Gigs should be safe spaces. That should not even be something I have to declare. They should be spaces for dancing and singing and appreciating the music that you love. They should be spaces where musicians and their fans come together for an evening of mutual appreciation and respect. They should not spaces of fear or threat or feeling unsafe. Women should not be going to gigs wary of being assaulted.
I hate that I am even writing this article. After thousands of years of life, you’d have hoped that humans would be able to gather in one place without sexually assaulting each other. But in 2017, it’s one of the biggest problems facing the music industry. To pretend that gigs are safe spaces – especially for girls and young women – would be to lie. It would be to sweep a very real issue under the carpet.
Girls Against and Safe Gigs For Women (SGFW) are two organisations that have been set up specifically for the purpose of campaigning for gigs to be safer spaces for women and girls. The many, many incidents reported to SGFW are testament to the extent of the problem of sexual assault at gigs, and that’s not to mention the many incidents that go unreported. SGFW deals with sexual assault in all areas of the gigosphere, from artists to attendees to staff, and of course sexual assault in any capacity is vile and wrong. As SGFW stated, “Artists in particular have a special relationship with their audience – they are often times in a position of power over fans who look up to them. When that trust is shattered it is particularly hard on the fans, who have invested so much time, emotion and energy into their favourite bands”.
These organisations are doing fantastic work in opening the conversation. Making it clear that sexual assault – or any kind of behaviour that makes another human being feel uncomfortable – is unacceptable in any capacity at gigs is surprisingly necessary. Although this should seem logical, the nature of gigs as loud, crowded events, where you’re automatically squished next to a bunch of strangers and jostled around, make the lines between assault and accident blurred for many. It shouldn’t be this way.
These acts can be committed by fellow gig-goers in the crowd – but they can also come via artists, too. ‘Performance bands’ take their onstage ‘personas’ incredibly seriously – to the extent where live shows are built around them – and are often susceptible to confusing the lines between on-stage fiction and the reality that exists for those in the crowd. Seriously, it does happen. Mel Kelly of SGFW explained that “we have had bands come to us in the past to say that they used to behave in a certain way and now they no longer do because of the work we do, and we hope that will continue”.
The bottom line is that nobody’s experience of seeing a beloved band live should be marred by behaviour that makes them feel uncomfortable, uneasy or unsafe. We all have a right to enjoy live music free of that. Continuing to hold all parties to account for their actions and the behaviour of their fans is phenomenally important in solving this critical issue.
It shouldn’t be something that we have to fight for, but that doesn’t mean the fight becomes any less necessary. As music fans – decent, like-minded ones at that – we have to stand together in our opposition to a dangerous culture. We have to keep talking; we have to keep shouting. This conversation is as important as ever.
Volume #18 is here – order your copy now.
Words by Holly Carter