Posted by Sebastienne
Recently, I've seen some fab queer feminist performances. People like Better Strangers (queer. feminist. opera.) and CN Lester (epic queer singer-songwriter) have made me happy, thoughtful, and/or a little bit turned on. I could write blog posts about how awesome they are, but that's not what I'm doing today.
Today (and I hope Jessie, Clouds, and CN won't take this the wrong way..) I want to talk about how epically shit their venues were.
Now I'm not talking down from a position of perfection. I have played some atrocious gigs in my time and I know it's not always something that an artist has any control over. I know that a lot of the stuff I want to talk about is wrong with the gig scene, but I'm singling out these two recent gigs because they are fresh in my mind.
Venues matter to me as a performer. An audience doesn't experience what we're doing up on stage in some kind of art-appreciation vacuum; they experience the event as a whole. And, in the same way that we try to maintain this blog as a safe space, I like to think that we can try to do something similar with the shows that we encourage people to come to. But this dearth of decent venues makes it really difficult to do anything of the sort.
Here are some of the things I'm talking about:
First up, accessibility. Do I even need to expand on this one? Every small gig venue ever seems to be a room above a pub. There's rarely any reserved seating. The first year Lashings went to Edinburgh, we played at an "accessible" venue which told wheelchair users: "then we carry you up these three stairs".
Next up, atmosphere. Now obviously, this is something that can be created anywhere (check out Josie Long's Alternative Reality Tour for a great example of this), but the kinds of venues that are available to us when we are starting out really don't help matters. Better Strangers performed at "London's Little Opera House", so clearly the space is intended for their kind of music; and yet, in every pause and quiet passage, I could clearly make out the sound of the rock covers band playing in the pub downstairs. Lashings have fought against our surroundings often enough - under flourescent strip-lighting or up against first-floor windows, backlit by policecar lamps and kebab shops. None of these things are enough to ruin a performance, but they add up to it being less than it could be.
One thing that's been getting to me more and more - the other acts. Right after CN Lester's sweet, melancholy songs came that singer-songwriter staple: The Man With The Guitar Who Sings About His Exes. Only this guy didn't just sing the standard Nice-Guy Blues; his material was much more hateful. Downright misogynistic, in fact. That threw me right out of my "enjoying a night out" headspace and I headed off home pretty soon after that. Now this is not about whether or not the other acts are to my taste - I wouldn't have had to go home if Guitar-Man had been merely crap - this has a different, more politically sensitive element to it. Lashings have been quite lucky, in this regard; mostly we put on our own shows, or perform at gigs organised by awesome people like Hel of The Cutlery Drawer. But still, there have been times that I've winced to see fatphobia or class-drag at shows with Lashings on the bill. These things are a problem for two reasons:
- A lot of people like Lashings because our humour doesn't screw anyone over. By lending our "brand" to a show, it feels like we're making a certain kind of guarantee about the content. I wouldn't want to mislead a Lashings-fan into attending a show that they'll find offensive.
- If I've seen an audience laughing at a fatphobic joke, that makes it seriously difficult for me to stand up in front of them and sing "Fat". If I'm feeling strong, I can see it as an "educational moment", and hope to make a difference; but I'm not always feeling strong.
A Lashings gig venue should:
Be accessible -
- by public transport
- by people with reduced mobility
- to people on low incomes
- have gender-liberated toilets (the Royal Vauxhall Tavern mark theirs "toilets with urinals" and "toilets without urinals")
- not have crowds of drunk men in the main bar area
- be in an area where alternatively-dressed / gender-variant people can walk the streets
Not promote us in a heteronormatively sexualised manner
- Our burlesque is not like that, and you let us and your audience down if you lead them to expect anything else.
- We aren't asking for a veto on every single joke, just a general sense that our audience aren't going to be triggered by the comedy of hate.
Think about other kinds of accessibility -
- Many neuro-atypical people will have difficulty with noisy, crowded spaces. Can we provide "time-out" space?
- All sorts of people have difficulty hearing lyrics of songs.
- How can we make our gigs more accessible to everyone?
- Well hey there, kind reader, have you got a few hundred thousand quid to start us off?
What should we add to this list to make a Lashings gig a better experience for you? Am I asking for the moon on a stick, or would the world be better if we all shouted a little louder for this kind of consideration?