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What It Was Like Playing A Socially-Distanced Metal Concert

Destruction vocalist Schmier talks us through the ins and outs of playing one of the first socially-distanced metal shows

Whichever way you look at it, gigs as we know them aren’t going to return anytime soon. Various plans are in motion to combat this – from drive-in concerts to virtual reality experiences – but nothing is going to compare to the sheer intensity of a heavy metal show with your mates.

Speaking to Kerrang! earlier this year, Download booker and Live Nation promoter Andy Copping said as much, explaining that “socially-distanced gigs, how we know it, are impossible.

Rock gigs are all about everybody getting together – the community, the closeness – and not just the closeness of the fans, but the closeness of getting right next to the stage and close to the act. Social distancing is going to be virtually impossible for rock shows.”

But don’t tell that to German thrashers Destruction, who played a couple of the world’s first socially-distanced metal concerts this weekend in Switzerland – reducing the 1,500-capacity Z7 venue in the city of Pratteln to just 300 punters.

Speaking to Kerrang!, Destruction vocalist Schmier says the venue approached the band as the Swiss government has allowed concerts of up to 300 people “provided they had certain corona measures.”

It’s a venue the band know well, and considering they don’t live too far away – “we’re just over the Swiss/German/French border on the German side” – they decided it was worth it.

After I checked all the facts and circumstances, we all agreed it would be a great thing to try,” he explains. “I personally think it is important to move on and to take the cautious first steps into a more normal world. We can’t hide in the closet for the rest of our life!”

But how does a socially-distanced metal show even work? And what is it like playing in such a unique environment? Here, Schmier guides us through the workings of a metal gig in a pandemic, and how it could be the first tentative steps toward a ‘new normal’.

How did it feel getting back onstage after four months away?
“The first few seconds felt weird, but being onstage is our life so it didn’t take long to feel comfortable again – especially because most people kept to the social distancing rules and behaved really well. We need to adapt and learn to live with the virus [in order to move forward].”

What did it feel like playing to a socially-distanced crowd?
“It was much better than expected, maybe because most people had such a terrific smile on their faces. Also, the crowd reacted very positively when I asked them to please respect the rules. I was impressed that the wild metal fans had better manners than most people in the supermarket!”

What measures were in place to ensure social distancing?
“The venue has an amazing stage so everybody could see the band even if they were further back. The place can hold up to 1500 people, so 300 felt really comfortable in front of the stage. Also, the venue was open at the entrance so airflow was granted, and some people even watched the show from there, standing in fresh air. Everybody could choose a safe spot, basically. As I said, I also made sure to tell people to respect each other and people reacted well to that. You cannot totally avoid body contact at the front but if you are high risk, you just don’t go there, that should be common sense.”

Did the crowd respect the rules?
“Yes, most people did. The Swiss crowd in general is a bit more controlled, and I think that really helped. The problems start when people are too drunk, we all know that. I guess in the future we have to expect restrictions in that direction as well. Also, masks at bigger shows might be a part of the future concept, I think.”

What was different for you as a band – what regulations did you have to follow?
“We are also respecting the social distancing; better safe than sorry. So backstage was the same rules as in normal life – regular cleaning, keeping a safe distance and a respectful togetherness. We usually go to the merch to sign stuff, but to avoid chaos, we decided not to do that this this time.”

Do you think this is the future of live music, or was it a one-off?
“I think this was a first step into the future. If we don’t try, we don’t know. Many people warned us, but somebody has to do it and even if we failed, we will have gained experience from it. That is what we need. The concerts also brought hope into the hearts of many live music fans and that is a very important thing at the moment, to try and keep people sane. Luckily Switzerland is ahead and they are trying things, and it will help the rest of the world to learn from it. It has to be small steps, but those are important ones!”

Destruction’s new live album Born To Thrash – Live In Germany is out July 17 via Nuclear Blast.

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Posted on July 8th 2020, 12:00pm
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