In Defence of… The right to speak out

Originally published as part of my ‘In Defence Of…’ column in the Glasgow Guardian, October 2015.

It’s incredibly easy to accept things for the way they are. This can apply to anything in life, from slipping grades (a 2:1 is becoming all the more appealing these days as the pipe dream of a first fades into the distance) to the comfort of a relationship with stability but no spark. Change is difficult, change requires you step back and question where you stand – and that’s why it’s important. At a time of heightened social consciousness, amplified by three thousand think-pieces a day (the irony is not lost on me) and clicktivist hashtags, the optimists among us may say we’re evolving. But for every step forward it can feel like we’re taking two deep lunges back.
In this instance, I’m thinking specifically of our treatment of young girls and young victims in alternative music scenes. Potentially niche in the grand scheme of things, yet symptomatic of societal attitudes on the whole – and an issue which has never been so much at the foreground as it is now. It’s safe to say that touring band and crew members’ exploitation of that power imbalance in order to take advantage of fans is not a new development, but our awareness of it can join the infinite list of things changed by the internet. Perhaps, too, the flow of information has led to an increase in kids who know they deserve better treatment than they’ve received. Either way, inappropriate behaviour is being called out on a depressingly regular basis nowadays (the reality being that we’re still only seeing the tip of the sleazy iceberg). It’s good but it’s not enough.
In recent months, drowning-in-hype Neck Deep’s guitarist Lloyd Roberts left the band after allegations were made regarding explicit communications with an underage fan. Last week, it was announced that according to police there was no case to answer. I hope this was the right and just outcome. However, Rock Sound then decided that being one of the only UK rock publications left with any credibility was too easy, and chose to publish an incredibly irresponsible blog with unavoidable victim-blaming undertones. Its content wasn’t untrue, and in this case it’s entirely possible that false accusations ruined a man’s life, but to use that platform to focus on the risks of discussing such matters sends the dangerously wrong message at a time when we need the biggest voices to stand up in support of change. There is rarely smoke without fire, and shining a spotlight on one of few exceptions tells the many victims out there that it’s going to be even more difficult to speak out now. You might ruin a life. You will be attacked. To put a twist on a portion of said blog:

“It’s a dangerous process norm that is becoming incredibly frequent. Even if you love somebody’s band, these fans are real people and these are serious accusations. These need to be treated as such, because the damage done by them can in some cases never be undone.”
Almost every girl who grew up in an alternative music community has experiences of musicians behaving inappropriately towards them or their friends. A lot of us took until we were in our twenties to realise that our role in the gig environment can be whatever we want it to be, or to even realise that power imbalance was there, so put your energies into supporting a change in how we respond to these issues rather than denying that there’s a problem at all. You may think that the internet has put the girls standing in dark venues in control, but that is truly not the case.