In defense of (more than just) the genre: An appeal for safe spacesNovember 12, 2015
photo credit: Elliot Ingham
I have been an admin of the Defend Pop Punk Facebook group for over a year and, alongside a handful of other powerful genre subscribers across the country, I help keep this digital discussion forum more of a musical haven than a minefield. Since there are over 25,000 members in this Internet community, there’s a good chance not everyone’s on the same page about whether it’s Allister or Zebrahead. As the owner of a social media account linked to coveted (or contested) admin status, it’s partly my duty to make sure troublesome attitudes don’t proliferate. If you’re interested in joining, heed the advice that follows.
It’s no secret that in recent months, our scene has become littered with headlines which thrust into question the idea of a “safe space.” Sure, there have been significant efforts to lessen the rowdiness and violence surrounding live shows, rising to a boiling point with remarks from California’s Joyce Manor. What’s more prevalent—for better or for worse—is the disgust and discussion surrounding musicians with histories of sexual assault (remember this?) Considering the easiest podium to cart around is the one vibrating in your pocket, the web can be an excellent place to curb and control such unwarranted viewpoints, provided such locations understand that not everyone builds their beliefs from the same place.
Indiana’s latest pop-punk export, Sudden Suspension, received their musical push online before its members reached the legal drinking age. While frontman Brandon Stasi realizes the impact of this boost, he also understands the gravity of spouting statements online. “With the Internet we all have a voice,” Stasi says. “There's a lot of responsibility there, and I think people are still grasping how positive or negative their voice can be.” Indeed, one sour remark can silence someone forever, so Stasi suggests for those unafraid to confront this harmful firepower to do so as soon as they smell smoke. “I've heard tangents about how 'people today are too easily offended,' but maybe it's that people are finally learning to speak up for themselves,” he says. Not everyone feels comfortable defending themselves, however. Stasi urges community members to educate others and themselves on the many converging pathways which intersect around his artistic surroundings. “Listen to points of view you've never heard before. Try not to simply understand that these things hurt others, but try to understand why these things hurt others. It's about being kind to the people around you.”
This solution seems simple enough, and thanks to the invention of the backspace key, feigning support is also drastically easy. With that in mind, how can the reality of a “safe space” be articulated in a physical setting—like a live show, for example—using the same principles we should always practice in earnest online? Perhaps it’s best to ask ROMP, Sudden Suspension’s labelmates, how they’ve combatted their own discomfort before and after sets with sexist comments. “As a girl, I do sometimes get spoken down to as if I couldn't possibly understand how gear works or just completely ignored in music stores,” says vocalist/keyboardist Madison Klarer. “Sometimes guys will comment on my appearance rather than my music after shows and that really stinks.” There’s an upside to internalizing these experiences, though, and just like Stasi, witnessing (or being victim to) such behaviors and learning to build a platform for other witnesses and victims to flock to is essential. “We believe that making announcements at shows about how to cultivate a safe space and opening up to potential spokespeople are some positive steps forward for our community to take.”
But, when the show is over and the mics are unplugged, how can we choose our potential spokespersons? Klarer’s bandmate, guitarist Lucas Dalakian, believes the natural leaders will be hand-picked by the community themselves. “You have to be willing to encourage people to be a positive member of the community, it's about constant growth,” he says. “The punk scene is doing a lot to give voices to people who believe in social change, and a lot of kids trust these voices, which can be a good thing.”
It’s clear that voices with good intentions are ones we should give megaphones, whether in a house show venue or an Internet domain, but we should also make sure no one uses their social position to shout over marginalized groups. “It’s important to make sure that the social capital of few in the community don’t trump the less audible voices of many,” says Jade Lilitri of Oso Oso. “That’s something I think is seen far too often in local scenes.” His Long Island home finds “new kids discover[ing] this type of music everyday and a subculture that to them could potentially be life-affirming.” That being said, it’s cruical that new members of the homegrown listening circle are given proper outlets for their concerns to further affirm their choice to join such a tight-knit community and allow them to gain social capital, regardless of class position or other unfortunate markers for discrimination.
Andrew Koji Shiraki—aka Koji—faced the brunt of these issues while being an Asian-American musician filtered through the punk scene. “We had Nazi skinheads at most of our shows [and] where I grew up [in Pennsylvania] was home to the highest concentration of organized hate groups,” he says. “I remember being assaulted for bringing a white girl to a show, but that doesn’t compare to the state violence that my friends and community members have experienced.” Shiraki has used his unique, turbulent upbringing to practice an opened, inclusive perspective and encourages informed showgoers and fans to do the same, first by looking to more leading examples of these mindsets. “There are so many examples of leadership in music that inspire me bands like Fugazi [and their] work and message impact me to this day, [as well as] my contemporaries who make uncompromising art and have a message that empowers others—whether that’s a La Dispute or a Title Fight, there are so many more.”
So do you, like Title Fight or La Dispute, become a leader with an empowering message that can reinforce hopeful, helpful dialogues? As discussed, it can come down to having empathy or an open, loving community that flourishes—but it can also stem from honest, active creation. As Shiraki has shown through his career and suggests, “Your voice is worth voicing and that voice has power—so make art, write songs, document the stories that are happening in your community, start ethical businesses, treat people around you with respect, walk with humility and lead by example. Those people who use their time on or offstage to oppress have a right to say what they want. We have a duty to listen to what’s happening around us, just as we have a duty to respond.”
It can be as simple as thinking before you type or educating others on how to make sure everyone, regardless of background, can linger in a musical foreground. Just make sure these issues don’t go unaddressed.
So whether you’re speaking up on what’s right or scuffing your bony knees defending pop punk, make sure you’re responding with care—and with resilience.