This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
The next time you're at a festival, lying in your tent and trying to keep its ceiling from spinning around so much, spare a thought for the people staying sober to keep you safe. Festival security generally might seem like they're out to ruin your fun, but they obviously do valuable work – like stopping people, who are heavily armed, from entering the festival site.
Herman van Horsen has been working as a bouncer in the Netherlands for 35 years, and has secured countless festivals and club nights in and around Amsterdam during those decades. I had a chat with him to find out what it takes to keep people from hurting themselves and each other at festivals.
VICE: How did you become a security guard?
Herman van Horsen: After finishing secondary school, I started going to the gym a lot and I quickly became pretty strong and muscular. Back then, if you were big or could fight well, someone would inevitably ask you to become a bouncer. In the early 1980s, a few of those really big bouncers would force people to tip them before they were allowed to leave the club. It wasn't until later that everything became regulated and I had to apply for a license to be a security guard.
Do you get a lot of attention from women?
We tend to, yes – most security guards are pretty big and strong and that's interesting to a lot of women. When I was younger, I've had women at festivals explicitly asking me if I wanted to search them. But even now, I'm surprised at how many women in their twenties flirt with me. I've dated women I met while working, but I've always been very careful and selective. I don't want any drama at work.
So what are some of the weirdest things you've had to take from people while searching them?
I found a snake once, but luckily it wasn't that big – and I don't think it was poisonous. The snake's owner took it back home before he was allowed back in the festival. And in the past, people used to bring those huge afro combs that could be used as a weapon. But besides that, it's mostly just guns and knives, really. And it's always strange to see guests dragging along massive bags to one-day festivals, like they're going on a three-week holiday.
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What's the nastiest thing you've ever seen happen at a festival?
At a festival in Ruigoord – a squatted village near Amsterdam – someone just took a shit in the middle of the venue. I've also seen people pleasure themselves in front of everyone, or throw up in a glass and drink their sick. Humans can be pretty disgusting.
And what's the darkest thing you've ever seen?
I think the most horrible thing has been people's drinks being spiked with GHB – guys subsequently getting robbed and girls getting assaulted. I've kicked a guy out of a festival site once for spiking a girl's drink – I found her lying motionless in a tent with that guy on top of her. I won't forget that, it was horrifying.
Do you ever feel unsafe at work?
I've been threatened with a gun, an axe, and I've had a beer glass shattered in my face – twice. Luckily, I've never been seriously injured – both times the glass landed right next to my eye. And the times that I've been threatened with weapons, for some reason I didn't feel any fear when I confronted those guys. That threw them off so much that they didn't know what to do. I've been doing this for 35 years, but generally, those extreme situations happen very rarely.
Do you ever feel bad when you have to turn someone in for carrying drugs?
Sometimes, sure. When the organisation you're working for has a very strict anti-drugs policy, you have to follow their orders. But if it was up to me, I wouldn't be so strict with someone who carried a tiny amount for personal use. And when I see very young people being completely off their faces, I think they deserve pity rather than punishment.
What's the most creative place you've ever found drugs?
I think it's really funny when people stuff baggies in their hair. You won't see them, but sometimes they just fall out.
How do you feel about the fact that despite security measures, most festival-goers manage to smuggle in drugs anyway?
Well, most organisers understand that many of their guests only go to festivals to drink and take drugs – so they benefit from drug use as well. I think it's better to legalise having certain amounts of drugs on you, as long as there's an opportunity to test them at the festival. You can't stop people from using drugs, and the real danger comes from the junk drugs are cut with.
But of course, I've had some bad experiences with people who mix alcohol with coke or ketamine, as they can get pretty aggressive. But of course, people who are just drunk can get that way too.
How long will you keep doing this?
Most bouncers retire by the time they reach my age, but I hope to carry on for at least another year, maybe two or three. I still train five times a week – I get a lot of comments at the gym about how strong I am still, mostly from much younger people. But sure, I have to maintain authority, I have to be able to intervene when people get aggressive or annoying. Realistically, that gets more difficult with age, so at some point I will have to retire.