by TG and Sophie Ellis-Belter
Sub Club, you’re full of shite.
Yesterday, Glasgow nightlife stalwart Sub Club put out a misguided and self-aggrandising tweet declaring themselves to have been a “safe space since 1987”, seemingly confusing booking a black woman to DJ every once in a blue moon for actually putting any effort in to maintaining safety in their club.
So here we go again. If it’s not the endless parade of dangerous and creepy criticism of the very basic concept of safe spaces, it’s companies hitching themselves to the bandwagon attempting to reap progressive brownie points without bothering their arse to actually do anything to show us that they’re taking steps to fix problems.
Cue loads of women who have actually experienced the reality of the Sub Club dancefloor reminding the club that its space isn’t safe for women at all. Having personally been sexually assaulted at the venue and felt unsafe and leered at there on multiple occasions, you don’t need to tell me twice. A Twitter user who once worked at the venue let them know that the club had not been a place of safety for them either:
Sub Club’s response speaks volumes. Not only do they display zero fundamental understanding of how the culture around sexual violence works to silence those affected, particularly women, they’re just straight up victim-blaming. How can you trust a club that declares itself a safe space but won’t even reflect on what people are telling them about their experiences there? The fact that they responded like this shows exactly why people would hesitate to come to them with safety problems – why would anyone attending a club night trust them to take it seriously when this is what they say to people who actually worked for them?
In a further display of ignorance of the reality of what the club has enabled throughout its history, they went on to claim that they have never “tolerated the intolerant”:
Not only does that fly in the face of what many of its patrons know is tolerated on the dancefloor, it also clearly doesn’t extend to their booking policy. Plenty of “the intolerant” acts mentioned in our last exposé on Glasgow’s troubling club scene are invited to play the venue on a regular basis.
Those of us who vividly remember the Great Facebook Blackface Rammy of 2012 would recognise that Sub Club giving consistent slots to Stay Fresh would seem to fall foul of this supposed “intolerance of intolerance”. Back in 2012, Stay Fresh put on a Halloween night at Chambre 69 in collaboration with Freaky Freaky. When Stay Fresh announced the winners of their costume competition to be pricks dressed in blackface, a Facebook war broke out and escalated to the point that women who were arguing against the decision to reward blackface were threatened with rape. No adequate apology was ever given and the guys who were doling out violent, misogynistic chat in the name of defending the violent, racist act of blackface remain closely linked with tonnes of big names on the Glasgow music scene. But then Stay Fresh’s Jasper James is the son of 20+ year Subculture resident Harri, so keeping it in the family obviously trumps keeping it safe for people of colour and the women who were threatened for speaking out.
Occasionally booking more progressive acts like DJ Sprinkles, The Black Madonna and Ben UFO does not magically or automatically grant safe and inclusive space status to your venue. Yet Sub Club are happy to redistribute these acts’ words (undeniably radical and necessary words) as though their politics become admirable by proxy simply for booking a DJ with admirable politics. Needless to say (and as the comments under the original post asking why, then, do they not put their money where their mouth is and book more women, will show you) it doesn’t work like that, so stop begging it.
As you’ll see from the above image Sub Club has wheeled out their rainbow logo this week, presumably to show solidarity with the victims of the Orlando massacre and the LGBT+ people the world over who have been left devastated, angry and frightened in its wake. They first used the image the day same-sex marriage was legalised in the US, and it’s telling that, as a corporate institution, they think it’s appropriate to roll out some one-size-fits-all response to any incident involving the LGBT+ community. Meanwhile I’ve lost count of the amount of queer women I know who don’t feel comfortable in Sub Club or have vowed never to return because of the stiflingly hetero and macho atmosphere that has been allowed to cultivate in there over the years. With that in mind, the rainbow logo comes across as a little underwhelming and plenty performative. Also, pretending to agree with The Black Madonna saying ‘dance music needs critics’ is fooling no-one when the venue and its staff make a habit of piling in on anyone who suggests the club is anything less than perfect.
Making a space safe(r) takes a lot of self reflection and hard work; you save yourself and other people a lot of grief by not going on the defensive, which only serves to further alienate people from your venue. Whatever you believe the underpinning values of your venue or club night are, it doesn’t mean a thing unless you actively promote and enforce safety measures. You can’t just whack a safer spaces policy on your wall, or vaguely allude to one on your twitter, and think that’s you done. What does it matter what you think you stand for if your club is full of wee guys who harass people in your venue and fling out slurs daily on their shitey Twitter accounts?
Another Twitter user who put on a night at Sub Club spoke of being reprimanded by staff for posting a safe space policy in advance of their night. How could you possibly think your club is a safe space when members of your staff clearly think it’s a threat to their reputation for a promoter to try to introduce such a policy at your venue?
Ultimately it’s the club’s responsibility to act to make their space safe, but until that happens it’s time for the international acts who blindly sing its praises to pay attention to the bad reputation it has earned amongst locals. There are plenty of people – especially people of colour, women and LGBT+ people – in Glasgow who would love to see some of these DJs when they come to town but have had their fill of being groped, squared up to and mocked. So the audience you’re left with becomes the people you pander to, and you disconnect from the roots of the music your venue thrives on. Terre Thaemlitz (DJ Sprinkles) summed up how this plays out, and how these venues benefit from the lack of resources available to alternative venues where marginalised people may feel safer:
When I play in Europe today, I am almost always playing for predominantly white, straight, young, middle-class audiences who have little-to-no resonance with or concern for the social contexts which gave rise to the sounds they enjoy. And the reason I end up playing for these audiences is largely due to the fact I live in Japan, so of course minor queer clubs don’t have the budget to fly me halfway around the world for a stupid DJ set.
The problem of the unsafe space is endemic to club culture, but Sub Club shows a particular disregard for the origins of the music that brings in punters (and their money) when they promote bigoted DJs and pretend there couldn’t possibly be any problems on its dancefloor. Putting your fingers in your ears doesn’t cut it – what you ‘believe in your heart’ is not the same as taking action.
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