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What It's Like Being Pepper-Sprayed at SXSW

Our barbed-wire view of Scoot Inn during Tyler, the Creator's SXSW set.
Our barbed-wire view of Scoot Inn during Tyler, the Creator's SXSW set.

It's hit all the major news outlets now: Odd Future's main attraction Tyler, the Creator was arrested on Saturday while trying to board a flight out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport for the misdemeanor crime of inciting a riot.

This came as little surprise to those of us who were there at the Scoot Inn on Thursday when the riot itself occurred. While the mayhem was controlled to a certain extent, thankfully, the situation could have escalated very quickly if not for the efforts of all involved (including Tyler himself) to quell the insanity.

Of course, it didn't stop your humble writer from getting pepper-sprayed twice as part of the outside audience.

It started early in the day. The show was set to start at 5 p.m. with second-billed Canadian hardcore band Fucked Up warming up for Odd Future. My friends and I arrived a bit before Fucked Up's set to get in the line, which had already extended over the train tracks and around the block outside of Scoot Inn.

After waiting in line with the increasingly drunken and rowdy crowd for a good hour, many people nearby began suggesting the idea of climbing the fences. At this point Austin police arrived on the scene to start handling crowd control, no doubt already running on high alert after the tragedy the previous night on Red River.

Around the time Fucked Up took the stage, security informed those of us in line that the venue was at capacity and we wouldn't be getting in for Tyler's set. That just outraged the crowd even more. My friends and I went and met up with one of our other friends who was already inside and we talked over the fence. Even that was too much for security, who ran my friend off and told us we couldn't talk to him from the outside.

The scene outside of Scoot Inn.
The scene outside of Scoot Inn.

So the situation between the audience and security was tenuous from the very beginning. We decided to just watch through the chain-link, since we knew the line wasn't moving anywhere. Others joined us in the admittedly pretty shoddy conditions outside the venue, surrounded by a variety of broken bottles, used needles and graffiti tags declaring this the domain of the "Heroin Kids."

Then Tyler took the stage and all hell broke loose. Immediately, the inside crowd rushed towards him, practically crushing each other in the process. Meanwhile, many outside started attempting to climb the fence and jump in. Despite security's best efforts, some of those people managed to evade them by slipping into the crowd.

At first we were content to enjoy the show outside, but then Tyler, ever the instigator, made a bold (though dumb) move by proclaiming that he wanted everyone inside now. He then told those outside to break the fences down and come inside with him.

It should be obvious, but I'll say it anyway: when you have a legion of followers, you probably shouldn't encourage them to start getting violent.

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That's what they immediately did. Already restless, the outside crowd started pushing the walls behind and in the front of the venue as hard as they could. Many bum-rushed the entrance gate and trampled their way inside. The chain-link metal portion of the fence started to give way, so the crowd started in on the wood planks as well.

Different people were fighting with security, some getting dragged out of the venue, while Tyler egged on the many still working on getting in to "push!" I figured it was only a matter of time before I heard sirens, so I started to make my way away from the more violent part of the scene.

They cut Tyler's mike, which just outraged the audience even more. In a state of mild confusion, everyone stopped and started yelling for him to come back. In a matter of minutes, Scoot Inn let him speak again. He apologized and told everyone to chill.

Amazingly enough, this actually worked out. Order started to return to some extent, aside from the stray jokers who were determined to keep beating the fences. Security started reattaching the boards, though I don't know how they managed to summon a power drill so fast.

In an instant, it was over just as quickly as it had started. Tyler begged the audience to sit still, be quiet and let him perform. Eventually he was even forced to ask them to take a few steps back from the stage because it was starting to pose a risk of collapse. Crisis averted on that count too.

However, security wasn't quite done. Even though Tyler was finishing his abridged set and we were still left standing outside, watching and listening from behind the walls, they wanted us gone. That's when the pepper spray started to rain down.

I'm not sure who had it or where it was coming from, but suddenly the hordes of us were coughing and rubbing our eyes. True to our devotion, the same passion that inspired the mini-riot to begin with, we stuck it out until Tyler was off the stage.

It was a hell of a concert experience, all things considered. From possible stage collapses to crashing fences and getting pepper-sprayed, it was one step away from a real disaster. Thankfully, no one was injured in the incident, but it did land Tyler in jail. For my part, it's one of the craziest SXSW experiences I've ever had, and one that will be hard to top in years to come.

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