the mass movements of metalheads being studied by science

Researchers used the Clisson Metal Festival that just ended to conduct a study at the heart of pogos to better prevent deadly bumps.

With a combination of sensors and an orange beanie, strange festival-goers mingled with the dancing hordes of Hellfest: These scientists are conducting an unprecedented study of mass movement to better prevent accidents and deadly bumps.

“We are here to try to understand the phenomena that occur in crowds and how to prevent the dangers associated with these crowds,” summarizes Julien Pettré, researcher at Inria (National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology) in Rennes. The scientist leads a European program called CrowdDNA (literally the DNA of the crowd), which has been running since 2020 in partnership notably with German, English and Spanish researchers.

Why did you choose Hellfest, which ended on Sunday in Clisson (Loire-Atlantique) after an exceptionally extended version over two weekends? “We know that there are dances associated with the music being heard, where there are physical interactions between individuals,” explains the researcher, who is installed with his team in a prefabricated building behind the main stage throughout the festival.

“circle pits” (Participants quickly run in a circle), “Walls of Death” (death walls into which two rows of festival-goers separated by an open space run) and other pogos or slams (festival-goers being carried by the crowd and lying down) have become essential rituals of the extreme music festival.

And a dream playground for these scientists. “We’re a bit like astronomers who come to observe the stars,” emphasizes Julien Pettré. “But the mass telescope doesn’t really exist, so we mix different types of data”. In order to observe the moving constellations of Hellfest, festival officials agreed that Inria could restore the images continuously filmed by cameras atop Hellfest’s watchtowers war zoneone of the six stages of the festival.

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Deadly Rush

For their part, two young volunteers from the small team put on a special suit once or twice a day, which is equipped with sensors distributed all over the body that record their movements. The cap allows the team to spot her on the videos. Even if their gear goes unnoticed at a festival known for its eccentric outfits, they don a t-shirt meant to warn the general public: “Hellfest and Inria are working together here to study masses.” They then mingle with the crowd at the chosen concert once or twice a day.

“We try to do everything”, explains Thomas Chatagonn, a 25-year-old Inria PhD student. One of the volunteers is responsible for mingling with the people “circle pits” or others “Walls of Death”, the second must be carried by the stream or climb up the crowd as if to leave the concert.

The most dangerous ? “The Moments When We Lose Balance”, judges the young researcher. Mandatory information, such as “Walls of Death” at which the “circle pit”, are not the riskiest. “It’s pretty controlled and only people who feel like going there go there. Incidents happen when people have not chosen to be there.” he said.

The information collected in the field will then be “coupled” with videos, in terms of computer modeling of the movements of “Guinea pig” in the middle of the crowd. With a goal as simple as it is ambitious: to invent new IT tools to detect in time the warning signs of a possible accident or even a catastrophic rush like the one that killed nine people and injured hundreds during a rap concert at the Astroworld Festival in Houston (Texas) in November 2021.

“When we detect these small signs of movement spreading in a crowd, we can notify the manager (of an event) who decides whether or not to intervene to disperse the crowd,” explains, for example, the project manager.

The study, which is also being carried out in the partner countries in the laboratory, in stadiums or in public places, must be continued until 2024. “We hope to come back to Hellfest next year!” smiled the researcher.

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