When we track down passes for a summer festival, once-over the loudly arranged concert flyers at coffee shops and dive bars, ask a friend who they’re belting along to during the ride home, press into the edge of the stage because there’s nowhere else to go, we are in tangent with billions of others.
We are living the unspoken truth that music- in its purest definition- is everyone’s. In the words of Jes Skolnik– longtime punk, managing editor of the Bandcamp Daily, and occasional freelance writer for Pitchfork: “Music is universal. Music is a space for everyone, but it’s not how those [music] spaces have been traditionally organized.”
Music, the ability to experience music, is all of ours, however, its inclusive soul doesn’t always play without problems in reality. Music does not exist in exception to society; it stems from it. The problems outside the concert hall don’t stop at the door.
On September 17 in the backroom of Chicago venue, Beat Kitchen, Corin Tucker– Riot Grrrl pioneer and Sleater Kinney vocalist/guitarist, Britt Julious– the voice of Chicago Tribune’s Local Sounds column and an editor for Vice Magazine electronic music extension, THUMP, Monica Trinidad– a queer, latinx artist and organizer, and Jes spoke at the “Safety, Sexism, Harassment, and the Music Scene” panel held by the newly minted OurMusicMyBody campaign. Moderated by OurMusicMyBody advocate and Kittyhawk band member, Kate Grube, the panel is the first event run by the campaign, organized with the intention of promoting fun and consensual music spaces for all by drawing from the panelists’ experiences as members of the music community. “We need to listen more instead of just waiting for the opportunity to talk,” Jes noted early in the discussion. People turned up on the Saturday afternoon to do just that, indication that, when it comes to harassment and assault, the status quo is simply not going to fly anymore.
Sexual violence in music has been a problem for decades, however, it has rarely been dealt with, much less acknowledged, as a nasty and prevalent part of the scene. It’s seen more as a fringe issue, an exception to the overall communal vibe. A long history of reports show that this is, unfortunately, not the case. “I have my google search terms that I enter,” Britt Julious told the audience. “Every week there is something, another story of sexual assault at a music festival or concert.”
Bravalla, Lollapalooza, Beyoncé and Jay Z: start surfing and you will see that these are just a few well-known names in a constant flow of disturbing stories. Many more go unreported. It is common practice for festivals and concert venues to have policies in place regarding prohibited items and entrance regulations, but rare to find one that has articulated a stance on harassment and violence. “As it currently stands, everything falls on survivors [of sexual assault],” explained Jes. “We cannot always put the onus on survivors to say something. That is a very vulnerable position [for them to be in].”
Born from the partnership between local non-profit organizations Between Friends and Rape Victim Advocates (RVA), OurMusicMyBody is a response to the lack of movement from music festival promoters and concert establishments when it comes to the issue of sexual assault. “There is no such thing as a safe space, only safer spaces,” stated Monica Trinidad during the panel, and, as it presently stands, minimal action has been taken by the majority to make live music safer. However, with the help of socially involved organizations and outspoken advocates within the community, there has been some progress. This year, Riot Fest put together an anti-harassment policy with the guidance of OurMusicMyBody, and provided education and outreach tabling on issues regarding harassment and assault during the festival. The Isle of Wight Festival provided a tent this summer with trained staff to educate attendees on consent, as well as serve as a safe space for survivors of sexual violence. “Big festivals could really learn from what the smaller festivals are doing,” remarked Corin Tucker, pointing out that it doesn’t take a lot to make a show enjoyable for everyone. “This doesn’t have to cost money, this doesn’t need politicians,” Monica added. “We [the community] just need to make these things happen. Everybody is responsible for making safer spaces.”
In the music community lies the fastest and most effective solutions to sexual assault and harassment within the music scene. We must educate ourselves and each other, we must speak up, and we must listen. We, as individuals and as part of this community, can learn how to effectively support consent, recognize when it is not being freely given, and be a hand in de-escalating a situation when it does arise.
“There’s been a cultural shift” acknowledged Corin, a nod to the crowd. “When Riot Grrrl and Sleater Keaney began, it [the scene] was violent and hostile. There was conflict at every show. Audiences now are much more diverse and willing to help each other. I do see progress.”
“Music is a place in which I’ve found a lot of violence, a lot of trauma,” shared Britt Julious. “But also a lot of redemption.” The engagement and brutal honesty of the speakers, audience members perusing the information booth, OurMusicMyBody advocates answering any question; it all felt very much like the “cultural shift” Corin spoke of. This shift is happening in the mosh pits of Seattle punk clubs, the wings of basement House shows in NYC, on the stages of summer festivals that draw thousands, and it happened in the crowded backroom of Beat Kitchen, in Chicago. We were there because we saw movement, we are here now because we believe in it.
Content written by Laurel Dammann
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