On Tuesday (20th October) Anni caught up with Spector’s Fred Macpherson before the band’s Edinburgh show to discuss sexual harassment at gigs. Fred gave us a lot to think about and his input was highly appreciated. You can read what was said below.
Girls Against: Firstly, thanks for talking to us about the campaign.
Fred Macpherson: No worries! Thanks for the great idea.
GA: How’s tour going?
Fred: It’s going really well. I think it’s one of my favourite tours we’ve ever done because we’ve got more material we can play for a longer time and we’re more adept at playing songs, so it seems like the quality of it is better and a bit more in the zone. Sometimes getting on a tour feels like jumping on a moving train and then jumping off in opportune moments. Whereas compared to that this is the orient express.
GA: Nice, that is a nice analogy. I liked that. Okay so, how aware were you of groping at gigs before the campaign generated the buzz it’s been getting?
Fred: It was something I was actually aware of. Even growing up, going back to when I first went to a gig around fourteen, I remember girls, female friends, getting touched inappropriately. And I think it’s even happened to me. Like, right when I first started going to gigs, stuff that you don’t even necessarily realise at the time. ‘Cos you’re so young and it’s such a new experience, everything at a gig is such a new experience. And especially ‘cos it all can be so physical, especially when you’re in a really busy room. I think there are things, looking back, only now that I realise amongst me and friends, especially when we were younger, that were basically… pretty dodgy. So it’s something that I’ve kind of been sadly aware of.
I don’t think there’s been, in terms of our gigs, I haven’t heard of any isolated incidents but then, the more I’ve been reading on twitter recently, it seems like people are building a lot more confidence to call people out on it. And this year especially, I’ve seen it be talked about at Peace gigs, Swim Deep gigs, and so it clearly is starting to – maybe it’s not that it’s happening any more than it was, but maybe due to stuff like Twitter, there is a way that people can speak out about it. Fifteen years ago, there wasn’t such a place, ten years ago, to talk openly and have an honest discussion about it. But it was something I was aware of but hadn’t been engaged in [talking about] enough.
GA: Why do you think it has gone on for so long? I mean, it’s still happening. We’ve heard stories of it happening to band members’ mums…
Fred: Yeah, well my mum has told me stories about gigs back in like, the 70s, and so I’m sure – I hope it’s getting better over time, as security has improved, but obviously, sadly, this country and so many have a big history of sexual abuse and I think, I can only imagine that it happens at gigs more because sometimes it can be quite – you know, there’s lot of people so it’s harder for security to cover. And obviously, a lot of people are drinking anyway, and maybe engaging in slightly… taking the opportunity to have fun, rightfully so, but maybe it creates an atmosphere where people are under the influence and feel like they can cross the line between something that is fun and something that is inappropriate.
And also, you do have young people unattended by adults, especially at 14+ gigs; people don’t want to be coming in with their parents. It’s a bit embarrassing; I mean I remember being at that age and my mum suggesting that she came to a gig with me and I thought it was an absolutely preposterous idea. So I guess, when you mix all of that stuff and its dark, and just a lack of security, it creates the environment where I think people feel like they can get away with it. Also, especially at bigger venues where they’re so packed, people are pushed together so compactly, that I think even when people are the victims of it, or the instigators, it can be hard to know when something’s happened that is crossing the line, or not, and it’s good that people are being more aware of people taking advantage of those circumstances.
GA: Yeah, it seems to have become something that’s almost seen as the norm for gigs, because it has gone on for so long, people are almost beginning to accept that it is gonna happen, and that’s obviously what we are trying to conquer because we don’t think it’s acceptable. And when you’re in the situation, and when you feel that uncomfortable, it’s quite easy to tell in the moment whether something is malicious or not.
GA: What do you think your role is, as a band, in tackling the issue?
Fred: That’s a good question. I think at first it’s raising awareness, that’s the key thing. So that people are aware that it is something that goes on, because I imagine a lot of bands, especially bigger bands who don’t even get to see much of the audience – the stage is a good two metres away from the front row, and you can’t see everyone else, there’s thousands of people in the room. It’s to be aware that, no matter how big a venue is it’s made up of individuals and it only takes one person acting like a dick to ruin it for however many people. Not only ruining that night, but potentially ruining the whole experience of going to gigs forever or at least for a longer period of time.
So I think that the role of the band is to kind of promote discussion about it and also promote general equality between the sexes – which should be a given but sadly isn’t, throughout so many different things. And because indie music and rock music has been quite a male dominated thing in the past, and also something where there’s a sort of history of people taking sexual advantage in the world of it, I think it’s a change that needs to begin with the artists. It’s their responsibility to each other and their fans not to promote an atmosphere of any advantage being taken sexually. And so I think this is the exact sort of way to – this is how it starts, and I think it takes the bravery of people to be open about incidents when they happen.
GA: Do you think, as a male dominated genre, we need to encourage girls to partake in the genre? As maybe, due to the atmosphere of the gigs, female presence has previously felt unwelcome?
Fred: Like you say there has to be a mutual respect that’s created. I think one has to be careful towards how one approaches it, like it’s not just about the sexual balance. The individuals who think that this is appropriate behaviour need to completely realise that it isn’t, whether that be through security, the police, bands, everyone acting on it should be made to feel completely ashamed of it. It would be great to see more women at gigs in general, but I think it might be a bit patronising and sexist to actively encourage, if you’re doing it like “hey, we’d love to see more girls down at our gigs!” it’s sort of an odd thing to phrase, although it would be great to see the balance. I think you have to be careful toward how you approach the idea of that because it could create sexism in reverse, but I think it would be nice to see, I don’t like the idea that gigs and live music are seen by anyone as a male thing. And I would hope that that’s something that has been reduced, rooted in tradition in the past, but doesn’t need to remain. In the same way that you go to a One Direction gig, and it’s 80% girls, I would hope that wouldn’t make me feel any less welcome – but then, maybe I have to check my privilege.
But I think what might encourage more girls is to know that if this [sexual harassment] is the sort of thing they’ve experienced at gigs, not just gigs but clubs, nightlife in general, I think the more this kind of discussion is had, security can be made aware and increase security where it needs to be. Maybe at a 5000 capacity gig, four security guards across the front aren’t enough. There should be people in the crowd, at the back, because there is only so much you can do from the front and generally they’re worried more about crowd surfers than anyone acting inappropriately. So I would hope that the culture, and the discussion, and hopefully an increased and continuing discussion between bands, promoters, fans and venues will make people realise that a gig should be somewhere that you go for a joyful experience outside your daily life, to break up the miserable day in day out, rather than create new horrific situations. You know? So I think you’re doing the exact thing that needs to be done, the discussion can continue and we will all help think of different ways as we think of them to make gigs better.
GA: We’re trying to make it a really loud discussion, so that you can’t get away from it until it’s addressed on a wider scale.
Fred: Absolutely, and I think that’s where the people with the biggest voices and the furthest reach have to speak up. Bands, and festivals because it’s something that happens a lot at festivals, even the more quite civilised festivals, there’s like horrible sexual abuse that goes on, which is something that doesn’t quite get brushed under the carpet, I mean it is discussed, but the discussion needs to continue, without a doubt because that’s not something which should be synonymous with music, it should be fun – because it is fun.
And anything you need from us, in terms of the continual support, we can give it to you.
Interview by Anni