10 reasons why Generation Y aren’t rushing to classical music events

Ravers and classical music concertgoers have more in common than you’d imagine, writes Maria Roberts. Though you’ll need some novel ideas to get them into your concert halls – and not all of them are legal
Maria Roberts at EIF, Usher Hall – Classical Music Wear
Maria Roberts at EIF, Usher Hall – in Classical Music Wear

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read the line ‘Why aren’t young people going to classical music concerts?’ Or heard the question, ‘How can we get more young people to listen to classical music?’ Or, ‘Let’s get young people into concert halls’. Generation X, Y, and Z – how do we link them all together?

So, in the name of research, I swapped my faux pearls and lace dress for a neon jacket to see how the two compare.

On Monday 22nd August I went to Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) to catch a concert by São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marin Alsop. Then on Tuesday 23rd I sat through two hours of Beethoven’s complete works for cello and fortepiano performed by cellist Steven Isserlis and Fortepianist Robert Levin.

Maria Roberts at Creamfields – in Ravewear
Maria Roberts at Creamfields – in Ravewear

The following Sunday I went to Creamfields – the UK’s biggest dance festival with a raft of headliners like Annie Mac, Tiësto, Calvin Harris, Fatboy Slim, Groove Armada, Paul Oakenfold, Paul van Dyk – the list is enormous. There I ate lots of curry wraps and (according to my smartphone app) danced on the spot for the equivalent of 25km – that’s more than half a marathon. So what did I discover? *Spoiler: it seems teenagers are just too busy having fun elsewhere.


Classical music versus dance music – how they align, or more simply, don’t align at all

Steven Isserlis and Robert Levin at EIF
Steven Isserlis and Robert Levin at EIF – patrons are sitting down


At classical music concerts everyone wants to sit down, for very long periods of time (see above). The only time classical music concert patrons move around is to go the bar at the interval, and that’s when they’ve had the foresight to preorder their drinks as they arrived early. More movement happens when they go to the toilet after drinking 250ml of red wine, followed by 200ml of cold water, in a record 9.5 minutes.

Ravers in the Steel Yard – no seats
Ravers in the Steel Yard – no seats


At a rave no one sits down ever (see above) – if you sit down you are doomed. Instead you carry the bar around with you in your backpack, with straws leading conveniently to your mouth. Or you wear the bar as a hat, also with straws leading to your mouth. There’s no late arrival policy. You go where the music takes you.



Jaap van Zweden © Hans van der Woerd / IMG Artists
Jaap van Zweden © Hans van der Woerd / IMG Artists

At classical music concerts the only person allowed to wave their arms around in the air in time with the music is the conductor on the podium (see above). If audience members start to wave their arms around in the air they run the risk of being ejected or someone telephoning emergency services.

FATBOY SLIM at Creamfields – get those hands in the air
Fatboy Slim at Creamfields – get those hands in the air

At a rave, the DJs wave their arms in the air and actively ask participants to also wave their arms in the air. This is signalled by the “shout out” ‘Let me see your arms in the air!’. At this, the audience oblige willingly and vigorously wave their arms in the air. Young people, you see, are very obedient.


You are most certainly not allowed to eat crisps, pizza, hotdogs or curry during a classical music concert!

At a rave a pizza topped with crisps, hotdogs and curry is going to carry extreme kudos. And if you throw it back up, extreme double kudos.


At classical music concerts audiences enjoy a sparkling reception with nice wine, served in fancy glasses, as they stand around a table forehead furrowed in some serious conversations.

At a rave no one cares about the quality of the wine – it’s just wine – you drink it from the bottle and the only

Ravers drinking wine by the bottle, from the bottle
Ravers drinking wine by the bottle, from the bottle

table you are concerned about is the operating table should you drink a few too many glasses bottles. That’s when your parents are called, and that’s when the serious conversation will begin, and your sparkling nail polish will be removed ahead of surgery, followed by the contents of your stomach.


At classical music concerts audience members tend to wear far too many clothes, all at once: suits, dresses, jackets, scarves, waistcoats, shoes, gloves, hats, watches, socks, pearls – everything. There’s a utilitarian uniform of dark colours: black, grey, or navy, interspersed with the odd flash of white, red, orange or lilac.

At a rave you don’t have to wear any clothes. In fact, some people choose to wear only their underwear. The staple wardrobe is very-short-shorts, with half a bum cheek on show. Actual clothes tend to feature some form of neon. Mostly, if it’s an entire outfit, either nothing matches, or absolutely everything matches.


Smoking is strictly prohibited during classical music concerts.

Young folk at a rave frown upon smoking unless it takes the form of dry ice shooting up from the stage, fire shows, cannabis, or fireworks. When they want to relax, they don’t reach for the ciggies, they collapse.


At classical music concerts there’s a cacophony of chitter chatter about the latest developments in laser eye surgery, or laser beauty treatments. laser hair removal, laser skin therapy, laser keyhole surgery – you name it, lasers are hot property.

Lazers – and lots of them
Lasers for young people – and lots of them

At a rave lasers are so hot they fire out in all different colours and directions and they are not a painful medical intervention (see above); instead they are a signal for the young people to dance harder. Which they do, because like their classical music counterparts, they know the rules and stick to them. As I said, they are very obedient.


At classical music concerts cellists think it’s hilarious to drop a B flat.

At a rave dancers think it’s hilarious to drop an E.


When a classical music concert patron faints at Mahler 8 (like at a Liverpool Philharmonic concert I attended) the paramedics are called and the oxygen tanks come out.

At a rave, young ravers want to feel faint. They purposefully queue up for tiny canisters of nitrous oxide – professionally used as an anaesthetic and analgesic to replace oxygen in the bloodstream – because they want to experience fast hallucinations, dizziness and a temporary high. Then they pass out, and the paramedics are called.


For those alien to classical music, all classical music sounds the same. There’s no difference between one orchestra or conductor or venue staging Mozart and another, it’s all screech, screech, screech. It could be Liszt, it could be Chopin, but the untrained ear thinks who cares?

Real classical music connoisseurs care: they know exactly when a set comes together in a perfect vortex of concert hall, conductor, repertoire and players to give them goosebumps. At this moment, something magical happens and a community of music lovers become bonded together forever in nostalgia for that concert in 2016… etc. etc…

For those alien to dance music and raves, all dance music sounds the same: it’s just one daft beat after another, there’s no difference between one DJ and the next, or one club night and another, it’s all boom, boom boom, who cares?

But real clubbing connoisseurs know when the music works, they care when the atmosphere, the sound, and the night comes together in a perfect storm to create goosebumps. At this moment something magical happens and a community of music lovers become bonded together forever in nostalgia for that big night out in 2016… etc. etc…

So the question is, can you really attract rave-loving teenagers to your latest Sibelius series?

A giant visual of a duckling
A giant visual of a duckling to calm the party down
Fire on stage @ Tiësto / Creamfields
Fire on stage – Tiësto’s return to Creamfields
Fireworks – end the night with a big bang
Fireworks – end the night with a big bang






Unless you have bucking broncos, dodgem cars, bungee ball rides, fire, fireworks and ducks (see above), you’re going to struggle.

Though a giant vodka bar might swing it.

Smirnoff vodka bar @ Creamfields
Smirnoff House vodka bar @ Creamfields