High Tension have just wrapped up a set of shows supporting US metal lords Deafheaven, so you would think they’d be nothing but smiles and devil horns heading to Perth for the last show of the tour. Instead, singer Karina Utomo posted on the band’s Facebook last night to express their frustration that their exuberance for the tour was “overshadowed by a shitty incident and sadly one that is not an anomaly.”
During their support set at the Friday show at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel the band became aware of a member of the audience being unwantedly groped by another member of the audience. Appalling behaviour on behalf of the perpetrator and while Utomo details the band were successful in getting the offender kicked out of the show, her post points out that the incident goes beyond the people who were directly involved.
“This gross behaviour oppresses not only the persons being violated but also oppresses other metal fans. How are we meant to feel safe and respected when attending shows when we are constantly fearful of putting ourselves at risk of being violated? By continuing oppression of others you are stunting the growth of the metal community, you are breeding fear and affirming the bad experiences of other metal fans that are more vulnerable. Do you ever wonder as to why the attendance of women and members of the LGBTIA community at metal shows is almost always a mere percentage? Even though a love for metal / aggressive music is NOT exclusive to men?”
It’s maddening to read about this behaviour happening, because it is all too familiar and commonplace. Last year Music Victoria released data reporting how safe people felt when attending Melbourne venues, where a whopping 80.2% of respondents viewed unwanted sexual attention as being common in Melbourne’s pubs and clubs. Just last week fellow Melbourne band Camp Cope posted a recount from an audience member who saw the way a simple ‘all girls to the front’ request could turn into a rough mosh thanks to “a small but preternaturally tall clutch of dudes [who] were taking this power transfer as some form of oppression.”
Speaking to Utomo about the band’s decision to post about the incident she remarked that the band felt that they had a duty of care to address it. She also pointed out that calling out the behaviour when it happened was definitely the right thing to do, but it wasn’t enough.
“There was no way that we would let the mentality of ‘it happens all the time’, a response that we hear all too often make this incident less important, we owe this to the person that was intentionally violated when she was just trying to watch a band play. I stewed on the fact that us calling him out and assisting in removing him from the venue was simply not enough – that person got it easy, he got to go home and aside from getting kicked out was not held accountable, he was merely inconvenienced – that was not enough, we wish we could have done more and we want to take further action to prevent these incidents from continuing to occur.”
What would be great would be to stop this sense of entitlement dead in its tracks, however that seems to be a long road of education and breakdown of systemic privilege and the reality is we need to ensure the safety of people right now. Which is why High Tension are pushing to expand the conversation, because “Why should the minority have to change their behaviour / be putting theirselves at risk just to attend shows and in particular spectate from the pit?”
“[Lauren] Hammel had a brilliant idea of organising a proper discussion to address this issue. We will be inviting fans of metal / aggressive music specifically to share their experiences and offer their ideas / insights. We hope to do this in the coming weeks. We have some ideas on how we may be able improve the safety of our fans and make our shows feel more inclusive, because frankly, we can’t believe this shit is still happening.”
There are various ways to go about creating safer spaces. Major international festival Glastonbury announced just recently a women-only venue named The Sisterhood with the intent to create an intersectional, queer, trans and disability-inclusive space. Music Victoria launched a government taskforce to address the presence of sexual harassment in venues. Festivals like Sad Grrrls Fest, groups like Alterity Collective and LISTEN hosted shows are part of the growing push to ensure safe environments for women and LGBTQIA+ punters. Bands like Speedy Ortiz have a hotline for audience members to use if they feel threatened at any of their concerts. That’s just a small pocket of how the music community is trying to make itself safer, and as more people speak up and act against harassment at shows – the safer it will get.
Read High Tension’s full post as posted on their Facebook below.