Saturday, September 18, 2021

Access all areas?

Building up to the announcement of a trio of live dates last week, Los Campesinos! declared that they will only play "accessible venues". What they meant was venues that are accessible for all fans - but what about venues that are accessible for all potential performers too? That dimension of accessibility is often overlooked, but it's the key concern of Sauna Youth's Richard Phoenix in DIY As Privilege: A Manifesto, published last year in the Rough Trade Editions series.

As the pamphlet's title suggests, Phoenix questions the concept of DIY culture, so often taken for granted as an uncomplicatedly Good Thing by so many people on the margins (myself included). Being able to blindly ignore everything else and pursue your own path on your own terms is predicated on privilege, as he learned in particular from working with a young pop fan called Jolene: "the ability to say no and to reject mainstream culture often means that you have access to, or the ability to create, your own subculture or scene. If you don't have that ability or choice, then how do you or why would you say no to what surrounds you?"

Phoenix is a firm believer in the social model of disability, according to which disability is not a personal problem or deficiency; on the contrary, it's the social and cultural environment that is responsible for disabling people. The solution then becomes even more obvious: focus on making that environment more accessible and less hostile. 

Branding the pamphlet a "manifesto" is arguably unnecessarily off-putting. This is no preachy polemic, but a persuasive, positive and energising publication in which Phoenix draws on his own enriching experience of working with various learning disabled musicians. Being in a band is a way for people to learn new skills, gain confidence and express themselves creatively - and it's an opportunity that should be available to all.

As the Los Campesinos! Twitter thread began, "I appreciate the last 18 months have been very difficult for musicians but it seems like a lot of bands/artists have come back and announced tours like business as usual. Surely now is the time to try to implement a new live music industry? Accessible and equitable." Phoenix would certainly agree, and it would be great if local venues such as Chapter seized the initiative.

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