Pictured: Double Double Land
UPDATE: You can now find all the details for the coalition's inaugural event, NASA (Noise Against Sexual Assault), here.
A handful of venue operators, a festival organizer, some musicians and a couple of journalists cluster together around a long kitchen table at Double Double Land, a DIY venue in Toronto’s Kensington Market. People nibble on carrots or hummus and chips. A few people are sipping from small glasses of red wine, and everyone listens intently as people take turns speaking.
These folks are here because they’ve long been part of the music scene, and they’ve all either experienced or witnessed sexual harassment and assault at shows. Now, they’re coming together to create an alliance to fight against it.
Toronto musician and journalist Kristel Jax (also a Chart Attack contributor) is one of the people behind the movement. She explains that people in the music community already share information about abusers in an informal way, a la shit lists, but that the level of information being traded amongst venues right now just isn’t enough to curb the problem. As it stands, people in the scene tend to alert Jax when a known predator is going to shows in her community. But as with any individual person, her reach can only extend so far. That’s where the alliance comes in.
“It just seems really frustrating to me that I could warn a friend to be careful at a party, but I couldn’t warn someone I didn’t know,” she tells me one evening over a glass of wine at her apartment, while her mini pug Lana bossily rearranges her crate in the background.
“Obviously, sexual assault is happening across every industry,” she says. “But this is somewhere where I know the ins and outs of the community well enough that I feel I could make a difference. We want the community to be safer and we want to reduce harm.”
The solution to scene harassment, to be sure, lies with the harassers. They need to change their behaviour. But part of the way to getting there, those in this coalition believe, is showing people on their worst behaviour that their actions will not be tolerated.
The music industry at large is one in which women are finished with looking the other way. What we’re seeing is the slow bloom of an overall cultural shift.
If it’s men who are still making the rules and few women in power are in sight, women’s only recourse is to speak out online. That’s what they’re doing, and thanks to their bravery, what we’re seeing is the slow bloom of an overall cultural shift. More people, and more bands, are realizing it’s crucial to say or do something in the face of this institutionalized terror. Groups like Modern Baseball and Speedy Ortiz have created hotlines to ensure the safety of their fans at shows, while organizations like Safer Scene and Girls Against have emerged to raise awareness about assault and harassment in music communities.
This venue alliance, too, is emblematic of that shift.
The group’s first major project together is a show on July 10 designed to counter the Swans show happening in Toronto that same night. Earlier this year, singer/songwriter Larkin Grimm publicly stated that Michael Gira raped her in 2008. Jax says the Danforth Music Hall’s willingness to go ahead and book Gira despite the allegations sends the message that survivors don’t matter to the venue.
Going forward, there will be both an IRL and an online component to the alliance. The details of both are still being hashed out, as is the final list of venues who will be part of the alliance. Right now, organizers are thinking they will create a mutually-agreed-upon zero tolerance policy. There will likely be a sign of sorts, similar to the rainbow sticker signifying queer friendliness, that venues can post on their doors. That way, people can rest assured that if they are harassed, they will be believed — and harassers can know that if reported, they will face repercussions.
Online, Jax says, the group will be used to spread information about who’s safe to work with and who isn’t. Groups like these, she says, help to build trust and community amongst people who may otherwise not feel safe with one another.
Awareness around consent and bodily autonomy is not going anywhere. Even men are catching on to this and realizing that they need to help improve the situation. Jon McCurley, for example, is one of the people who runs Double Double Land. Both he and his venue are part of the alliance. After a violent assault there, that venue is already working to curb harassment by creating “an accountable space.” McCurley explains that there is a panic button in the washrooms that people can use if they feel unsafe, and that button will alert bar staff to send help. Washroom doors are cut saloon-style so that anything that happens in the common areas would be hard to miss.
And Chris Worden, who is involved with a few different Ontario festivals, including Kazoo! Fest and Electric Eclectics, is also helping to shape the alliance. He says he cares about doing this work because he knows a lot of people who have been sexually assaulted in the industry.
In the past, he’s tracked down a person who sexually assaulted someone in one of Electric Eclectics’ dance tents and asked them never to come back. With that festival, he says, the policy is that “anybody who contributes to physical emotional insecurity of attendees will be asked to leave and not be invited back."
“You still have predominantly male gatekeepers,” he says, “and I’m well aware that that’s the position I occupy. The onus is on men to create scene safety.”
In the meantime, though, until this shift becomes powerful enough that all men know that, the onus lies with all of us.