Discwoman, a booking agency in Brooklyn, is trying to answer questions that were often overlooked in night life: How do you create safety in parties and night life? And, how can you make everyone feel included in that safety?
Although much of electronic dance music, like house and techno, came into being at gay and black clubs in Detroit, Chicago and New York in the 1980s, today a lot of it is enjoyed at predominantly white clubs in Europe or at enormous festivals. And while dance-world night life can be community building and fun, there is also harassment, assault and drugging.
There are a few ways to fix that. “By nature all of our events are inclusive, booking women and women of color. We try to make it feel normal rather than a spectacle,” said Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, a founder of Discwoman. “I’m really into the idea of it not being considered radical. It’s just how it should be. I feel like that’s how our parties should be, too.”
Across the United States and in Europe, there are a number of collectives focused on diversity, inclusion and self-care in the electronic dance space.
Room for Rebellion, a European collective, uses club nights to raise funds for legal and safe abortion in Ireland. Resis’dance, a collective in London, focuses on challenging the male-dominated party scene by gigging, fund-raising and teaching.
Here, we learn their tips for self-care and safety on and near the dance floor.
First, look for yourself on the lineup
If you don’t see yourself reflected, you should understand what to expect. Discwoman said their experience is that rosters with people of color, women and nonbinary people will transform the turnout. “Once you book that way, those communities start to come to those venues anyway, regardless of who’s playing, because they feel like they’re being represented and cared about,” Ms. Hutchinson said.
The bottom line is: The crowd is more likely to be diverse when the lineup is representative of different communities. “I see more black women come out when black women play,” Ms. Hutchinson said.
The safety comes with the space
It’s important to work with spaces like clubs or concert locations that support your ideas and intentions, Ms. Hutchinson said. That also includes ensuring attendees feel comfortable no matter what.
“It’s more caring for each other and having an attentiveness and a thoughtfulness in the way you organize events,” said Lenora Thornton, the creative director for Sister, a “decentralized collective” formed in 2015 for female and gender-nonconforming music lovers and creators.
Set expectations with staff and security
For organizers of the event, it is important to have a conversation in advance about safety and the issues that may arise. “Be ruthlessly caring about what you want and need to make your night what it should be,” Anna Cafolla, a Room for Rebellion promoter, wrote in an email. “Get to know the bar staff and security, and flag anything as soon as you see it.”
That includes asking venues and staff about how they identify and handle harassment.
For instance, staff members should know that gender presentations may not match IDs. “That can be a real issue at the door, so having security that understands those nuances can influence how comfortable people feel when they walk in the door,” Mx. Thornton said.
Know how to recognize harassment and de-escalate
Resis’dance hosts workshops with situation-based examples of harassment and teaches de-escalation techniques. This means following your gut, believing the victim and staying alert. The collective also emphasizes that there are ways of fighting back that aren’t violent.
“Our biggest tip is to watch out for your friends and the people around you, always believe and support your friend or the person who reports something,” said Virginia Wilson, co-founder, event operations manager and resident D.J. at Resis’dance.
Use what you’ve got
Use your platform to help those who don’t have as many resources as you do. “A white able-bodied man can use his privilege to interrupt and challenge door staff, for example, when someone is obviously being discriminated against,” Mx. Wilson said. “We really expect and encourage people who are more privileged and generally safer on a night out to step up and be on high alert for any discrimination happening around them while partying.”
Pass on knowledge
Teaching changes the future. Discwoman holds equipment workshops for D.J.s and those training to be D.J.s. Ms. Burgess-Olsen was a teacher of Akua, a D.J., at the beginning of her career. Now, years later, Akua is on Discwoman’s roster.
“Equipment is always something connected to being a man and using machines,” Ms. Hutchinson said. The workshops are designed to start “cutting through the expectations of what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Acknowledge attendees are doing drugs. Help them party safely.
The safe dance movement is built on harm-reduction principles. People in the field understand that festivals, clubs and bars are often accompanied by drugs and alcohol. Not allowing drug use to contribute to death, assault or injury is a goal for venues and promoters that want to make safe spaces.
Mx. Thornton of Sister said it is important to recognize the ways in which you can keep people healthy and safe while they’re experimenting. Basic things a venue can do include “providing free water, having earplugs” and having a person in charge of dealing with things, in case “someone has an issue if they feel like they’re in a space where they’re overwhelmed while they’re maybe on psychedelics.”
Sister volunteered with one festival on a psychedelic triage team and teamed up closely with a medical tent to assess people in distress and help determine if they needed emotional or medical care.
One technique back when Resis’dance started was to have a “safer spaces crew.” Designated members of the collective would remain sober during an event and would therefore be present to support anybody who experienced violence or illness.
These members go through basic first aid training, arrive early to events and do “rounds” throughout the event, where they travel the space with a watchful eye.
Their “sole duty is the care and careful consideration of the safety of the people at the party,” Mx. Wilson said.
By ILANA KAPLAN