This guide will always be a work in progress. Email email@example.com with suggested additions or changes. This guide is cursory in nature, and individual points will be expanded as separate articles.
Parties are hard to keep safe, and bad things can happen to them at any time. Last year’s Ghost Ship tragedy in Oakland is — if we do it right from here on out — the most stark reminder of this simple fact we’ll get in our lifetimes.
In the wake of that stunning tragedy, a lot of the official talk around the event focused on how Ghost Ship was an illegal show space. It wasn’t up to code, it wasn’t zoned for living and performance, etc etc. And a lot of us in the scene had a tight feeling in our chests for weeks after, muttering to each other “this could have happened in the space we were in last night.”
And that’s true. What makes the underground music scene beautiful is that it thrives in the face of the fact that conventional structures in society don’t account for us and what we make. It’s called home by people who couldn’t rightfully call any other setting home, and is a haven for art outside of structures of fads, arbitrary norms, or capital.
At the same time, finding this alternative way beautiful is really and truly just finding beauty in marginalization. We are left to fend for ourselves and when it all burns down, we’re met with finger wagging, lawsuits, and 4chan vigilantes. It led to one of those moments when we realized that because we improvise an alternative way of life, we don’t have the clearest ideas on how to really make it safe or sustainable.
It’s another flash of harsh reality, like when we find out about serial predators the complicit let roam, or about the drugs killing our brightest or youngest. These bad things happen in our scene. They destroy people, they strain the mesh of this stressed net that holds out communities up. They can happen any time and in fact they happen often.
This is an important point. The worst thing you can imagine is always around the corner. So we must be prepared.
On the topic of fires, there was one at the current Silent Barn in Brooklyn back in 2015. Silent Barn was zoned for performance, up to code, and insured. Those compliances didn’t stop an electrical fire from taking the upstairs apartments, nor the torrents of water sprayed by the firefighters from incurring substantial water damage.
But good fire safety practices prevented that fire from turning into a disaster and robust community support helped the Barn bounce back. We can and should treat all threats to the well-being of our family members in the underground music scene as preventable, while being versed in how to deal with crises when they inevitably arise.
What follows is a list of links, resources, and thoughts on running a safe party space. This is by no means the official rulebook for running a safe party and should be a launching point for your own research and conversations with collaborators about the shows you’re involved with. It will be added to whenever something relevant comes along.