I wasn’t intending to blog today, but last night’s Massive Attack gig at the O2 Arena in London prompted a lot of thoughts and emotions. This post will be followed by another which is more focused on the gig and the band, but first I want to address the venue.
The O2 Arena has been running gigs in North Greenwich since 2007. I’ve seen some of my favourite gigs and artists there; Nine Inch Nails, Gorillaz, Madonna, Rihanna, Fleetwood Mac (four times), Prince, Marilyn Manson, Justin Timberlake, Rammstein. So many great memories.
I’ve always considered the O2 to be a necessary evil. It’s a big indoor venue – the second biggest in the country – and with that comes upsides and downsides. But I’ve always accepted the latter (most notably queues/delays to get home, iffy sound quality) because it’s close to home and attracts the biggest acts in the world.
I haven’t been to the O2 for nearly a year, and the experience last night was one of the worst I’ve had at a gig anywhere. It has somehow managed to turn itself into an anti-music venue.
Like almost every ticket purchaser, I received an email in advance stating:
In a separate email, we were advised to allow a little extra time:
The Penguin did, but still found himself joining a queue of hundreds – if not thousands – of people with standing tickets that snaked it’s way around the arena nearly back to the entrance of the building. For anyone who is familiar with the O2, that’s a bloody big queue.
Now I realise that post the attack on Manchester, there are serious issues for venues to consider to ensure the safety of people attending. But the stupidity of this system must be abundantly clear to anyone with a modicum of common sense. The music arena is one tiny section in the middle of the complex; there are shops, restaurants and huge concourses where you can roam – and where we were forced to queue – without being searched.
Is a system that compresses lots of people together – creating serious issues with flows of people in the process that resulted in someone getting knocked over – in an area where people aren’t searched safe? In the name of security, have the O2 not made their venue a more dangerous place?
[as an aside, the Penguin worked in a building that was of the highest security level for many years, and whatever measures were put in place were considerably less ridiculous than what we went through last night]
That’s before we get to the inconvenience of the system, the angst it created for fans – this writer included – who were worried they were going to miss the start of a set they’ve been waiting for for months. A number of people were visibly fuming at the situation.
But the strange thing is that Massive Attack played for around 90 minutes, playing pretty much the same set they’ve played on all of this tour. They came on at 2115, and I rather suspect they always intended to. So for those who arrived early – and who were expecting a long set, given it was meant to start at 2030 – felt let down by the band, harming their experience of the gig. For those who were stuck in the queue outside, the anxiety certainly harmed their experience. In short, everyone was annoyed one way or another.
So who gave the instruction to tell fans it was an 2030 prompt start? If, as I suspect, it was the venue, then they’ve seriously undermined a band performing in their venue and pissed off plenty of fans in the process. Are Massive Attack aware – and comfortable – with how the fans have been treated? Is this something the O2 are regularly doing to acts? Lying to fans on behalf of acts playing there because they can’t get a queuing system that works?
I wish I could stop there. But there’s a lot more. We were told in an email not to bring bags, and certainly not large ones. So why were there people in the standing section of the gig with giant rucksacks? So large that the people wearing them don’t even notice when they knock a drink out of other people’s hands? The venue aren’t even enforcing the stupid rules they’re making such a song and dance about.
And then we come to the bars. Of which there are very few if you’re in the standing section. Queuing for twenty five minutes for a drink is not particularly good fun, especially at those ludicrous prices. The bars that are there have half the number of staff they need to keep things moving quickly. Does anyone from the management of the venue actually attend any of their events as a punter? I seriously doubt it.
Since I last visited the O2 have introduced an ingenious ‘recycling’ scheme, which I hasten to add is not optional. If you get a drink, it has to come in one of their new reusable cups, for which you pay £2 for the pleasure. The cups are annoying to hold, but who cares about that?
The ‘best’ bit is that to redeem the £2, you have to queue at the end of the gig. When they’ve seemingly halved the number of staff at the bars, adding twenty minutes to your evening. The people in the queue at the end of the evening were laughing at the O2’s claim it was for recycling – because if it was they’d go out of their way to make it easier to sort – it’s just another way of bringing in a few more quid, and it stinks.
Finally, we come to the queue to get home. I understand the O2 gets a lot of visitors, but it seems like every time I go to a gig there they’re surprised that so many people want to get the tube home. There’s never any order, any barriers. There’s one person with a megaphone. People just calmly walk round the Long way and skip the queue. It’s chaotic and – probably given my comments above – a security hazard.
This was more of a rant than I’d hoped, but the O2 has now gone from being a necessary evil to a anti-music fan venue. Terrible organisation, ridiculously OTT security, stressful queuing, impossible to get a drink quickly and a nightmare to get home from. Oh and it’s crazy expensive. Maybe we just have to put up with it. Maybe they don’t care because enough people are going that quality is very must the servant of quantity. Or maybe they need a few more people to make them aware that it isn’t acceptable.
I’ve spent thousands of pounds on tickets for events at that venue. I very much doubt I’ll ever do so again. I’ve got tickets for one more event at the venue, and if it’s anything like it was last night I’ll never be going again. And I’d advise all music fans to do the same.
O2 – feel free to respond to any of the points above via email: email@example.com