The System of a Down ‘Toxicity’ Release Show That Became a Terrifying Riot

On the eve of Toxicity's release back in 2001, System of a Down planned a fun, free show for fans. Instead, it erupted into chaos & a full on riot. Here's the story of what happened.
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The days of rock concerts turning to an out-of-control frenzy are probably mostly behind us. Bands still occasionally have to dodge projectiles, and the occasional uncool dad musician might scold people for enjoying some reefer.

But back in 2001, when System of a Down released their legendary album Toxicity, plans to play a public outdoor show in L.A. turned into a scene of utter chaos. 

On September 3, 2001, one day before the release of the album, System of a Down scheduled a free concert in Hollywood, California as a show of gratitude to their fans. The band had chosen a large parking lot as the venue for the free show, as it was large enough to accommodate attendance of around 3,500 people. 

They had underestimated their draw, however. Because of the Labor Day holiday, which allowed more fans the flexibility to go see a free concert on a Monday, more than twice the expected audience ended up filling the parking lot and surrounding streets.

An estimated crowd of between 7,000 and 10,000 fans—with some sources even claiming it was 15,000—showed up. The size of the crowd proved problematic for the size of the venue, and when security began denying entry to many of them, people began to break through the barricades. Due to crowd-control concerns, the fire marshal wouldn’t allow the show to happen as planned.

Only nobody bothered to tell the crowd. The show was scheduled to take place at 5 p.m., and fans waited for over an hour past the planned start time.

System of a Down and their representatives wanted to play a few songs, or at the very least have frontman Serj Tankian explain the situation to everyone in person, both of which were denied.

But nobody ever made any official announcement explaining why the band wasn’t performing. And then stagehands took down the banner with the band’s name. That’s when things spiraled out of control.

“When the backdrop came down, all hell broke loose,” said Shaun “Vizzy” Vaughn in an LA Weekly interview. “It was pandemonium.”

Disgruntled fans began to pelt the stage with debris—bottles, shoes, coins and other paraphernalia. It didn’t help matters that stagehands actually threw some of it back at the crowd, and eventually people charged the stage.

All of the band’s touring gear—drums, guitars and amps—ended up being destroyed, while people also smashed car windows, threw debris at police and overturned port-a-potties. (Gross!) 

“The kids went crazy – they started destroying our equipment and gear, and we had to get a police escort out of there,” said System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian in Metal Hammer.

The band left the scene with a police escort to a nearby hotel to escape the mayhem, seeing it all unfold from just blocks away. In total, the skirmish lasted for six hours, and six people were arrested on charges that ranged from felony vandalism to assault with a deadly weapon.

And the loss to the band’s gear and damage to equipment amounted to around $30,000. And as a result, an in-store performance scheduled for the next day was canceled.

The band’s manager, David Benveniste, said the whole ugly scene could have been avoided if the band had been allowed to perform or address the crowd.

But one riot and one canceled show weren’t enough to stop the momentum of Toxicity upon its release, hitting number one on the Billboard album chart in its first week, and ultimately selling 6 million copies. 

Watch scenes from the System of a Down riot below: