If everyone’s on stage, where is the audience?

Feeding The Beast — 4

What could possibly go wrong when an artist invites her fans on stage?

Nothing. Or maybe everything did go wrong when Santigold invited the audience to come dance on stage at Lightning in a Bottle, 2019.

Amidst other profound experiences that I’d like to keep to myself, this audience participation became a cathartic moment for me and a perfect analogy for our social predicament in the digital age.

Emanating from this one request by the artist:

Lightning in a Bottle, 2019

My proximity to the platform would have easily allowed my participation in this animation, except I did not check the boxes required for such eagerness:

First, I was not a die-hard fan. In fact, Santigold was completely out of my radar. Tara said she went to our school, that we should check her out. She also said that someone gave her a mixtape once with two of her songs in it that she quite liked, which made me search my memory for anyone who gave me a mixtape, to find none. I didn’t dwell on how while transitioning from Walk-Man to the CD player, anything that consisted of making playlists for romantic pursuits in my teenage years skipped me, until well into my late 20s and, my musician friends will glower at this, Spotify. I trusted Tara’s choice in music for the uplifting mood that will get your feet going with guileless glee against your inner gloom which takes me back to college. That’s the kind of music Tara likes. That’s the kind of music I needed that weekend.

But I did not necessarily need to be on stage to contract joy. Plus, I was no longer in my 20s. Frolic didn’t pour out of me in ways that can only be cured by shaking it off. Though I’d like to think I’ll retain a good dose of spontaneity well into my 80s, I simply did not have the fuel in me that night to match the speed in which sweat surged out of people’s pores, the way it does it festivals.

The bottom line is, I was dead-sober.

Camp at Lightning in a Bottle, 2019.

With all the conditions in place for me to sustain my membership in the audience, I observed this 4-minute study on breaking the 4th wall.

As far as concert gymnastics go, inviting fans on stage is essentially a reverse stage dive, a stunt to measure the artist’s power as they release their fragile human body into pandemonium. I witnessed an example of that at Coachella 2015, where Janelle Monae played a 10:45 PM in the Gobi, which was only half full of fans. She jumped anyway. A dispersed crowd had to bundle up to catch her. Her abandon made our flock move closer, so she could air swim out into the edge of the human sea. My pupils had expanded into shiny marbles. I checked all the boxes back then. A perfect candidate to catch a bit of her stardust as she swam laps towards me then back up on stage, her safe space.

I stood my ground in my safe space at Santigold’s. I spotted the first person to step on stage right, white blonde youth, un-intimidatingly clad, considering the abundance of bootie crest, and free ( * ) ( * ) which seemed to dominate festival fashion nowadays. But her docile figure made me reconsider my reticence. I know Tara would be up for it if I got all excited about it, but neither of us made a signal. A diverse bunch drilled past us timid ones, onwards, with fandom fervor I had no desire to emulate.

So Santigold sang “Creator.” I couldn’t tell if she or her band, or her singer/dancers were still there in the crowd or escaped somewhere backstage. It was really really packed up there. Things could go very wrong in such a scene. I could imagine some sort of technical disaster, electric shock, or unsolicited nudity if people cloud unclothe any further, that is. But no, people were not pulling hair or stumping on each others’ feet or anything. Must give credit to young millennials for their management of personal space on the dance floor. They have a general awareness of their limbs’ reach. They are frugal with touch despite lewd chemicals pumping through their veins. None of the disaster scenarios I anticipated in my head took place. All there was to be noticed were unchoreographed flaunting of everyone’s own special moves.

This was kind of a fun moment to watch, because around us, now that a substantial portion of the crowd occupied the stage, there was more room to dance, less contact with sweat, more access to oxygen which validated my decision to stay put in the first place.

When “Creator” ended, overlapping bass waves from three other stages filled in the silence. Large security men began to escort non-artists back to their post.

That’s when, to my chagrin, the smart-phones turned up!

I had nearly forgotten about them. Because throughout the festival, I was pleasantly surprised to observe festival-goers naked of their technology. Remarkably people seemed to savor the moment instead of broadcasting it. But the trigger-happy among us, could not resist the itch.

You give a weapon to a man, some learn how to handle it, some start shooting.

I crawled further into the power zone of spectatorship. I felt a lofty grin form on my face, judging these non-entertainers, who first clowned themselves out, now self-proclaimed journalists, they were reporting on their few minutes in limelight. Considering the pact Tara and I had made not to open Instagram (on which we blamed our depression) the whole time we were at the festival, which we stuck to, made me feel even more superior to those yielding to their addictions.

The audacity of those who either turn every banal moment of their life into an opportunity to brag, or spoil the sanctity of special ones! How do they not realize that they’re being “that person?” All they will get is less than 15 seconds of eyeballs, if not eye rolls and a swipe left upon the first sight of their low-par content.

My contempt, though, evolved into coveting. I dwelled upon my hesitance to post a single-piece of myself on the Internet. On how I see the medium as a grinder where my most diligently put-together posts have equal weight as the mindless selfies pseudo-celebrities distribute to their influencer circles. But how could I judge those with the guts to put a piece of themselves out there and receive validation in return, while I keep my jewels to myself, hoard my ideas in my journals, starve them from a chance for feedback, prevent them from finding their audience?

The Internet unlocked the stage wide open. Just like an avalanche of Santigold’s fans pushing past us to reach it, some had been quicker at claiming their chance at stardom. Even though I had a head start, me, a “true artist at heart,” more artist than them! found myself frozen in spectatorship, yearning to feel the spotlight. What I bashed was the level of moxie that is required to shine on stage. It takes guts to stand on a platform, with an open chest to receive arrows of both love and hate. It takes bravery, as much as Santigold’s who lifted the barriers between herself and her assembly.

But the digital space also began to confuse, even erase those lines between the audience and the performer entirely. The responsibility to tell stories, to wear a mask and put on an act is assigned upon every human being.

The only time I pulled my smart-phone and the trigger during the Santigold concert.

A deeper revelation lives underneath this. Call it sinister, or the future.

I searched the Internet for a trace of what I have witnessed. First, I discovered that it’s been a Santigold tradition to invite the audience on stage for Creator since at least 2012. Very quickly it became clear that there was no substantial content to be found about my experience on the Internet. No news coverage except for a few of mentions on blogs, a reddit post, one published photo taken from where I was standing. Only the crumbles of this memory remained in the brains of human witnesses.

Practical evidence disappeared in the ether of the Internet.

Except, it didn’t.

The moments that the sneaky few attendants stole against Santigold’s will, live on somewhere in the cloud. An intelligent mind, willing to bother or put to task, could track down public profiles of people who attended the festival. They could crawl the entire Internet to reconstruct a picture of what I have described. That would make a cool art project. Or a crime against humanity.

Bits of content us humans create are supposed to be for other humans. But really, the sheer amount of bullets fired out of our smart devices, add up to a sufficient amount of data that is used to train artificial intelligence.

We have become unusually willing to abandon our viewing privileges to experience the power of the player. We have been ignoring how putting ourselves on the medium comes with putting our vulnerability under the looking eyes.

As a spectator, I danced my ankles out during the last song Santigold performed. I expelled the demons out of my ears. I experienced the joy of discovering new musicians plus dancers’ who practically ran a half-marathon and sang at the same time. I tasted the eye-candy of concert visuals. I felt good vibrations all around to lift some broken parts of my old millennial soul.

Things that are mine, mine alone, that an artificial mind can not reconstruct. Not just yet.

There is a time for everything.
A time to dance.
A time to feed the beast.

Artist. Environmentalist. Immigrant. Mother. Investigating the links between environmental health and mental health.

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