs actually are then you should go and work security at some R+B/Hip Hop shows where a sizeable proportion of your audience will want to portray themselves as hardcore criminals for an evening and be spoiling for a fight.
At this point we could also discuss the slam/beatdown scene and the influence that has had on some metal gig goers but that’s a whole other rant entirely. One for another day perhaps.
FVL: Would you consider the Download Festival Camping areas to be safe?
PIT TROLL: Both times I stayed in Boardie Corner I never had any issues. No stuff stolen, neighbouring campers all very friendly and the security looking after us were all very courteous.
I understand that some of the colour coded campsites are rowdier than others but that’s to be expected, people are there to party! Your main concern in any of them will be lack of sleep or theft. Theft can be minimised by taking a few common sense precautions with your belongings. If you want restful sleep, upgrade to VIP/Quiet or stay off site like I did this year. Then again, by doing that I missed the campervan parties and the festival village vibe. Life’s about choices. Sometimes I choose sleep.
FVL: What about the Camping Field Security arrangements?
PIT TROLL: Arrangements wise, camping field security seems to be good. I’m not privy to some of the more intricate details of security planning for the camping fields but, based on what I’ve witnessed as a festival attendee, I don’t have any major complaints, personally.
I did see a definite rise in complaints about campsite security this year on the Facebook groups after the event but an outside source told me that there was a very last minute staffing crisis and this forced the hand of festival organisers to turn to less reputable companies. I’m not in a position to confirm this but it would make sense to me. Hopefully it’s a one-off and will be sorted out for download next year.
FVL: A lot of people are concerned about drugs at festivals. Is it a problem at Download?
PIT TROLL: The official line is that it is not tolerated, and I have noticed that police sniffer dogs have been used at the site entrances in recent years. That said, you would have to be naive to believe recreational drug use doesn’t happen at Download but it’s not like it’s at epidemic proportions as it appears to be at some other festivals.
Happens everywhere man. I caught a guy doing lines in the toilets of an A+E department when I worked at a hospital. I defy anyone to name me a festival across the UK where there won’t be some form of drug use.
Also, not everyone who takes drugs turns into a complete murdering lunatic and people doing drugs, particularly unidentified pills, are generally more of a danger to themselves rather than anyone else. I can’t see how someone smoking a bit of weed is a danger to anyone at a festival.
If you’re concerned about drugs, don’t do them. It’s not compulsory. I don’t think you get the same peer pressure at Download that you might at some other festivals so, on balance, I think Download is pretty safe in that respect.
FVL: Pit Troll, thank you for giving us the inside track on Download safety and security. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, as ever. Do you have any final words of wisdom on the subject of festival security?
PIT TROLL: Just this really – if you attend any festival in the UK, be cool to security staff. It can be a thankless task, manning a position for hours with sometimes just your thoughts for company. Make an effort to interact with them. Bring them a snack! Haha You’ve no idea how much a tiny act of kindness or courtesy can make on someone’s shift where most people might think you’re some kind of fascist oppressor.
On that note, if you see them dealing with a difficult individual, your first instinct shouldn’t be to whip out your phone and start filming. Perhaps, think what you can do to help. People often act up when they think an audience is on side. If there’s even one or two people who are calling them out for being unreasonable, they might decide to toe the line.
I would also never stand back and film while security or even police were being assaulted just for doing their job. I appreciate people don’t want to put themselves at risk but, even if you don’t feel you can jump in, at least try to get help instead of thinking about the potential hits on YouTube. See you over the barrier.