Think back to the first real live gig you attended. Dripping in sweat from dancing with the mass of people who surrounded you. Ears ringing from the screaming crowd of fans. Your feet sticking to the floor from all the alcohol and who knows what else. The stranger who locks eyes with you while you scream the words to your favourite song in unison.
And then there’s that guy. That one guy who ruins the good energy in the room. Who rubs up behind you because he knows it’s too crowded for you to push him away. Or who slips something in your drink, when you’re busy trying to find your friends who’ve been dragged away by the fast-paced crowd. The guy who forces himself on you even though you tell him to stop.
It takes one guy like this to ruin a night that you’ve been anticipating and planning for. An experience like this can ruin the live music scene, especially for young women. Why is ‘no’ still such a foreign word to so many men, when we’re surrounded by thriving campaigns and initiatives promoting the safety of women?
Perhaps we need to start thinking about the external influences that might be present at a live gig. We most definitely need to do this before we start talking about the attire or behaviour of women.
The biggest influence on crowds at festivals and intimate gigs is obviously the artists themselves. The genre, gender and history of acts are all key aspects.
For example, even though he’s been accused of several acts of violence, drunken behaviour, racism and transphobia, Dylan Frost, from Sydney-based band Sticky Fingers, still has the support of his fellow band members and a large majority of his fan base.
In 2016, the group embarked on an ‘indefinite hiatus’ (apparently now ended) after facing ‘internal issues’. Musician Thelma Plum responded to this on social media by exposing Frost, who reportedly spat in Plum’s face, attempted to physically and verbally assault her and a friend, and chased their car as they drove away. Plum stated that she has, ‘never felt so scared in her life’ (the post has since been removed). This sparked more people to come forward with accounts of similar behaviour, which resulted in footage of Frost and his partner hurling racial slurs at rap group DISPOSSESSED, as they were discussing the trauma of the Don Dale Detention Centre.
Though Frost has expressed his ‘regret’, he’s dismissed his behaviour with the age-old excuse of ‘boys will be boys’.
Boys will be boys? What does that mean? Boys will be violent? Boys will discriminate? Boys will abuse their power? Does this mean that if you are attending a Sticky Fingers performance that you can exhibit inappropriate (or sexist or racist) behaviour because the ‘role model’ front man does?
By supporting these bands, we enable perpetrators’ actions. We, as a community, are passing on a message that this behaviour is okay and acceptable, as long as you have a microphone that is louder than everyone else in the room.
I understand that some people choose to support bands for their music and not their actions. I appreciate that some people are able to separate out these real-world aspects from the music. But ultimately, I would argue, these supporters are enabling the band’s behaviour. They’re feeding the band money from downloads and concerts so they can continue to be rewarded for offensive behaviour.
And implicitly, the band is sending a message to fans about who is and who is not welcome at their shows. They show a lack of concern for who is and isn’t safe. In order for music fans to feel safe in these environments, we need to consider all of these factors. Fact: a Sticky Fingers concert is more likely to be an unsafe environment if you’re a member of a minority group. You could be targeted in the crowd by a stranger, or be humiliated and laughed at by the lead singer. The crowd could be full of people who are allowing or performing these actions. What are people realistically able to do to stay safe in such situations?
The resurfacing of Sticky Fingers has resulted in festivals such as This That and Holy Green booking the band as a headlining act. When fellow booked artists expressed their distaste about the band’s behaviour, Sticky Fingers removed themselves from the This That lineup. This shows the influence which these bands have, as their platform allows them to act based upon the safety and wishes of their fans and the broader community. Though promoters and booking agents hold the primary responsibility for hiring non-violent artists, fellow musicians must also assist in holding musicians who are racist or sexist or abusive accountable.
For example, upon allegedly discovering that he was to perform alongside headlining Sticky Fingers, well-known musician Paces took to social media to pledge $1000 of his earnings for the show to an anti-abuse charity. This could be interpreted as a selfless act arising from an unfortunate situation, but it can also be read as a justification for not rocking the boat, for not really taking a stand. Australian rapper Miss Blanks insinuated as much, writing on Twitter that if an artist ‘as small as her’ is informed of the people she is to perform alongside, then presumably so are other artists.
In order to ensure safety at all live performances, measures need to be taken. Hotlines or safe spaces should be provided for all attendees, allowing people who feel unsafe to report any incidents, or serve as a place for people to unwind and regroup. As well as this, those who are performing should also call out any inappropriate behaviour that they witness.
One good example is Camp Cope, an Australian trio who have reopened the discussion surrounding anti-social behaviour at live shows. They’ve used their influence and platform to establish campaigns such as #ItTakesOne and 1800 Laneway, which other musicians such as Julia Jacklin and Luca Brasi also support. But the music community’s reaction to Camp Cope’s activism are mixed. While many concert-goers are in support of the creation of safe spaces, others have responded by dismissing it as overly sensitive or unrealistic. Personal messages sent to the band members also detail violent and aggressive reactions to the change they are championing. Of course, such reactions only strengthen the words and ideas of Camp Cope and their supporters.
The Australian music industry continues to thrive off the employment and domination of men – 93 per cent of music sound engineers are men! Statistics like these reveal that the music industry is indeed male-dominated, and therefore safer for men. They also hint at why men such as Dylan Frost are allowed to continue to abuse their power and influence. The occupational control that men have in the music industry has given them a sense of ownership and entitlement. Perhaps in order to create safe and accepting spaces at shows, minority groups (including women in a male-dominated sphere) should be given more roles in the technical, organisational and practical areas of the industry.
Because all groups deserve to have the fun and freedom that majorities experience.
We will not go quietly. Everyone needs to step up and be accountable for their actions, especially when these actions have harmed others, whether directly or through tacit support. A large number of small changes can lead to a massive societal shift.
It takes one person’s actions to ruin a great night. But it takes a collective to create meaningful and permanent change. Fighting to challenge instilled ideals and behaviours has the ability to change the course of the entire music industry.
Image: Mahalie Stackpole / flickr