CW: sexual assault. [Header photo credit: Ian Laidlaw]
The Smith Street Band has been in tour mode for almost two months now with Bec Sandridge and Melbourne rock newcomers Press Club, kicking it all off with their Pool House Party show way back in March. One of the band’s final stopovers for this massive national run was going to be their sold-out Castlemaine headline show at the town’s Theatre Royal venue, with another show set for later this week on Friday, May 18th. (If you’re not sure where Castlemaine is, it’s on the way towards Bendigo, out near central Victoria).
However, this most recent TSSB rural date was cancelled come the day of the event – Sunday, March 13th – due to an incident occurring the day before at their under 18s Hawthorn Arts Centre gig on Saturday night. At that particular show, a teenaged female attendant was groped by a male punter, with the culprit being apprehended and arrested. [Edit 15/5/17: originally, as we had understood it, a fight had broken out at this show afterwards. This turns out to not be the case. Our bad, sorry].
I and the rest of KYS sincerely wish that the young girl in this scenario is holding up okay and that this shitty event doesn’t discourage her from attending other live shows in the future. No one deserves to have that joy stripped away from them by the hands of another. Also, we’re all thinking it, so I’ll just say it: fuck the guy who put his hands on that young lady. Hopefully, he gets what he deserves for now and that he can properly learn from this mistake he’s made and never do it again.
Now, because of this situation, the following night’s Castlemaine show was pulled hours before doors, with The Smithies frontman Wil Wagner saying, “At the moment I feel like I never want to play a show again“.
Read the full singer’s online statement below about cancelling this Castlemaine show. (Press Club, Bec Sandridge and the venue itself have also expressed similar though shorter sentiments on the matter).
We’re sorry but we’re gonna be cancelling today’s show in Castlemaine. At the moment I feel like I never want to play a show again. We played an under 18 show yesterday that felt lovely and wholesome and special. Then after I found out someone groped someone in the crowd and was apprehended and arrested. Out of respect to the situation, I won’t go into that further. But I’ve been playing shows for about ten years now. Anyone who’s seen me perform a few times over that journey knows how seriously I take this and how much it fucking kills me. In the past I’ve been aggressive, preachy and generally over bearing on stage, coming down too hard on people because of my unending frustration that when you get a lot of people in a room together some of those people are fucking dickheads. But I stopped talking about crowd behaviour as much because I learnt that telling people what to do doesn’t work at all. If anything, pointing out people being dickheads in the crowd only makes them and their mates act worse. So we’ve developed other ways of trying to ensure a safe environment, we work with venues well in advance of the show and brief security on the night about how we need people to behave, we have posters up around venues and we ask door people to let punters know a few rules before they come in. We’ve unfortunately had to ask people to stop crowd surfing, not because we have a problem with crowd surfing itself, because now we aren’t playing to only huge music fans a lot of people don’t know how to do it safely and aren’t expecting someone to come flying onto their heads. It’s staggering how many people get up on peoples heads and just kick and then fight the security guards when they come over the barrier. The extreme irony being most of those people are only there to see us play death to the lads. We try and pick line ups that won’t get people too riled up, fuck we even curate the playlist between bands carefully. And instead of focusing on the shit people and preempting their behaviour I try and only be positive. Only talk about how we are all here together and we are all friends and try and fill the room with love and warmth and togetherness. But I’m the first to admit that some nights I’m better at that than others and some nights I lose my temper because I’m tired and I’m emotional and at the end of the day I’m just a person standing there watching other people’s faces, hoping they smile at me. Sometimes I straight up misread a situation and embarrass someone undeservedly, which I feel incredibly guilty about.”
“And I know there’s only so much I can control. If you get a thousand people in a room some of those people are gonna be shit, that’s just an unfortunate fact of life. But when something like this happens I lay awake all night blaming myself and thinking of how I can do better and how I can help more. And then I get attacked and blamed by people saying I don’t care enough because I don’t just exclusively talk about how everyone and everything is terrible but I don’t do that because it just doesn’t fucking work. Yelling at people doesn’t make them want to do the thing you are yelling at them. Negativity breeds negativity. But I’m sure the comment section to this will just be a bunch of stories about how terrible our shows are and how much I suck. And I’m sure the little gang of people in this music world who are desperate for us to fail will turn this against me but if they didn’t use this they’d just use something else.”
“I guess the point of saying this, and I’m aware of how selfish and self absorbed this sounds because I am clearly not the victim in this situation, is after ten years it feels like every fight in the crowd, every groping, every one of these fucking bullshit “incidents” stacks up on my conscience creating a weight I am now unable to carry. I try and I try and I try and I fail at protecting you and helping you and making shows safe. When I walk on stage I should be focusing on getting the chords right and not fucking up the words but instead I squeeze my eyes shut because I’m too scared to look at the crowd in case I see something that makes me wanna throw my guitar down and rip someone’s head off because if you come into my house and you make people uncomfortable I wanna throw down my guitar and I wanna rip your fucking head off. But that’s not gonna stop the same thing happening tomorrow night and the night after that. At the rock show, at the night club, wherever. And I just don’t want to be a part of it anymore. I didn’t start writing songs so they could become the soundtrack to people getting groped and people throwing punches. If I’d have made a difference there wouldn’t be people getting arrested at a fucking under 18 show. I started writing songs because I wanted to express myself and it feels selfish of me to keep using that desire to express if it comes at the cost of people being hurt. I’m gonna keep making music, nothing is ever gonna stop me doing that, but it might be a while before I feel comfortable on stage again. I know I’m essentially making other people’s trauma about me but this is something I’ve long had need to express. I guess I just need you all to know that I’m angry and I care. And I’m sorry.”
As I’m sure we’ll all agree, big kudos to The Smith Street Band for addressing this matter and for not just sweeping it under the rug.
Now, some of that above statement from Wil isn’t really relevant, but it all furthers the point of how the frontman and his bandmates feel the same weight on their shoulders as those affected. And the fact that the frontman’s struggles with mental illness do play a part in their overall decision to pull away from playing live shows for the time being. (It’s unsure if they’ll play that aforementioned May 18th show later this week – expect an announcement to follow).
To the singer’s credit, and to most likely safeguard against those who will say he’s selfishly making it about himself, Wil does state that he’s well-aware he knows that he and the band aren’t the victims here – even apologising for taking on another person’s trauma and bearing it as his own. And I understand the guilt that Wil feels here, as this awful thing happened at his own band’s show (in “his house“, as he put it), but it isn’t the singer’s nor The Smith Street Band’s onus to bare – not that act and not the outcome. That’s on the bastards that do things like what this young man did over the weekend at Hawthorn.
Of course, we all want gigs to be safer environments for all involved. No one – no one – wants things like that Hawthorn Arts Centre incident to happen to anybody, least of not which at an underage gig! Yet… isn’t cancelling a show because of dickheads like that a bit of a “the terrorists win” situation?
Hear me out. The Smith Street Band aren’t a small band in Australia, and they’ve played some giant shows and festivals in their time. Now, I’m sorry to say it, but isn’t there a chance that when they’ve played bigger rooms and festivals like Groovin The Moo or Splendour that there wasn’t some kind of sexual assault, fight or something unsavoury happening somewhere out there in a crowd made up of hundreds or potentially thousands of people? Most likely. There’s just no way for a band up on a stage – playing music with lights in their faces, only seeing punter’s faces staring back at them – to tell in most circumstances.
I’ve had female friends and people close to me groped at the barrier of Enter Shikari gigs and in the middle of the pit at In Hearts Wake gigs (as just two examples), and I know people who’ve experienced abhorrent shit from idiots during big sets and large crowds at your Soundwave’s and your Big Day Out’s. Hell, even I’ve been groped by creeps at shows and I’m sure that you reading this have a horror story or two that you’ve either experienced first hand, seen happen, or even had happened to a mate. But those incidents I mentioned weren’t indicative of the wider tour, how the shows were run, the people playing on-stage, nor was it the fault of the victim(s), the artists, or the organisers.
I’m confident most bands performing at any given venue – whether its the Margaret Court Arena stage in Melbourne or the Theatre Royal stage out in Castlemaine – would despise such actions from punters who put their hands on another unwillingly; whether it be vile sexual assaults or full-on fist fights. It’s just the disgusting reality we live in and something we have to and must deal with it: stamping out attitudes from people who place their own wants and needs above the well-being of others.
Death to the lads, indeed.
However, cancelling a show in the wake of such things doesn’t quite feel like the proper way to combat this; the thinking being here that, “if there are no shows, then no one can be assaulted at a show“. Again, this all comes after the fact of the band’s choice – their business decision to make and no one else’s. And I get it: it’s at the end of a tour, it’s a rural show you’re cancelling and not an arena show or a big festival spot, and then, more importantly, there’s that deep, skin-crawling feeling that comes with playing a set and potentially offering the “soundtrack” (as Wil put it) to someone’s shitty actions out there in the crowd. It’s a somewhat complex matter, and it’s all amplified by there being an arrest and in teenagers being involved.
While I’m sure this will piss some readers off, acknowledging such gross instances and bringing people together to experience live music and to preach the higher standards we should always hold ourselves to as a scene is a better way of handling these moments. Rather than allowing some POS to have this kind of impact on a community, a fan base, and over a band’s business. Even so, I do feel for all of those involved here.
Please know that if you’ve experienced or if someone you know has experienced similar incidents spoken about in this article, you can contact 1800RESPECT here for further help. You aren’t alone.