Insurers of Belgium's Pukkelpop festival blame this summer's deadly stage collapse at a Smith Westerns concert on "la chute des ventes de disques," or falling record sales. By their logic, low sales pressure bands to make up their money with fantastical live shows. They overload the stage with props, and in bad weather, the potential for injury if the stage collapses is greater.
The claim is angering music-savvy corners of the internet, where "falling record sales" is code for an attack on downloading. (Most sites are misreporting the original Figaro article, saying insurers are blaming downloading for larger crowds, when in fact, the article mentions neither).
Linking the recent string of fatal stage collapses to a trend in over-the-top shows isn't a new idea. Neither is it new to blame a rise in exaggerated showmanship on downloading. Caitlin Moran's 2010 profile of Lady Gaga mentions both in the same breath. Gaga "doesn’t mind about people downloading her music for free" because by her math: "Big artists can make anywhere from $40 million [£28 million] for one cycle of two years’ touring. Giant artists make upwards of $100 million. Make music – then tour. It’s just the way it is today." What is new is putting the two together as matter-of-factly (and conveniently) as the Pukkelpop insurers. Low sales lead to overloaded stages. Overloaded stages lead to deaths.
Is this the equation at the heart of Pukkelpop? In the first interview they gave after the collapse, the Smith Westerns described the signs of something amiss as a screen falling on their drum set and a chandelier swaying menacingly from the top of the tent. Certainly that sounds like a shelter rigged-out beyond its limitations during a storm. But the rub of the insurance report -- indeed, the reason bloggers don't like it -- is its anti-internet undertone, typified by the recording industry and other former Davids who've fallen. Downloads and low sales are not to blame here, any more than the appeal of music. They may be a reality to factor in, like modern demands on an artist, or the safe engineering of a stage. But however broadly illuminating it is to investigate the point where such factors converge, for now it's the job of the insurers who back those points to pay up when they collapse.
WATCH the Smith Westerns describe the collapse: