No Danger on the Dance Floor

Words by Jacob La Follette
Edited by Abigail Vela

In a “post” pandemic world, leaving the house is a modest challenge; adversaries present themselves everywhere. Whether through disease, awkward social interactions, or unwanted charges at the ATM.  However, one of the most prevalent unwanted conditions is boredom, and some Rio Grande Valley residents issue the main cause is the Valley itself. 

The RGV has had untrue comments thrown its way about the lack of things to do. These comments may ring true when comparing it to a larger metropolitan area like San Antonio or Austin. Regardless, this viewpoint is false and dismisses the various house shows, music events, art nights, and festivals thrown throughout the Valley. 

Going to local shows presents a different type of challenge than just anxiety. According to a study by the University of Nevada Las Vegas, about half the US population goes to concerts. Of those interviewed, 92% of women attending experienced some form of harassment, whether it be unsolicited comments, groping, or sexual assault. With numbers like those, creating safe spaces and harassment-free venues is needed now more than ever.

A safe space is “intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.” It has roots in western LGBT+ culture as a way to keep bars and other places free from hateful objections. Critics wrongfully argue it contributes to a weaker community and weaker individuals, but, in the case of making local shows safer, it strengthens bonds and creates a welcoming environment for newcomers. 

However, implementing these safe spaces creates ethical questions to be answered. For example, who takes responsibility if an assault happens? Should law enforcement have any part in creating safe spaces? The answer depends on who you ask. 

Eric Linares has a set of solutions. As the frontman and spearhead for the synth-punk outfit I Killed Techno, he’s not afraid to ruffle feathers to keep shows safe. On May 26th, he posted on Instagram an image stating, “Keep our scene safe from predators! If you see them, call them out! They are not welcome in our fucking scene!” The post isn’t an isolated occurrence, as much of his social media is full of similar sentiments. 

Eric’s been a part of the RGV music scene since 2003, performing since 2008. The landscape was different back then as an artist in the early days of social media, but he couldn’t tell you how much has changed regarding safety. 

“It’s hard to say,” he stated. “I would like to say that shows now are a bit safer than they were in 2008 because of people like me not being afraid to call out abusers.  But I’m afraid I can’t give an honest answer to this. Only my opinion based on recent shows.”

These shows include recent stints at Juntos Co-Op and the McAllen bars, along with the various past house parties he’s played. Regardless of where he is, he has a sense of who’s responsible for maintaining a safe space.

“It takes everyone involved in the scene in order to create a safe space,” he stated.  “Venue owners at times don’t have 100 eyes to catch everything going on, and that’s where people attending shows and bands come in. As a scene, we look out for one another to keep everyone safe and ensure we have a safe venue where we can continue to run events.”

“So, in short, if you see something, say something. Don’t be afraid to call out people creeping on others.” He believes that the best way to handle a situation is to express it, whether it be to the show promoters or the venue itself. He concluded by stating, “don’t forget that this is your scene too, and your voice matters.”

Eric’s opinion is very blunt when it comes to this matter. A musician’s viewpoint on the issue is one thing, but what about the venue owners hosting the shows? They’re providing the space for an event, so what’s their perspective?

Carlos Zamora is a musician who’s been involved in the RGV music scene since 2018. Along with playing bass in Disease Freak and having a side project called Cat Bully Club, he runs an independent venue in San Juan, TX, called the Sauce House. He gave a similar yet original opinion on accountability at shows. 

“With a few exceptions,” he stated, “we don’t really see the venues themselves take any accountability when stuff goes down. That responsibility is oftentimes passed on to the promoter and whoever is playing/attending the show. Meaning it’s up to everyone at that show to make sure everyone is okay.”

As someone who runs an independent venue, he also gave some insights into the economics of the situation. “Most commercial venues are unable to or don’t feel it necessary [to maintain safe spaces], as their main goal is to make enough money to pay rent/utilities and hopefully the bands,” he quipped. “Which is fair, with the way our economic system is structured, it’s the only way to run a successful business and make sure you and your employees are able to get paid.”

 

Carlos Zamora, Photo by Andrew Perez
Carlos Zamora, Photo by Andrew Perez

But what are the ways to create and maintain a good support system? “It’s definitely a situation that requires a bit of nuance. I feel it’s a shared responsibility everyone should bear in most situations. It’s up to the venue to have avenues for reporting/suggesting changes and making sure that people’s concerns are being taken seriously. It’s up to the artists to not misuse their status and be a platform for the community to use when addressing these concerns. And it’s up to the promoter to be aware of certain acts/venues that would be antithetical to the diverse and inclusive scene that the community is building. Every person involved has something to offer when it comes to preventing something from happening at a show. However, some parties do have a greater influence over the situation.”

 

The show promoter is another crucial party in the implementation of safe spaces. As the middleman between the artist and venue owner, the promoter has one of the most important jobs in ensuring a show is successful and maintaining a safe environment.

 

Derek F. is an example of someone who does just that. Since November 2021, he’s been hosting Touching Infinite, an electronic club event he describes as a “multi-dimensional platform for LGBTQ and/or POC creatives to be uplifted and seen.” Through it, he’s been able to promote other local DJs with similar sounds and ethics and provide a dancefloor open to everyone needing a safe space. 

 

Derek F., Photo by Andrew Perez

When asked if social media helps create this environment, he stated, “It helps a ton when most people are finding out about your party through a post because it allows you to type out your safe space policy/disclaimer. It also allows victims to call out the creeps and predators, which helps promoters to keep certain people from walking through the doors. On that note, I will say transparency and fact-checking is important as hell. I’ve seen straight up lies being thrown around about people, and that’s not cool.”

“We all need to look out for each other and speak up if and when something goes down,” he expressed. “Like I said, I make it very clear in my party description; feel free to quote me with that. I’ve had to kick out a pedophile/sex offender on one occasion, and I have no problem doing it again. I’ll even hire an extra security guard every now and then when he’s available.”

The artists, venue owners, and promoters have similar ethical ideas and tactics to maintain a good environment. Their viewpoints were expressed clearly, but does the audience attending agree?

Camila Gutierrez runs Tlacuache Cuh-sine, a vegan/vegetarian food vendor at DIY spaces/events. She started this endeavor around 2021, but she’s been attending shows in the RGV music scene since 2014.

Tlacuache Cuh-sine on Instagram.

For her, maintaining a safe space requires “all have a certain degree of personal responsibility to maintain and create  safe spaces.” She believes the people putting together an event or space need to be mindful and intentional about inclusivity and safety. “It helps if everyone is coming together with the same good intentions.”

On whether law enforcement has any place in these environments, she expressed, “This question is a little sticky, but I don’t think law enforcement should be present. I think they should be a last resort, especially because they can often escalate situations rather than help, and it can pose fatal and/or legal danger for community members who have a record or are undocumented.”

These perspectives show the foundation needed to maintain safe spaces throughout the RGV. Artists, venue owners, promoters, and audience members can contribute to a better experience for everyone by being aware and keeping an extra eye open for any type of harassment or suspicious behavior. It could be anyone: friends, family, and other artists, and they need to be stopped and held accountable if they violate any safe space procedures. What that accountability process looks like is another conversation.  

The effort should not end there, though, as safe space resources and information should be reviewed and presented to keep a consistent and overall safe environment throughout the RGV. Having a sign that says “this is a safe space” would only do good if it is maintained or practiced in an accountable manner. 

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