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Brixton Academy, South London

How an Asake gig in London ended in chaos

A crowd crush led to four people being hospitalised with critical conditions, and many were quick to blame the crowd itself. But the truth is more complicated

A gig by Nigerian Afrobeats artist Asake ended in tragedy last night when several people were rushed to hospital following a crowd crush, four of whom are currently in critical condition.

Policed were called to the O2 Academy in Brixton, south London, at 21.35pm, by which point the show was already underway. Footage circulated on social media showed large crowds gathering outside the venue. It was the third of three sold-out shows by Asake, and prior to the night, the Nigerian singer had posted on social media asking fans not to show up without a ticket. 

Speaking to the BBC, one of the injured attendees said: “I was just queuing up to give them my ticket and then the crowd out here was insane, they just came and pushed and I just fell down. I was trying to get up, people were stepping on my head, all over me. I had more than 10 people on top of me.” After being pushed to the ground, she was unable to breathe and worried that she was going to die. Fortunately, a man pulled her out of the crowd and she woke up in an ambulance. 

According to one video posted on Twitter, the police locked off the gig and left a large crowd of people waiting in “an alley in the freezing cold.” (Temperatures were around -3 degrees in London last night). Other onlookers criticised the heavy-handed police response, suggesting that the presence of aggressive police dogs made the risk of a crush more likely. 

While some on social media were quick to blame those who arrived without a ticket, some attendees reported that the majority of the people left outside did actually have one. In any case, it seems the event organisers could have done more to plan for this scenario. The psychology of crowd crushes has been well studied, and they are not typically the result of an unruly mob acting selfishly. They tend to happen when something interrupts the flow of people, and they’re as much about the physics of what happens when so many people are pushed together as individual choices. Most often, people at the back are pushing forwards without realising that they’re endangering those in front. Crowd crushes are closer to a form of natural disaster, then, which event organisers should be planning for. 

Whenever there is a crush at a commercial event, there is always an effort to blame the crowd itself, who are typically vilified in the media as a savage mob. We are already seeing this playing out on social media. But this narrative lets those who are actually responsible for ensuring public safety (the event organisers, the venue owners, private security firms and the police etc) off the hook. While we still don’t know exactly what happened yesterday, it seems likely that the real culprit is poor planning and an overly aggressive police response. When your job is to manage crowds and ensure the safety of the public, “some people in the crowd were irresponsible” is not an adequate excuse for failing to do so.

Born and raised in Lagos State, Asake - real name Ahmed Ololade - has been a huge break-out star this year. His debut album Mr Money With the Vibe broke streaming records on Apple Music, became the first record by a Nigerian artist to debut in the British charts, and eventually earned him a nomination for BBC Radio 1’s ‘Sound of 2023’ award. For many of his fans, it’s frustrating that Asake’s meteoric rise risks being overshadowed by an event so tragic, and surely so avoidable. 

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