attitude is everything! removing barriers for disabled musicians and gig-goers
Ahead of In-Sight Weekend, we had a chat with Constant Flux founder Richard Phoenix about what's in store and the simple changes that can be made to empower artists.
In-Sight Weekend is a series of events taking place between 31 March and 1 April to raise awareness around access and disability within DIY music. Featuring talks from voices at the forefront of the scene, as well as practical workshops on how to make gigs more accessible, it's all come out of a partnership between Constant Flux (an organisation founded to create opportunities for learning disabled musicians) and Attitude Is Everything (a charity that improves deaf and disabled people's access to live music), with an aim to share both perspectives on barriers to inclusion, as well as achievable visions for the future. Culminating in an 'integrated' gig at DIY Space For London -- featuring performances by people with and without disabilities for audiences with and without disabilities -- it's not only a serious discussion on issues of social exclusion but a chance to see some seriously mega music too (chiefly the very good Fish Police: a band whose music nods to everything from MF Doom to Kraftwerk, De La Soul to Grace Jones). Ahead the weekend, we had a chat with Constant Flux founder Richard Phoenix about what's in store and the simple changes that can be made to empower artists.
What are some of the biggest barriers facing deaf and disabled audiences and performers?
I think the biggest thing is a lack of awareness and understanding of what accessibility is and why it is important. I believe that a more diverse world is a better one and the more people that can take part in society the richer it is. A big barrier are people's attitudes (hence Attitude Is Everything!) and one of the aims of the weekend is to highlight this and through raising awareness and hopefully inspiring people, create change.
What practical things can be achieved in the context of a DIY venue, gig or tour?
Information is one of the things that will have the biggest impact. What information you share and how you present it is massively important. For example, smaller venues that don't have step free access and accessible toilets might think that there's nothing they can do to be accessible, however just by having this information available, they are empowering people to make their own choices about whether they want to attend or not. Access Starts Online is an initiative from Attitude Is Everything to encourage more access information like this to be available online from venues. There are a few bands that are starting to take this into their own hands if the venue fails to do this, like Paul Hawkins and the Awkward Silences, who are playing the weekend. In terms of simple practical things that can remove barriers there are clear accessibility information on flyers, straightforward information and the use of symbols, and having free PA (Personal Assistant) tickets is great as people with invisible disabilities might need a friend, family member or carer to support them to attend a gig. Others are designated viewing areas -- which don't need to be a raised platform -- a lowered bar and menus with pictures and symbols, along with gender-neutral toilets. Directional signs that show where everything is in the venue and a respite/chill out room for people that might have anxiety or find crowds too much are also massive bonuses. And of course an openness to listen to and understand people's access needs as you never know what might be preventing someone from coming to your gigs.
And who should be implementing the changes?
Everyone! I think we all have a collective responsibility to ensure everyone has an equal chance to access music. If you're in a band, put on gigs or are involved with a venue ask yourself why disabled people aren't coming to your gigs and why you wouldn't make small changes to get more people with disabilities to come. You could also ask why you might not play with or put on bands or musicians that have disabilities. From my personal experience I highly doubt it's because that audience or those bands aren't there. If you're an audience member you can ask yourself these same questions and diversify who and what you engage with. There are schemes such as Gig Buddies that matches adults who have a learning disability to a volunteer who has similar interests, so they can go to events together that they both will enjoy, which helps create that presence and highlights the need for more accessible spaces. Of course Attitude Is Everything is doing great work to shout about making things more accessible while also supporting people that want to make changes to do so, and there are loads of great organisations supporting musicians with disabilities such as Heart n Soul, The Gate, and Carousel - who all have artists involved in the weekend.
Who are some of the people you have speaking at the weekend?
Names already familiar to some people will be Blaine Harrison from the Mystery Jets, who will be talking about his experiences of touring in a very mainstream music world with a disability; Jess Thom, also known as Tourettes Hero, who has created a whole stage show around celebrating the creativity of difference; and Daniel Wakeford, who has been making DIY music for over eight years but has now found fame though featuring on a Channel 4 TV show. We also have Lizzie Emeh, who played the Paralympic opening ceremony and was the first learning disabled musician to release a solo album; Luc Eisenbarth a musician and film-maker from the metal band Zombie Crash; members of punk band Woolf discussing how chronic illness impacts on their band and lives; and 2Decks, a rapper, producer and radio presenter from West London who is supported by The Gate, an amazing arts organisation that has a very DIY attitude. There's even more that I'd love to talk about but suffice to say the topics that are going to be covered will be broad and fascinating. There's a big crossover with everyone involved in terms of being artists themselves and audience-members, those experiences inform each other.
And the plan is take what is discussed and turn it into a new zine-based guide, right? Who will the guide be aimed at?
That's the plan! The hope is that everything talked about and shared over the weekend will inform and shape the guide. It is being published later in 2017 by Attitude Is Everything to help these ideas engage with the DIY scene. It will outline the importance of creating accessible spaces and offer simple practical tips for achieving this - with information on where to go if you want to delve further. It'll be aimed at those within the DIY music scene, a highly motivated and creative network that is often at the forefront of drives for more equality. It will be a practical guide for musicians, bands and promoters within that scene designed to support and empower them to instigate change.
The weekend will also culminate in a showcase gig… Can you tell us a little about some of the artists performing?
I've been co-organising an integrated gig night for over eight years in Brighton called The Rock House, but many people might not know what a gig like this is like or how it works in practice. The gig is a chance to implement some of the DIY access examples we'll be talking about over the weekend with artists that have been directly involved and demonstrate how all aspects of venues can be accessible on stage and off. We have Paul Hawkins and the Awkward Silences, a revolving collective of musicians that demonstrate how a band can make their gigs accessible, inclusive spaces where anyone can come along, feel comfortable and have a good time. Woolf, London's favourite DIY queer punk band, members of whom are heavily involved with DIY Space For London and who are talking on Friday about their barriers to music and finally, The Fish Police, an amazing electronic future punk-funk band, supported by Heart n Soul, that I am yet to see an audience stand still for!
Finally... In what way will these simple changes empower artists?
I think that helping change the community that directly surrounds you can enact change on a larger scale. If you can create a microcosm of what you think the world should be like then those practices can be scaled up. Once you start asking people about what might prevent them from taking part, paying attention and becoming more aware of barriers then you start realising how much you yourself take for granted.
In-Sight Weekend is taking place between 31 March and 1 April, with events are funded by PRS for Music Foundation and Arts Council England. Tickets are available here.
Text Matthew Whitehouse