May 25, 2016


How Indie Rock Bands Are Making Show Spaces Safer For Everyone

Getty Images, Jessica Flynn, Andrew Piccone
Getty Images, Jessica Flynn, Andrew Piccone

Earlier this month, we spent Modern Baseball's Holy Ghost record release day with the band, an experience that resulted a few hours of powerful conversation about personal and professional growth. One moment that didn't make the cut arrived in the first hour of the day, where the guys detailed a soon-to-be launched tour hotline. Co-frontman Brendan Lukens explained:

"It's something we grabbed from [Massachusetts rock band] Speedy Ortiz. Basically the concept is, if anyone feels threatened or that they're not in a safe environment at [a Modern Baseball] show, they can hit us this hotline and contact us, the collective us. We'll be talking to security and talking to fans and making sure everything's going okay. A lot of it is with issues of security, a lot of it is with men grouping girls. We just wanted to offer something to fans."

When asked if there have been issues with this in the past, Lukens offered:

"Yes but nothing that can...people have never been able to reach us and when they do it's at the end of the show. We haven't been able to hear all of it. They ask you to take photos and add, 'Yeah, someone pulled my hair and I got pulled to the ground.'"

Bassist Ian Farmer jumps in, "Or 'Someone grabbed my ass every time they walked behind me.' Those are only the people who've been able to tell us." 

Drummer Sean Huber adds, "It's literally every show." Lukens says, "Obviously there's slight concern of it being abused but I think the general good of it will come out on top." 

Modern Baseball aren't the first to recognize issues of safety in their scene, but they're definitely part of a new movement of bands hoping to promote inclusivity and social change within it. Let's unpack.

MoBo's hotline is a direct reference to an initiative Speedy Ortiz took last year, wherein they launched (574) 404-SAFE, described in a statement as "our help hotline you can text if you are being harassed or feel unsafe at a Speedy Ortiz show. Texts will go to us and we will work with venue security to try and get you out of harm's way. It's a new system we're trying out and we're sure it will require tweaks along the way, but we hope in the long run it can make our shows safer and more fun for everyone. We love you all." 

They added:

“We believe that as a concertgoer, you have a right to an inclusive, welcoming performance space. Harassment and intolerance will not be permitted at tonight’s show or other Speedy Ortiz shows. Prejudicial, oppressive language and aggressive behaviors of any kind are unacceptable to us. This includes, but is not limited to: racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism & all other oppressive and marginalizing actions and microaggressions.”

It's a simple-enough idea: if you're unable to receive help, you can't get help, and that's unacceptable. The only naysayers of the Speedy project were the anonymous Internet trolls of the world. The backlash centered around a criticism of progressive ideology, that by launching a hotline, the band was doing too much, overreacting, even. At its worst, it was a criticism of frontwoman Sadie Dupuis herself... only a woman would go to such great lengths! It was your run-of-the-mill disgusting commenter behavior.

Modern Baseball engaging in a similar project feels necessary, hopeful. Speedy Ortiz aspired to inspire others to do the same, and they listened. It also helps that the bands run in slightly different circles: MoBo's audience is largely adolescent and emo-leaning, the kind that can really learn from this influence—especially if abusive behavior is already taking place.

Earlier this year, the most exciting young band in rock, the gender-nonconforming duo of PWR BTTM, launched a different kind of initiative. In their tour rider, they've asked to only play spaces with gender neutral bathrooms. You can read the full statement in a Tweet from Liv Bruce of the band, below.

The idea feels especially radical when considering recent events like pop and rock stars alike canceling sets in North Carolina because of an oppressive, transphobic bathroom law (we tend to agree with the actions of Against Me! and Dave Matthews more than the move of canceling dates...Laura Jane Grace of the punk band burned her birth certificate, labeled "Tom Gabel," and Matthews will perform in the state, giving all proceeds to LGBTQ equality groups). PWR BTTM's request quite literally subverts the law, making their live performance a safer environment for everyone. Like Speedy Ortiz inspiring Modern Baseball, here's hoping the actions of PWR BTTM will be mirrored in other music spaces. 

There's an important detail in PWR BTTM's statement, one that has the potential to be overlooked. It arrives in the middle and in a parenthetical—the idea that the gender neutral bathroom must be accessible, in addition to simply existing. Conversation surrounding physical accessibility will continue to grow in visibility, and that note serves as a subtle reminder. What if you require a gender-neutral restroom and are physically unable to get there? 

Is This Venue Accessible is a website run by Fan Death Records head Sean Gray (also of the band Birth (Defects)) that seeks to provide information on the accessibility of music venues around the world. It's primarily focused on DIY spaces, but continues to grow with each passing day. In the future, it'll be great to see bands refuse venues impossible to navigate for those not able-bodied. For now, any and all attempts on making the live setting safer should be championed, learned from and grown into the norm. After all, what's rock 'n' roll if not everyone can enjoy it?