At the age of 13 I, with my best friend at the time, went to the MEN Arena to watch nu-metal icons Limp Bizkit play a sold out show. I had the CDs, I’d seen the videos, and this was to be the first time I’d ever seen a band play live. I remember the day so vividly – tickets nearly stolen outside by a bigger lad and his brother, the thrill of walking into the stadium unscathed, discovering a support band I’d never heard of, buying the lead singer’s trademark red hat, (although naively purchasing a “fake” and being laughed at by friends afterwards), being fascinated by the moshpit but staying out of it (those times would come). The day is so vivid because it was one of the formative experiences of my life. Straight after the show I decided I wanted to play in bands and I did so for the rest of my life.
My dad knew someone who worked at the arena, so my teenage years were blessed with tickets to see bands like Korn, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Slipknot, while my younger sister would later spend her teenage years making trips from Liverpool to see Justin Timberlake, Kanye West and Atomic Kitten. Because the arena let in under-18s, it was the destination for us to see live music – going to clubs or bars didn’t come until much later. This was the place that we fell in love with pop culture, an infatuation that has never, and will never, die.
The horrific attack on the Ariana Grande show at the MEN Arena, reportedly killing over 20 and injuring many more, specifically targets children, teenagers and their parents. It targets euphoria, joy and happiness, it targets every emotion you feel when, caught in the beautiful, unique mixture of delirium and freedom – that specific concoction that only youth and pop can offer – you give yourself away to harmless obsessions, lost in those moments of dedication to people whose posters adorn your bedroom walls and dominate your conversations. Pop concerts offer respite from the rigidity of classrooms and allow a brief, ecstatic catharsis that kids don’t stop talking about for days.
“These are places full of dreams, where teenagers decide they want to be something, where they scream and sing along, where the building’s defining characteristic is happiness”
These are places full of dreams, where teenagers decide they want to be something, where they scream and sing along, where the building’s defining characteristic is happiness, its lasting impact happy memories. It is exactly the type of place that pure evil would want to harm, an appalling place and demographic to choose.
Manchester is a strong city and its communities rallied in the aftermath of the bombing – hotels took in children, taxi drivers switched off meters and the queues to donate blood are long. But the impact of this will be felt all over the world. This was an American star performing for British kids and our neighbours in France still bear the scars of what happened in the Bataclan in late 2015. This type of terror is patterned, callously choosing the places that will result in the most emotional chaos, but it is attempting to infringe upon a culture that is simply too forceful, too human, to ever stop.
Churches and temples are recognised sacred spaces, but pop music is the world’s greatest unofficial religion, one with many different leaders from all over the world, one that unites thousands of people in one place of worship to share an experience that for many will border on spiritual. Terror comes for that because it knows it to be untameable and eternal. Teenage friends grow old bound together by artists they loved in their youth, couples fall in love with their favourite song as the soundtrack, kids form tribes based on the bands that they love. Nothing, even this horrendous act of terror, can stop the human desire for music and the intimacy that can bring – it’s one of the truest faiths and more powerful than evil.
Follow Thomas Gorton on Twitter here @angstromhoot