The vehicles lined up six deep down both sides of the arena. The news trucks along Flatbush Ave., their satellite antennas towering over the street lights as the sun dipped. The ambulances along Atlantic Ave., uniformed EMS milling about smoking cigarettes. Only one group expected anything to happen.
All were here for Avicii, the boyish superstar DJ who has, rightly or wrongly, become a flashpoint for EDM's drug culture. Earlier this week, 36 people were hospitalized—and another 50 were treated on-site—in Boston during a stop on his True Tour. In May, 29 in Toronto were taken to hospitals after another show of his. Four others have died this month at EDM festivals across the country, just a year after a festival in New York was cancelled due to two fans dying because of bad drugs. The news of Avicii's Boston show made the New York Times, CNN, and People. Is a moral panic boiling over?
That's what I came to Barclays Center in Brooklyn to find out. Despite news reports of increased security for the show, authorities on-site maintained that they were operating under normal protocol. When I asked a bored medic leaning against a fence and billowing smoke whether they were on high alert he said, "What do you think?" but then told me that there were no more ambulances at Barclays than normal.
Further up the street near the main entrance, three policemen yakked at each other as kids in fluorescent clothes poured out of the subway station. They gave off the slight air of smugness that can't help but emanate from a group of cops. "You guys are blowing this all out of proportion," he said to me, referring to the media. "The only thing that's different is—" then he gestured at the media vans idling across the street.
Up near where Atlantic and Flatbush meet, three 18-year-old boys were sitting on a bench waiting for some friends. They had come here alone from Long Island wearing the same outfit—tanktop, shorts, white athletic socks pulled up their calves—in different shades like a boy band. I asked them what they thought of the incidents at Avicii's Boston show.
"You just gotta handle yourselves with this kinda thing," said the talkative one. "You just gotta keep yourself in control. Like, obviously people are gonna come here under the influence but you just gotta keep it under control."
I gestured towards the news vans. What did they think of the attention?
"I think the media is a bit much," the talkative one continued. "I don't think the media needs to be here. It's just a concert, it's not that big of a deal."
Each boy said their parents were not worried about their attendance here, but the talkative one noted that Avicii's Boston concert had worried his sister.
"The Boston one was pretty crazy. That scared my sister a bit. A lot of people get out of control at these things."
Inside the Barclays Center, things were as relaxed as they were outside. I was down on the floor, in the precise spot where dozens had to be evacuated in Boston. But here it was spacious, even as Avicii's set peaked. In Boston, concertgoers pinned the chaos on heat as much as drugs and alcohol—"You couldn't breathe if you were on the floor," said one kid. But as I sipped water out of a cup—no bottles—I found myself wishing I had a jacket.
Though Avicii's name is in the headlines now, his show in Brooklyn suggested that the burden for protecting fans rests not with the artist—or the music—but with the venue. The arena was cold and it was easy to move around. Everyone from police to medics to arena security were resolute in their belief that nothing bad would happen that night, and nothing did. A medic told me after the show that only a few people had been taken away—nothing out of the ordinary.
After standing 15 feet from the stage for two hours, I concluded that the biggest health risk that night was men. If I was sending my teen to an Avicii concert my biggest fear would be that three junior analysts, their arms locked together, wearing the same clothes they wore in Panama City three months ago, were going to leap with great force and, adrenaline lifting them higher than they've ever jumped, crush her right at the moment Avicii drops the bass like a trio of Marios squishing a Goomba. But in Brooklyn, at least, all were spared.
As we waited for Avicii to take the stage, I walked to a group of security guards and asked them the same question I'd been asking everyone in a uniform: Are you guys worried about tonight?
"Ain't nothing gonna happen," one told me. "It's Brooklyn, baby. You guys are safe. Have fun."
A few minutes later the lights dropped and a dude in a Hawaiian shirt ran past me and screamed, "Avicii, motherfuckers!"
[top photo via AP, rest by Jordan Sargent]