Opinion On The Record: “Going to gigs on your own is empowering. It’s liberating. It breeds confidence.”

James Balmont discusses the joys of watching music solo.

It’s Friday night at Reading Festival 2008, and my mate and I are on our way to the Main Stage for a riotous double bill: Queens of the Stone Age followed by Rage Against the Machine. We push to the front, and it’s rammed. Josh Homme and co have ripped into ‘Go With The Flow’, and by the end of the song, I’ve lost both my £5 Brick Lane plimsolls and my mate, who’s been consumed by the crowd. But I’m having a blast. I mosh my way through both sets, waking up with bruised feet and a sore head the next day – knowing I’ve had one of the best gig experiences of my life.

This was the moment that confirmed to me that you do not need to be surrounded by mates to have a great time at a rock show - or any kind of concert, for that matter. And in 2023, it grieves me to no end when I see people on Twitter giving up tickets (or not buying them at all) because they feel they have no one to go with other than the hundreds and thousands of punters already attending. Put simply: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having fun on your own. In fact, during these dark and dystopian times, I think we deserve to treat ourselves as much as we can.

I go to all kinds of gigs by myself, and there are all kinds of reasons why I do it. In this current economic climate, for one, my pals don’t always have disposable income to spend on things like concert tickets. At other times, my music taste can prove a bit too weird for some friends. And sometimes I might just feel spontaneous - no point trying to get a group together when the show starts in an hour.

I’ve never felt like I lost out by not having a wingman or wingwoman to nod along in the crowd with (though I do appreciate that the situation is different for women; I can’t speak for the female experience). For me, it’s just different when I’m by myself. I can have a drink if I want because I’m a grown up. Sometimes I’ll bump into someone that I know; sometimes I’ll just keep to myself, let my hair down, and get lost in the moment. Gig experiences are so fleeting; why would I let myself down by choosing to miss out? Bands don’t tour your favourite songs forever - in fact, many don’t last more than a few years. Some artists implode at the height of their prominence, while others, tragically, pass away. I saw Gil Scott-Heron on my own at Bestival in 2010 and he died six months later.

It’s not just the risk of missing out (ROMO?) that’s important. In the post-pandemic era, with so many people still working from home or otherwise feeling estranged, it’s important to step out and have positive engagements with the world. Doing things on your own is empowering. It’s liberating. It breeds confidence. Flying solo at a mood-altering show is as important to my wellbeing now (say, at Caroline Polachek’s Hammersmith Apollo gig earlier this year) as they were when I went to see Tame Impala by myself at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester in 2010.

2023 beckons, and I know the group I’m going with won’t agree on everything on the line-up. But I do know who I want to see (Thundercat, Weyes Blood, Christine and the Queens…) and, frankly, I don’t care who comes with me.

Illustration: Felipe Soares

As featured in the May 2023 issue of DIY, out now.

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