Day two at Lollapalooza began with one of the most cheerful mosh pits I’ve ever been a part of. This particular crowd was gifted with a superhero strength that allowed them to hoist some of the largest bodies I’ve ever seen above the surface.
In between the chaos of the jumping, dancing and sometimes floating, there was a refreshing feeling of security. As a short person, I am fully aware of how easy it is to feel swallowed up by a crowd at a concert. From the moment the Toronto-based rock band PUP stepped onto the Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage at Lollapalooza, I felt like I was in this exclusive cult with 500 strangers and if I fell, someone would be there to pick me up, albeit with a sweaty hand.
When I meet PUP’s energetic lead vocalist Stefan Babcock and guitarist Steve Sladkowski, the pair is casually sprawled out on the lawn at Lollapalooza with backpacks in tow. Babcock is small in stature but big in personality, sprinkling sarcastic remarks and superlatives throughout our chat.
“Music sucks, man. I listen to podcasts,” Babcock jokes of his listening preferences. “Nah, I mean, we’re listening to Phantogram right now. They are good,” he gushes. Babcock recognizes that Phantogram is pretty far from PUP’s dark, anthemic music, especially their second album, The Dream Is Over.
Before releasing a second album, Babcock suffered from a cyst on his vocal chords. It blew apart, started bleeding and prevented him from making any sounds for weeks. “A doctor looked at me and told me, ‘the dream is over,’” Babcock says, inadvertently explaining the album’s title. “He said I should stop being in a band. So, lyrically, a lot of that record is about overcoming the bullshit.” Since the 2016 release, the album has attracted an impressive following due to the band’s youthful energy and wild performances.
“People know what to expect from a PUP show at this point,” guitarist Sladkowski says. “I would hope that the crowd gets sweaty and has a good time but also looks out for the safety of others. We’re totally cool with moshing and crowd surfing as long as people respect each other.”
“A perfect PUP show for me is when everyone is super rowdy and one step below feeling unsafe or dangerous. When everyone is like, ‘This is rowdy as hell and I’m having a great time,’” Babcock adds.
I tell the guys that they’ve succeeded in creating a safe bubble of rowdiness at their shows. At one point during their show earlier in the day, my friend dropped his sunglasses in a rather amateur attempt to mosh and within seconds there were five hands on the ground reaching for the shades to return them to the rightful owner.
“What we want is for everyone to have fun and feel safe, and hopefully that involves getting a little crazy. If you’re doing that at the price of other people’s safety or comfort, it’s not cool,” Babcock explains. “We tend to stop shows and rip on people who are being assholes. If you’re a giant person and want to crowd surf, look at the people you’re about to jump on top of and make sure they can support you.” He stops for a second and adds with a laugh, “That’s coming from a guy who went crowd surfing today and almost took down like ten people.”
Sladkowski chimes in saying, “I don’t think it’s something we need to pontificate too often but if we see something we don’t like, we will acknowledge it. The last thing we want is for someone to feel like they’re not safe or not having a good time at our show.”
It’s a refreshing notion–a punk rock band that puts fans’ safety at the forefront. The two band mates reminisce for a moment on going to shows as kids and always wanting to find that balance between rowdiness and fun. Being able to offer that experience to fans seems like a dream come true. I can’t help but wonder though, since releasing The Dream Is Over, is the dream really over?
“The dream was stillborn,” Babcock says with a chuckle. “You have dreams and you adjust them as time goes,” he explains. “We’re never going to be rock stars. We’re never going to make real money doing this but the new dream is to make music that we like and we believe in and have a good time while we still can.”
His humble tone is ironic as we transition into talking about PUP’s aggressive touring schedule for the remainder of the year and their plans to release new music.