Speedy Ortiz are a noisy, lurching, acerbic, ’90s-channeling rock band from Northampton, Mass., whose loudest release of 2015 is liable to be a phone number. On Labor Day, the quartet took to Facebook to announce the creation of “(574) 404-SAFE, our help hotline you can text if you are being harassed or feel unsafe at a Speedy Ortiz show,” clarifying in an accompanying mini-manifesto that “this includes, but is not limited to: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ablelism, & all other oppressive and marginalizing actions and microaggressions.” (Boldfaced emphasis theirs; it usually is.)
The internet response to this, you can well imagine. As for the real-world response, the very next night, in a modest bar called Double Happiness in the bustling metropolis of Columbus, Ohio, the band regaled 50-odd polite and low-key-enthused fans on a sleepy Tuesday night; the hotline info wasn’t posted anywhere or mentioned from the stage from what I heard. Talking to Speedy Ortiz singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis by phone a few days later, she tells me they’d purposefully soft-launched this thing—small crowds, and very much their crowds—at least for the first few shows. But that ends tonight: Their 8 p.m. slot as part of Chicago’s massive three-day Riot Fest will be surrounded by sets from Anthrax, Slightly Stoopid, Motörhead, noted N-bomb-dropping white rapper Post Malone, and something called “Ice Cube & Special Guests (‘Straight Outta Compton Remix’).”
Sadie and I talked about the hotline’s expectations, the immediate reactions, and her hopes for this thing going forward; here are excerpts from that conversation.
So you’ve done a few shows with the hotline in place—how’s it going? Has anyone … used it?
We’ve had a couple trolls, but nothing significant or distracting in a way that’s caused a problem. We didn’t even have the guidelines posted up at the first show Monday night in Ithaca: We just sort of announced the hotline. There was one instance during the show where someone in the crowd was making a potentially racist joke, and the entire crowd booed and silenced him, until he left the room. In action, this was a great way for communities to handle instances of bigoted language or harassment. That was amazing to watch, and we were really kind of tickled by that.
Everyone at Double Happiness seemed really excited about the idea; they offered us a place next door in case someone was getting harassed, so we could help to get them out of harm’s way. We played Kalamazoo last night, and the venue seemed unbelievably stoked on it. They’re like, “We’d love to implement something like this all the time.” I sort of watched the whole staff have a meeting about what they could do to help, and they printed out our little flier and they hung it up all over the venue. And the other bands who were playing announced the number. So it seems like people have identified a real need for it, and we’re happy that that need hasn’t yet translated into us having to take proactive measures to help someone. I think even just the idea of this existing makes people more inclined to look out for one another, and look out for one another’s safety. So, that’s cool. We’re sort of intending festivals to be the bigger-issue kind of space.
Right. I’m dreading what happens when you play Coachella.
Yeah. But I’m not really dreading it, because those things are going to happen anyway, and we’d rather be able to make a difference in a case where someone’s getting harassed or inappropriately touched. I mean, those things happen at festivals—I see it pretty much anytime we go to one, if I go out in the crowd. We’re happy to make ourselves available to facilitate help if we can.
Was there a specific catalyst for putting this hotline in place? Or have bad experiences you’ve had and stories you’ve heard been snowballing for awhile?
Yeah, certainly. I’ve been going to shows since I was a pretty young teenager, and not all the time, but with some regularity, I’ve experienced instances of someone inappropriately touching me, whether that’s in a sexual way or just a disrespectful way, shoving me out of the way because they want to see the band.
What are you picturing, honestly, in terms of how many legitimate texts you expect to get per show, and what problems you expect those people to have?
From my own experience at shows like that, the things that I can picture myself responding to a hotline like this about would be cases in which someone is touching without consent and will not take “step off” for an answer, in which case it’s helpful to have a have a third party intervene, like festival security. It’s very possible that we’ll get a text where someone is encountering verbal abuse or harassment—in that case the solution may not be as intuitive as getting security to kick and aggressor out. Our hope is to identify people who feel that they need outside help, and start a dialogue with them to figure out the best solution. In cases of physical violence, aggression, or sexual assault, obviously that’s pretty clear-cut. But there may be subtler things that require different kinds of solutions, like giving someone a panic attack as a result of verbally abusive behavior a place where they can cool down and watch the show and not have to worry about being further harassed.
What I’ve seen on our Facebook is a lot of, “So, like, if I inadvertently offend someone, and they think that I’ve triggered them, am I gonna get kicked out of the show?” Like, no, we’re not blanket trying to kick everyone out of the show. That’s obviously a last-resort scenario. We’re just trying to encourage people to be a bit more thoughtful about who’s surrounding them at a show, and basically how to be kind. Which is not intuitive for many people!
At the Columbus show, everyone seemed really into you guys, obviously, and they know what you’re about and know what you stand for. It’s hard for me to imagine a hardcore Speedy Ortiz fan being a jerk or a harasser to other Speedy Ortiz fans at a Speedy Ortiz show. But is that maybe naïve?
Yes, I think so. I’ve seen a lot of people saying, “I can’t imagine this happening to an indie-rock band—maybe hardcore punk, or maybe rap.” And there’s implications in those assumptions that are a bit troubling, too. But the time that I’ve felt most harassed and unsafe—I was talking about it early today—it was actually an Of Montreal show, which is really not the artist you would expect to bring out that kind of behavior.
I like to sell our merch so I can see who’s coming to the shows and talk to them. We all take turns at the merch table for the same reason. And I’ve had instances of people who—I’ve had to ask them to stop touching me. And I have to ask, like, three times, at which point I’ll let one of my bandmates take over, ‘cause it’s frustrating and overwhelming to not be listened to. So if I’m experiencing that while selling our merchandise, and I’ve had similar experiences as a concertgoer, I can’t imagine those similar situations don’t happen at our shows.
And even since we’ve posted this
, I’ve seen a couple people saying, “Yeah, this actually happened to me at a Speedy Ortiz show, and I wound up leaving.” And that’s very disheartening, because if we’ve known something about it at the time, we would’ve made sure we can get that person out of harm’s way. So I’m happy that we have this hotline in place now, and if we don’t have to use it, ever, that’s amazing. Generally we have a bit of a self-selecting crowd in that our politics are a bit at the forefront of what we’ve done on the records, but that doesn’t mean that more insidious forms of sexism or racism don’t happen at our shows. We’d like to protect against that to whatever degree we’re capable.
Is the disconnect there that they like your music but reject your message, or do they just have a different definition of what qualifies as “harassing”?
They may not understand that they’re being harassing—they may think they’re being totally complimentary. Some similar policies have been sent to me since we posted ours, one of which is directly pertaining to Riot Fest—it’s about how to get consent to touch someone at a show, and it’s worded for teenagers, and it’s really awesome. And the first thing they’re saying is, “Ask yourself whether this person really wants to take time away from enjoying the concert to be the recipient of flirtations. If you still think this is a good idea, do it in a respectful way! Compliment their Weezer T-shirt!”
It’s like super-obvious stuff, but I think plenty of people don’t view that as harassment, and view any kind of show-going experience as open season for hitting on any person they’re attracted to. Which can be really distracting, and upsetting when it gets to the point of non-consensual touch. Part of the idea is to raise awareness of what constitutes providing someone else comfort at a show—that might be giving them personal space. And I think that if 30 people who’ve come to our shows ever read this and think, “Wow, I’ve been kind of a creep in the past, and it’s totally unintentional, and now I know I shouldn’t touch someone without them explicitly telling me that I can,” then that’s helpful, too.
So there is an element to this, that you do still have to protect good Speedy Ortiz fans from bad Speedy Ortiz fans?
I mean, I guess. I think part of is educating people about how they can be at a show and not contribute to someone else’s discomfort. I don’t think they’re bad fans
—a lot of this is actually rooted in optimism. Most of the people at our shows aren’t trying to impede on anyone else’s safety or comfort. They just may not be aware that they’re contributing to that in the first place.
Hopefully this is just me being cynical, but I hope the hotline hasn’t just been overrun by prank texts and MRA-type doofuses and whatnot.
There’s been a couple. Some of them are outraged or sort of misusing the language of our original post to make outlandish jokes. Some of them are pretty tame and funny. And a couple of people have simulated actually needed help, but they’re doing it at times where there’s no show going around. It’s been pretty easy—we haven’t gone through the motions of responding to a prank request for help. That hasn’t happened. And hopefully it won’t.
Rob Harvilla is Deadspin’s culture editor. Yes, there is one. He’s on Twitter.