By Lucy Katz
“WOMEN AND NON-BINARY PEOPLE COME TO THE FRONT!”
Wherever we are playing in the world, Dream Nails shows always start with the same rallying battle cry. From my seat behind the drums, I witness a sea of newly empowered gig-goers emerge victorious at the front of the stage, taking up the space that they are usually afraid to. They have found us and found each other: now the show can really begin. This isn’t just an amusing, irreverent turn for the sake of effect: it is at the core of our philosophy as a band and as musicians, and something that (unfortunately, but unsurprisingly) doesn’t always go down very well with a certain demographic of audience member.
But what exactly do we mean by “women and non-binary people to the front?” And why do we down tools (literally laying our sticks and guitars on the ground) if our simple request is met with resistance from even one person?
All public – and most private – spaces are dominated by men. Women and non-binary people taking back space they have been denied is a radical act of liberation. We don’t write songs for our fans to listen to while they stare at the sorry sight of men’s backs. It never ceases to amaze us how men will stand right at the front of feminist punk shows and assume the space is theirs. But lol dudes, no way. Our songs are about our pain and joy and rage – about our experiences and the injustices we witness every day – they are not always serious, but they are always deeply personal and we want our audiences to take them to heart and get as much joy from them as we do. Our energy, as our guitarist Anya once infamously put it, is “more infectious than norovirus, but way more fun,” and we focus as much on playfulness and silliness as radical attitudes for women to exhibit on stage.
While asking for women and non-binary people to the front, we are not only referencing our riot grrrl foremothers (to whom we owe a lot, but acknowledge went nowhere near far enough in espousing the intersectional feminist ideology we know is everything), we are asking our male fans to actively move to the back, to give up the space they have – even unconsciously – taken up. It is always a funny and touching moment when men approach us after the set and inform us (with surprise!) that they have never felt ‘excluded’ from any space before, how ‘strange’ it feels, but how much they enjoyed the show and the energy from the back of the room; this is a radical act of allyship that we expect, but is nonetheless gratefully received.
After every show, women and non-binary people thank us for giving them the chance to take up the space they are usually denied. Even older women tell us they have never had that experience in a whole life of gig-going. In our personal experience, each of us have grown up going to shows without being able to see a damn thing. At best our eyeline is blocked and we are shoved around a bit, but at worst we have been frightened, groped, assaulted and violently pushed. Although things are changing, at certain types of shows drunk idiots and macho culture will continue to prevail for the foreseeable future, but where we are able to, we are determined to break this cycle, to change the culture around gig-going for fans and artists alike.
Dream Nails shows are about creating liberating, joyful places where we can dance and rage together, but these kinds of spaces are not the default. Just because we are playing at a night dominated by female and non-binary, or even feminist bands, the spaces will not automatically be safe. As we so stringently enforce the WNBTTF policy at our shows, we have a reputation for really safe, accessible and fun shows that women and non-binary people feel comfortable to come to alone and make friends. In our efforts to change the culture around gig-going, we regularly promote and programme our own shows at venues that are willing to work with us to make the nights as accessible as possible. We always make the toilets gender neutral, we never play with bands who are known to contain or have associations with perpetrators, we arrange our own shows in accessible venues. A few months back, a fan who uses a wheelchair told us after the show that it was the best night she’s had in three years, because she knew she could enjoy herself and not worry about access. We’ve learnt in the past from our fans that a big concern of theirs is travelling home alone, so we try to link up fans on the Facebook event of shows we are promoting so that people can buddy up to get home safely. When we are promoting shows, we make sure that the venues we use undertake Good Night Out training, so that all staff – from the bar to the door – get on board with GNO’s mission to end sexual harassment and assault in venues and bars. It feels like a personal mission to change venue and gig-culture from the other side, to change the culture by changing the way gigs are run from the ground up, and it’s encouraging that there is so much enthusiasm for it.
Although we all somehow hang on to gruelling full-time day jobs, we are most certainly full-time punks, and adopting oft-crusty punk venues across the UK and Europe as our temporary ‘workplaces’ has been an interesting journey. More interesting still, is noting how these venues and some of the staff that work in them are hell bent on maintaining a boys-club culture designed to exclude everyone except the never-ending zombie army of mediocre man bands that continues to be the plague of our time. Sound techs (some of whom are talented and delightful) seem more often than not bred to be deeply condescending. Gems that we have been treated to include: “do you know where to plug your bass in?”, “do you know what a soundcheck is?”, “remember the sound is different because you’re wearing earplugs”, and my personal favourite: “be careful: the drums are loud you know, you might hurt your ears”. We have also been stopped from entering our own venues (despite carrying instruments), and told to “join that queue, this one is artists only”. It goes without saying that experiences are habitually much worse for peers of ours on the scene who are women of colour. A lifetime of being socialised to de-escalate and placate has set us in good stead to deal with these frustrating situations, but improving venue-culture more widely for women, non-binary people and people of colour is something we are committed to working on.
We don’t want to have to say WNBTTF to crowds, we want fans to implicitly understand what it means to see a feminist punk band in action and check their male entitlement at the door. We don’t want to have to work so hard to ensure that we and our fans are safe at shows, but until this day arrives, we will continue to fight, and to fill these spaces with rage, joy, inclusion, love, and absolutely banging feminist punk music.
Lucy Katz is the drummer of London feminist punk band Dream Nails.
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Photo by Marike Macklon
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