Death at Aoki

Halloween in Madrid was one of the most intellectually interesting nights I have had in the city thus far.  The Madrileno celebration of the day is in its early stages, and is just gaining momentum with the population there. (November 1st, on the other hand, is a National Holiday.)  Only a few stores sell Halloween gear and people generally believe that they must dress up as something scary, if they choose to wear a costume at all.  Whereas in the US, costumes are common and dress up as anything, as like a slutty unscary cheerleader.

My North American friends and I all dressed as Glam Rockers.  We went to a friend’s apartment for drinks before taking the metro down to the Madrid Arena, taking the blue line down from Cruzco to Lago, next to Casa de Campo.

The subway ride was an experience in itself.  At every top, more partygoers hopped on, drinking, smoking, and drugs on the packed train. It was filled to capacity, perhaps more than that, with youngsters.  Some in Halloween attire, others just in street clothes. All ready to party.

After perhaps the rowdiest, craziest subway ride I have ever been on. We arrived at the Lago stop.  The insane mass emptied onto the streets, drinking and partying away thousands strong – outside the arena.

It was an enormous street party, like teenagers who snuck away from home to have a wild Wednesday night on the town.  Of course, given the lack of bathrooms, people were urinating anywhere cover could be found.  A few police officers were there, but they weren’t doing anything.

Eventually we decided it was time onto filter into the arena. It was a massive concrete box, with very inexpensive drinks.  Some DJ did a 3.5-hour opening act for Steve Aoki.  Mostly dub step and some harder house music.  The 10,000-person venue had around 3,000 people, which to me seemed like a good size. Die hard music fans and their friends huddled at the front of the stage and partied.  Spirits were high and people seemed to be having a great time.

The random DJ’s set kept going and going, until around 3:15 AM (Aoki was scheduled to come on around 11 or midnight).  In fact, the only reason I stayed was to see this mythical Aoki creature.

When he took stage, what was a fun party descended not chaos.

Little did I know, but while I was enjoying random DJ’s music, the crowd filled to capacity.  Or more. I turned around and there were 10,000+ people behind me.  Crazy.  Surreal, perhaps.

More importantly, groupthink and mob behavior were in full effect. A few people were enjoying themselves, but fights, shoving, wasted people and inappropriate behavior dominated the scene.  A female friend of mine was knocked over, and a few of our guys rushed to get her up before anything bad happened.  I am generally a very laid back person, but this was ridiculous, and for just a few instances I feared for a friends life. And this was at a concert. In my new home.  The scene was getting beyond ridiculous.

I stayed for a little longer, but the overcapacity crowd lost the elements of fun and was on he brink of chaos.  I left. Got a taxi, and went home. Not true, actually. I wish that were the story. I actually was in the mood to go on a little run in tie-died tights and blue wig so I may have done quite a bit of running at 4:30 am.

Later, just a few minutes after my departure, a stampede killed three girls. Crushed them.  I can only imagine their last moments – falling, a drugged-out, drunken crowd rushing and crushing them with reckless abandon.

I wish I could say I was surprised, but I wasn’t. My friends, mostly harmless business school students, got in fights, were shoved, beaten, trapped in a chaotic mess.  And then there were the 10,000 or more others, some with less altruistic intentions.

My first month in Madrid has been wonderful. Few responsibilities, just the opportunity to make new friends, travel and explore the city.  But Halloween was an unpleasant reminder of the dark sides of the party life; that it can have its downsides; that it can be taken too far.

I’m glad, I’m lucky I got out, without a scratch to my blue wig. But I feel so sorry for those who lost family members, friends, loved ones. At a party. Unacceptable.

I look back on the evening, the first time people have died in my presence, and all I can do is hank God I got out.

Pouring out some liquor to all those lost in the struggle.