As a woman who loves music festivals, Netflix’s documentary is a horror story

I was 16 when I went to Leeds Festival, my first music festival without parents to steer the ship. Along with the usual advice of staying hydrated and packing an old Nokia 3310 instead of the brand new iPhone 3, one rule stuck in my mind – don’t stay home on a Sunday night. Legends of torched tents, robberies and general anarchy have been passed down through generations of visitors and when I arrived in 2009, Sunday night at the Leeds Festival was a no-go for anyone not wanting to feel at the center of a festival riot. It’s safe to say I’ve never stuck around to find out if the rumors are true.

The anxiety I felt about this anarchy was revived as I watched Netflix’s new three-part documentary series. Train wreck: Woodstock ’99. After the planning, execution and eventual demise of the 1999 festival, a sequel to the original ’60s celebration of ‘Peace and Music’, the film is a brilliant example of what happens when unrestrained masculinity and disillusionment settle for a lax attitude meet the safety of festival-goers. The answer? Absolute chaos.

What was to be a fun party and a demonstration against rising gun violence in America quickly descended into what one journalist called “hell.” Enraged by aggressive acts like Korn and Limp Bizkit, and enraged by the never-ending price gouging, by the end of the festival water cost as much as $12 thanks to the lack of clean drinking water (one attendee explains how she puked). “Moatmaul” at the festival) – partygoers began tearing apart the festival’s infrastructure by crowd surfing on the wooden panels that once surrounded the sound stage. With little or no security on hand to control the situation, radio towers collapsed, ATMs were broken into, and bonfires blazed at the airfield where Woodstock ’99 took place.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been going to festivals in the UK for a long time, but some of the activities described by the talking heads (security guards, technical assistants, people in the crowd) in the documentary didn’t strike me as shocking. People were naked? To take drugs? Maybe even sex? Clearly these people have never been to Glastonbury’s Meat Rack at 5am. But what really startled me was the animalistic expressions on these young men’s faces; Not only did they not care how much damage they were causing to the festival, they also lost all respect for each other’s safety. I’ve seen bloody noses in mosh pits and been thrown to the ground by the swaying of a crowd, but fortunately nothing I’ve experienced comes close to the mob mentality on display here train wreck.

What was shameful – but depressing, unsurprisingly – was how the wickedness turned on the women in attendance. What started out as blatant sexism (staring at women who decided to attend the festival topless and telling Sheryl Crow to “get her tits out” during her performance ended in sexual violence. During Fatboy Slim’s DJ set in the , pragmatically dubbed the “rave hangar,” the revelers managed to impound a van and drive it into the middle of the crowd. The show was halted and what few security guards remained around managed to get to the Van to drive him back outside.In the background they found an unconscious, half-naked girl, around the age of 15 or 16. Beside her was a boy, visibly dazed but composed, who was putting his pants back on.

Nothing ever came of this incident – it was never followed up at the festival or afterwards. In the weeks following the incident, four women came forward with allegations of sexual assault. One of them was allegedly raped in the mosh pit while Limp Bizkit played on stage while others reportedly cheered on the attackers. Some of my happiest and most liberating times have been in the crowds at a music festival; That this could happen in this very room makes my stomach churn.

The documentary addresses the sexual assaults within the last 10 minutes of the three episodes, with many of the women interviewed, from an MTV reporter on-site at the time to the festival promoter’s assistant, claiming the #MeToo movement has stepped up to stop such Attacks on music venues. But that’s not entirely true. In 2018, a YouGov poll found that two in five festival-goers were sexually assaulted or groped at an event, and in 2017 Sweden’s festival Bråvalla made international headlines when four rapes and 23 sexual assaults were reported.

Fires broke out on the site (Photo: Netflix)

Woodstock ’99 is undoubtedly an outlier when it comes to festivals. With the exception of last year’s Astroworld, where overcrowding resulted in the deaths of 10 attendees, anarchy rarely hits music venues on such a large scale (when it comes to crowd behavior, other factors such as terrorism can also strike, such as at a concert by Ariana Grande 2017 in Manchester). But sexual violence against women is so widespread that earlier this summer a group of 103 UK festivals, including Latitude and Reading and Leeds, came together to take direct action against sexual violence through the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF).

Is that enough? Maybe. I have no doubt that with better security and more care for those who bought tickets, some of the women who were injured at Woodstock ’99 would have been better protected. But it is more difficult to get the intention of the men present. “You can’t help the ticket buyer,” says organizer Michael Lang, rightly so. But you can make sure they behave appropriately and don’t give them ammunition to indulge the worst side of themselves.

Yes, train wreck is a portal back to another time when violent masculinity was the norm. We like to think we’re not like that anymore, but the evidence suggests otherwise. We may never see another festival like Woodstock ’99, thank goodness, but I have no doubt the attitude towards women that is promoted there still exists.

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