Extreme 'fandom'

Meet the people who take fan culture to the next level

"Not many people would consider spending a night sleeping rough for the sake of a band. Even fewer would cross the world to see the same show for the 41st time.

But for some music fans, this is nothing out of the ordinary.

"It is 3:04 in the morning and we are outside the Manchester Apollo. There is a solid twelve hours to go, and we've been here since 10:30pm."

Alice Mary Rush, 24, is one of thirty people huddled in duvets and sleeping bags outside the doors of the venue.

To anyone not in the know, the scene might read differently. The bundles of sheets, pillows, and half-empty pizza boxes could be a homeless community settling down for the night.

But the reason for this exodus of pastel denim jackets and nautical-themed tattoos is simple: American rock trio Paramore are in town.

"I’ve only camped for a show twice before, once yesterday in Belfast and then the day before in Dublin, but I’ve seen Paramore I think 23 times now," Alice explains, tucking an oversized blanket around her shoulders.

“Everyone was so excited that they were coming back to the UK after such a long time away and we just really wanted to make the show special and really make it count.”

“There’s such a big group of us who all met through the band and we all wanted to do all of the shows together. There’s only so much time in life for you to just be crazy and do stupid things — why not now?”

By morning, the group will have grown in numbers, and by the evening a line of hundreds will snake around the corner and disappear into the centre of Manchester.

They are part of what internet users would call a 'fandom': a term translating literally to 'fanatic domain’, but referring to a subculture of people with a common interest in music, cinema, television, or another fictional world.

The movement to queue days before a concert starts is a relatively new phenomenon. It attracts a certain type of fan — those who attend the same concert multiple times and even opt to follow an entire tour.

Amy O’Keeffe, 22, and Matt Sheather, 20, are at their third Paramore concert this week, and have another three to go before they will head back home.

They are part of the group who arrived at the venue at 10:30pm the night before the show. By the time it starts, they will have been waiting for 21 hours.

“This is our third date and we’ve camped out for all of them so far, my friends are flying to Copenhagen too,” says Amy.

“I think we all encourage each other go to more shows and it’s also how our friends get to see each other.

“We all live in different parts of the UK and we’re all doing different things with our lives, it’s just the only time when we really together is when Paramore do something.

“We’ve been doing this for about ten years—my first Paramore show was eight or nine years ago—and it sort of is that we grew up with them. We’ve really just grown up with them as a band so it’s nice coming back to them all the time.”

Making 'fandom' permanent

Amy O'Keeffe's new 'bars' logo tattoo for Paramore

But queueing countless hours isn't the only way these Paramore fans showcase their dedication to the band.

Many of them are covered in themed tattoos — with lyrics, logos, and even signatures painted in brightly coloured ink across their bodies.

This permanent ode to a band they love might seem odd to people outside a 'fandom', but for those involved, it is a fairly common way to express solidarity with a band's message.

Amy, who studies film and television at Glasgow University, has tattoos to commemorate her trips abroad to see the band.

She has attended Paramore's yearly cruise 'Parahoy,’ which features multiple concerts from the band and other artists aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

Tickets for a place onboard the four-day cruise can cost as much as $800 for a standard room, or $1,125 for a cabin with an ocean view.

"I travelled to go see them on my first trip ever to America so I got a tattoo to remind me of it," she said.

"I've got their logo, the 'bars’, and I’ve got the lyrics from ‘Daydreaming’ and that’s for Parahoy, I went on the first trip and they played ‘Daydreaming.’ I didn't know how I felt about that song until I heard it on Parahoy and it just clicked for me.

"I knew I just wanted something to do with ‘Daydreaming’ and Parahoy so I got it as soon as I got back from Miami."

She says the tattoos are reminders of the experiences she has when following the band on tour. Her group of 'fandom friends' even have matching ink to commemorate tours they complete together.

"Before the London show tomorrow we’re going to get the new ‘bars’ logo as tattoos," Amy says, brushing her thumb over the tattoo on her wrist.

"You have something nice to look at to remember hanging out with everyone and remember what a great experience tour was."

But Amy knows there are people who don't understand this permanent tribute to a band who may not always be as important to her.

“I’ve had people say to me ‘don’t you regret getting something to do with a band that you’re going to clearly outgrow on your skin?’ and I say 'first of all, I don’t think I’m going to outgrow them'

"If I do outgrow them or if they stop making music I’m always going to look back at it and remember the time and how amazing it was when I got it.

“I don’t have the tattoo because it’s Paramore’s logo, I have it because it reminds me of all my friends and that we travelled around the country together.”

A 'fan family'

A group of fans beat the heat with ice lollies outside the O2 Apollo in Manchester

It's clear that this group of fans has found a community through their common interest. It's something Matt even describes as a 'family.’

"When you clock someone wearing a Paramore t-shirt you give them that look and you think 'part of the family.’

"It’s great as well when we all meet up and hang out or you see somebody really excited for their first show and think ‘you wait, just you wait.’"

By this time it’s ten in the morning, and the people who managed to sleep are starting to peek out from their mounds of blankets.

"It's really nice introducing new people to Paramore," Amy chimes in, returned from an early trip to the god send which is a 24-hour McDonalds.

“But it’s also just meeting people from all over the world, it’s crazy how people come from all over for shows, especially for Parahoy. I think last time there were people from 30 countries."

"It's so nice to talk to people who understand, who just get why you’re doing these crazy things without you having to explain it."

But marketing student Alice thinks this extreme form of 'fandom' can sometimes get a bad reputation.

“'Fandom' is a word that's been stigmatised throughout the years, not just in music but in other cultural things — in TV, film, in Science Fiction and even now in the YouTube era.”

“People really stick it to 'fandoms' and they use it as a blanket term for these crazy people who don’t have a life and are obsessive over one thing, whereas—I’m not saying it’s not sometimes that—but I think that stigmatisation comes from people who don’t understand fan communities and have never been part of them.”

A quick glance along the sweltering hot Paramore queue is enough to tell you who this particular 'fandom' is: young and passionate music enthusiasts.

This is a trend which harks back to the 1960s, when hordes of screaming teenage girls would line the streets for a glimpse of British rock legends The Beatles.

"This bracket of society has always turned to music and I think they do because we go through quite a lot as teenagers," Alice says.

"I think it's really important that young people can find their experiences reflected in music, or that they can find an outlet or a way to talk about something that maybe they felt they couldn’t talk about."

“It’s that feeling of not being alone, but it’s also that feeling of 'It’s okay to talk about things and it’s okay I’m feeling this. I’m not a freak, and there are other people just like me.’”

“It’s reassurance and a comforting feeling, especially as a teenage girl when you’re going through the time in your life when you’re being told that everything you’re doing is wrong.

“You’re too fat, you’re too thin, you don’t have enough friends — there’s just all this negativity everywhere, and music is something positive you can cling to.”

Following 'fandom' around the world

Pete Creighton in Times Square, New York (Credit: Pete Creighton)

Intense fan communities exist far outside this one Paramore concert queue. 

Pete Creighton, 22, from Belfast, has travelled the world in pursuit of his favourite band, alternative rock duo Twenty One Pilots.

He first heard of the band in 2013 when a friend recommended he looked them up on YouTube. Since then, Pete has seen Twenty One Pilots play 41 shows in nine countries and three continents and amassed upwards of 12,000 followers on his band-centric Twitter account.

"I've seen them in Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand, and America," he said.

"I camped out for two days in Berkeley, California in a student campus. There were around 300 of us and it was just the craziest thing I've ever done.

"Probably what people ask me most is why I do it and I really don't have a straightforward answer because to me it just feels really natural.

“I suppose it’s really hard to understand for a lot of people—they ask 'how does that feel natural?’—but I just came to the realisation that I could do it, and it kind of relates a lot to how the band has helped me."

Pete’s involvement with the band and its surrounding community has completely reshaped his life over the past four years.

Not only has he seen the world because of Twenty One Pilots, but following their tours has given him the confidence to take risks in other parts of his life.

"Before I found Twenty One Pilots I saw myself as a very quiet person and a very sheltered person who wouldn't go out of my comfort zone to do things that would make me uncomfortable."

“I wouldn’t take risks or be adventurous and I guess once I first saw them live I thought that they were just the best thing ever so in my mind the way I was thinking about it was 'this is making me happy, so I’ve got to do this and I’ve just got to keep doing it as much as I can.’"

“So I got on a plane by myself for the first time and I travelled by myself for the first time and I met new friends."

After a few dozen shows, the friends Pete met through the band became the reason he kept going back. He even met his girlfriend, an American fan called Haley, in the queue for a show he attended in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

“My entire friendship circle is pretty much from the band, it sort of feels a bit sad to say but I’m over feeling embarrassed about it.

“I have more friends than I can count in different countries, in every state in America, and it’s helped me so much to have those friends.

“Twenty One Pilots have completely changed my life in all the best ways, it’s hard to imagine who I was or what my life was like before them.”