Until last year, the crowd was the trademark of the city. All through the day and night, people shoaled together, hurrying through streets, dawdling in parks, jostling at protests, concerts and football matches, like so many bees in a hive. Pre-pandemic, any film that wanted to kindle an atmosphere of eeriness needed only to show one of the world’s great cities empty of people to instantly convey disaster. From I Am Legend to 28 Days Later, the depopulated city is axiomatic of catastrophe.

No people in a space designed for them is disturbing, but that doesn’t mean crowds have always been regarded with favour. There are as many different types of crowd as there are moods, from the mob that stormed the Capitol last January to the uniformed commuters pouring out of London’s Liverpool Street Station in their dark suits and shining shoes. […]

But isn’t something missing from this account? What does it feel like to be in a crowd, thrust cheek by jowl against the sweating bodies of strangers? What about carnival? What about raves and protests, what about circuit parties and darkrooms, or cruising? […]

This crowd is an artefact of modernity, at once generated and serviced by the machine age. This crowd travels by train, then plane; this crowd is illuminated in ghoulish pools of artificial light, which opened up the after-dark hours and made whole new vistas available to the eye. This crowd works in factories and takes its pleasure at the weekend. This crowd is turbulent and shifting: now mods fighting rockers, now ravers on pills, now miners on strike, now the doomed demonstrators gathering in their Sunday best at what would become known as Peterloo. […]

Olivia Laing, “Group think: why art loves a crowd” in The Guardian, May 23, 2021.