WORDS

On 19 March, The Spectator published an article written by Bloc. co-founder George Hull which bemoaned a perceived lack of intensity in today’s nightlife. The piece was widely criticised for dismissing the safe space policy encouraged by a growing number of clubbers. Here, Discwoman affiliate and Thump features editor Michelle Lhooq discusses the safe space policy and its enduring importance.

Safe space. Even the phrase sounds sort of lame. Especially if you say it out loud, all nasal and hissing, like the whining of a hopelessly naïve student who demands trigger warnings before reading Aristophanes. Unsurprisingly, the idea of a politically correct utopia sanitised from all possible offences is often the target of ridicule: in a 2015 episode of South Park called Safe Space, Cartman sings a hammy, Broadway-style musical number about living in a literal safe space with “bully-proof windows” and “troll-safe doors”.

"The need to make nightclubs “safe spaces” is thrown into sharp relief when you consider the pervasiveness of sexual assault at music events"

In March, Bloc. co-founder George Hull probably thought he was performing the same sort of “fuck you” to bleeding-heart liberals when he wrote in The Spectator that “the rave was supposed to feel like a distinctly unsafe space.” In Hull’s now-infamous op-ed, the 32-year-old lamented that “young people these days just don’t know how to rave” because “they are too safe and boring.” According to Hull, “staying up all night in a disorienting and vaguely threatening environment, surrounded by questionable people” is the point of partying — a point that’s been lost on an “unimaginative bunch of wimpy pseudo-hedonists”, AKA the youth of today.

While everyone chuckled to South Park’s winking takedown of overly-sensitive PC culture, Hull faced an immediate and unanimous backlash from the dance music industry and beyond. The reason for this, as my colleague Angus Harrison pointed out in an article for THUMP, is that Hull’s perspective is one borne from privilege. “What to him might be vaguely threatening, to others might mean sexual assault, verbal abuse, and getting followed home,” Harrison wrote. “The questionable people tend not to prey on the large dominant groups of white males bombing around the place like there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

The need to make nightclubs “safe spaces” is thrown into sharp relief when you consider the pervasiveness of sexual assault at music events. In recent years, rapes have been reported at Electric Zoo in New York, Made in America Festival in Philadelphia, Glastonbury, Reading Festival, and countless others around the world. Part of the problem is that the sort of hedonistic spirit that Hull champions is often used as an insidious excuse for the perpetuation of rape culture. In a June 2014 article called What To Do If You’re Sexually Assaulted At A Music Festival, Gothamist posted a picture of a bikini-wearing girl at Mysteryland who was spanked and groped by men in the crowd when she climbed on a speaker to dance. According to the photographer, “her reaction was simply a mild look of distaste… She didn’t say anything.” Most victims don’t — last year, while reporting a story on a woman who was allegedly raped in a club bathroom in New York City, I was shocked to learn that according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), only 32% of rapes are brought to the police, making it one of the most under-reported crimes. Prosecuting sexual assault is also exceedingly difficult; out of those reported rapes, just two percent of the accused actually get convicted and serve time.

"In 2016, nightclubs, music festivals, and raves are political arenas where culture wars are fought against a background of rattling subwoofers and strobes"

Fortunately, more festivals have been waking up to this issue and devoting resources to curb it. A stall called Reclaim The Night at Bestival raises awareness about consent, and has a team of sexual violence experts and nurses to help victims who want to talk about incidents. But not all festivals are eager to address the problem. “I guess events are concerned about being seen as a festival that’s got a problem with sexual assault,” a manager of the stall told Broadly, in an article titled There’s a Rape Problem at Music Festivals and Nobody Seems to Care. “But, by embracing approaches such as ours, they would actually be making their festivals safer spaces.”

In 2016, nightclubs, music festivals, and raves are political arenas where culture wars are fought against a background of rattling subwoofers and strobes. The rise of feminist DJ collectives like Discwoman, Sister, TGAF, and Siren has created a space — both online and off — where women in the music community feel welcome and supported. Meanwhile, queer musicians like Arca, Mykki Blanco, ANOHNI, and the KUNQ crew have emphasised diversity and brought traditionally marginalised voices into the spotlight. While many like to champion raves as democratic spaces where people of all races, genders, and sexual affiliations can gather under the unifying bond of music, this is ultimately a fantasy. In reality, it takes a lot of work to create an environment where sexism, racism, transphobia, and other social ills are kept at bay. Sure, you could call this a “safe space”— or just the way things should be.

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