You’re at a show, and having a drink and watching bands play when it hits you. Someone’s hand lingers a little too long on the small of your back but you don’t know how to respond, or your friend is passing out because they have consumed too much of a substance and you don’t know how to help, or you are anxiously overwhelmed by the crowd and pressures surrounding you pushing you into a harmful spiral. Sometimes, all of it has happening at once.
It might not come as much of a surprise to you, then, that oftentimes our beloved and romanticized music scene has a dark side. As a musician myself, I have often come across this dark side, from unwanted touches and hugs and overconsumption of alcohol, to my own struggles with depression and self-harm. While these experiences have fueled me to write songs, to work hard on myself and to make meaningful art – they had also oddly been idealized in my mind as a true representation of what it means to be a “real musician”. This is a trend that is also recognized by many of my peers.
Thankfully, there are people out there who are working to bring light and awareness to such issues that afflict the music community. I had the opportunity to speak with one of my personal heroes, Vince Soliveri of Safer Gigs who is working to educate and promote safety at our local shows, and throughout the rest of Canada – an effort that truly deserves a lot of attention.
What is safer gigs?
“Safer Gigs is a Hamilton based organization. We set up resource booths at events to help reduce the risk of harm in our music communities. Our goal is to stop overdose and sexual assault before it happens.”
Why did you start safer gigs - what are the beliefs/reasons behind it?
“We started Safer Gigs essentially out of necessity. As show goers, we have noticed a lot of people have been put in harms way simply by being at shows, which are spaces that are supposed to be fun for all! We believe that if you’re a band or promoter throwing a show, you have a responsibility to make sure everybody who comes to your show leaves in the same, if not better condition than when they entered.
The number of sexual assaults, overdoses, and crisis’ that happen at shows is a lot larger than [what] we see. In dark rooms with loud music, it’s sometimes hard to identify if a person is suffering. We want to help people recognize when things aren’t right. Be it someone being groped in the mosh pit, or someone half passed out in the back of the venue. And we want people to know how to assist these people in a healthy and ethical way to make sure they can get home in the same condition, or better, than when they entered.”
What has the response been like from most people?
“There is quite a wide range of responses we receive from people. When we’re set up at a gig, people are usually pretty respectful. Sometimes, people simply graze their eyes over our table and walk away, which is fine! Often times, people look at us with a little bit of confusion, thinking, “What is this? I’ve never seen this at a show...” and we love engaging with those people to let them know what we’re about, and what we do. And more often than not, we have some people who are super engaged, and spend a ton of time at our table, leafing through all our resources, talking to us about their experiences, and giving us different perspectives on these subjects that we previously may have not considered.”
What do you hope to change in the Hamilton music scene?
“We want people to recognize that every individual has a responsibility to ensure their friends, strangers, band mates, patrons, etc… are safe. It’s not hard to do, but it is something that is a continuous process. We want people to realize that music and event spaces are no different than any other kind of environment. If you’re at a coffee shop, and you see someone passed out on the sofa, your initial reaction is to help that person. But in a dark dingy bar, when the same incident occurs, people are less likely to engage. People’s suffering is almost normalized in the nightlife, and people involved are not trained to deal with those issues in a healthy way. We want to make people aware of these issues, and want people to know how to assist others, to ensure we’re all safe, and that everybody can have a good time. We believe that if we can provide healthy information in spaces like these, people will be more informed, and can make better decisions.”
Do you have a plan for the future of the project?
“As we’re settling into 2018, we are in the midst of collecting all submissions for our upcoming zine “A Guide to Safer Gigs”. In this zine, we are calling on people in our community to let us know what they think makes a “safer gig”. As two individuals running this organization, our scope only goes so far. But we want people to share their thoughts and experiences with us, so all voices can be heard. With this zine, a release party may accompany it, but nothing is finalized yet.”
What can the average music listener/audience member do to ensure that shows are a safe environment for everyone?
“Bystander intervention!! Each and every person can be capable of bystander intervention. If you see someone is being harassed at a show, direct, distract or delegate (look up bystander intervention 3 D’s)! If you see someone who’s showing signs of an opioid overdose, administer naloxone and call 911 (naloxone kits can be obtained at any pharmacy)! If you see someone who is suffering from a panic attack, give them clean water and lead them to a quiet and calm area. These are all strategies that any average show goer can put into action, and can help save lives.”
Where can we hope to hear from you next?
“Look out for our zine! Follow us on Instagram (@SaferGigsHamilton) and Twitter (@SaferGigsHamOnt) to keep updated on any gigs or events we’ll be set up at. E-Mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org for booking inquiries. If you see us at a show, don’t hesitate to say hey! 2018 will be busy for us, so keep your eyes peeled!”
Featured image via Safer Gigs Hamilton