What makes a super fan? Watching 21 Pilots at Leeds Festival the cult of the fan is on my mind.
“Where we’re from, we’re no one…” That certainly was not the case at Leeds Festival 2016 as the 20,000 capacity NME tent heaves from the front to the back, an excited buzz hanging over the audience in anticipation of the band that has captured the attention of so many people in such a short space of time.
On the face of it, it’s easy to look at the crowd at a Twenty One Pilots concert and say “that’s a dedicated bunch right there.” It’s completely obvious. However, as I’m standing in the crowd at Leeds Festival’s NME tent, crushed between groups of bubbling fans sporting red beanies, red eye shadow and shirts sporting the band’s logo all struggling to get to the front, it’s very apparent that there’s a lot more to the dedication the fans feel than meets the eye.
Despite fifty minutes being a relatively short time compared to the slots other bands had at the festival, it becomes clear very quickly it’s all band members Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun need to have their audience in the palm of their hand. Throughout their set, Joseph comes across as a conductor, whether it be standing on a raised platform with his arms above his head as he guides the audience through the squealing synths and Dun’s breakbeats of explosive set opener ‘Heavydirtysoul’ or slowly swaying as the nuanced bassline of their hit song ‘Stressed Out’ rumbles throughout the tent, with the audience hanging on (and usually screaming) every word.
The question of what it is that makes this particular fanbase tick has stuck with me ever since I started listening to this band, and it was very prominent in my mind as I moved with the crowd, jumping and screaming every word back at the band (my voice still hasn’t completely recovered). And so, I decided to find out, by asking a handful of fans at the festival what it was about this particular band that meant so much to so many people.
Talking to a fan at the main stage prior to the band’s set, she points out that more often than not with the band, it’s not just the music, it’s the subjects that they tackle within the songs such as mental health issues and inner turmoil. She goes on to say that Joseph articulates his lyrics in such a way as to connect with the audience making them feel like they’re not alone, which she describes as “beautiful.” Her point is really driven home as I watch the huge crowd passionately belting all the words to every song.
Tara, a fellow fan of the band, reached out to offer her thoughts on the band and what they meant to her. She pointed out that the band and many of their songs represented “the two sides of you” as well as “accepting your dark side and learning to overcome it.” These two concepts have influenced the band’s most recent album, ‘Blurryface’ and its supporting tour, with Joseph’s on stage persona representing the battle between what we see on the surface and the alter-ego of Blurryface, the embodiment of all his anxieties and insecurities.
While awaiting the start of the band’s set, I spoke with another more mature fan embodying the cultish nature of the fanbase, sporting a dark colour scheme in his clothes and a red beanie, mirroring Joseph’s on-stage character while simultaneously proving that their appeal is not limited to strictly younger generations. He highlighted the positive, almost self-help attitude the band holds towards mental health issues, suggesting that it played a part in their rapid rise to the world stage, with lots of struggling people connecting to the songs and using them as a lifeline. In addition, he also brought a more straightforward point to the table.
“They’re just good at what they do, and when someone’s that good at what they do, you can’t keep them a secret forever.”
And as Joseph leapfrogs from his piano, fist clenched and punching the air while the twenty thousand fans scream in delight to the crescendo of a song, it’s hard to disagree.
words Will Walton