On Concert Culture and the Need for Safer Spaces

Allison Hsu

Ella Miodownik

Ella Miodownik

It’s 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night. You and your friends lace up your white (but not really white anymore) sneakers, fill your respective water bottles with the PBR left at the pre-game, and schlep to MuHo or Earth House to revel in Wesleyan’s music scene, described by students as “thriving,” “unique,” and “sweaty”. You pass through the door, flash your ID, and integrate yourself into the conglomeration of people bobbing their heads and swaying to whatever band is playing. You are inside, you are surrounded by friends, and you are not in any imminent danger. But you are not necessarily in a safe space.

Wesleyan’s music scene does set itself apart in that it is relatively inclusive and supportive of femme, POC, and queer or trans musicians, and the people who book shows work very hard to bring in a wide variety of artists and bands to ensure that concert lineups are not solely composed of cis white men.

However, Wesleyan as a community can do better when it comes to representation and support, and not just among performers, but among all participants of the music scene, whether it be those who host and organize shows or those who attend. Rape culture, sexism, and violence are not required to show their IDs at the door to enter these venues. They are already present, and have been for quite some time.

It is unsettling for me and many people with marginalized identities when a venue claims to be a safe space, yet acts of discrimination still occur and go unpunished, sometimes even going unaddressed. Promoting and implementing safe spaces within the music scene, in and outside of Wesleyan, is an ongoing process that is frequently met with complications and setbacks. Confusion arises in the discourse surrounding safe spaces when the assumption is made that safe spaces are, in the most literal sense, places that you can enter and instantly find refuge from any form of physical or ideological violence.

I don’t believe that any such place exists.

In a world where misogyny, racism, homophobia, and transphobia are oftentimes overlooked, and oppressive behavior is normalized, the unfortunate reality is that anywhere we designate as a safe space is still vulnerable and therefore permeable.

Although there is no guarantee that the environment of any music venue will be free from threats of hostility, we should continue going to shows and participating in the music scene with the mindset that we are each wholly accountable in acknowledging discrimination and its consequences, and we must do our part to ensure that music venues are spaces of creative energy and security that allow people to be their whole selves. This means actively working to push against systemic violence and being attentive and receptive to the community that we are part of even when productive change seems impossible.

The amount of effort that goes into creating safer spaces is oftentimes overwhelming and incredibly frustrating, but we have to keep trying. We have to do what we can to contribute to creating these responsible and supportive spaces, and we can’t be silent or look the other way when instances of discrimination occur.

To those who host and organize shows: explicitly state what kind of space you’re trying to create and implement. It may seem redundant to promote policies combatting racism, sexism, and homophobia, as these policies seem implicitly universal, but visibility matters. Clearly advertising community intentions goes a long way in encouraging people to be more actively aware of what’s happening in their environment, and gives people a platform to speak up and take action before incidents even take place.

The next necessary step is to actively enforce these policies, not by simply stating, “This is what we stand for,” but rather, “This is what we stand for and here’s how we’re going to make it happen.” Don’t assume that everyone at a show is having a great time because no one comes forward about feeling unsafe. Pay close attention to the environment, and think about who is and who isn’t being represented in your space. Even at a show where the lineup is composed of femme, POC, and queer or trans musicians, some people in the audience will most likely still be uncomfortable, and their experiences are real and valid and need to be taken seriously.

Also, because creating safer spaces is a process, learn to update these policies and consistently communicate with others to determine how to keep improving them.

To those who attend shows: follow all of the policies set forth and understand that, in an environment with so many people and so much activity going on at once, the organizers can only do so much when it comes to maintaining a safe space for everyone. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to look out for one another. It’s understandable that going to shows is a way for some people to unwind after a long week and have fun, but it remains absolutely necessary that people remain attentive to the environment around them.

Don’t be afraid to intervene and call people out when their behavior and actions appear hostile and don’t align with the venue’s policies; or, if confrontation does not seem like the best path of action, tell someone.

In addition to doing what you can to protect those around you, be aware of yourself and your own actions. It can be difficult when a sizable mass of sweaty college students are confined to a small space, but you have to be aware of how your body is situated within the space. If you feel like you could potentially be violating other people’s boundaries, it is your responsibility to move or position yourself in a different way. Understand that you are never entitled to someone else’s body or space.

The need for safer spaces within the music scene is not a new idea. The points I bring up may seem redundant, and many people already devote their time to developing and implementing safe spaces. But the process requires a lot of patience, and it is frustrating to strive towards a goal that only seems to get further and further away every time a new incident of violence or harassment occurs. It’s crucial to remember that we are all accountable, that we each have a role to play in creating and promoting safe spaces, and no matter what, we need to keep trying.