INTERVIEW: Jaca Freer on Organising an Accessible Gig

Posted on 17.11.2017

INTERVIEW: Jaca Freer on Organising an Accessible Gig

Little Fists performing at The Cowley Club, Brighton, with lyrics projected onto the wall.

Last week we launched our DIY Access Guide, full of cheap and free hacks that people organising gigs can use to make their events accessible. Here we interview Jaca Freer, musician and events organiser, about the nitty gritty of putting on an accessible gig.


Tell us about what you do.

I organise shows, workshops and teach music as part of the project Freer Ideas, that I started in 2016 to change the lack of diversity in the UK DIY music scene.

By platforming the music of people of colour, women, trans, queer and disabled people, and putting on events in accessible venues with sliding scale prices, we aim to make music spaces welcoming for everyone who has been denied access to them.

How did you become aware of the importance of accessibility in a live music setting?

I was first encouraged to think about wheelchair accessibility when organising events with the House of Brag, a queer squatted social centre in London, a few years ago. Later I became involved with the DIY punk scene in London, where some venues, like The Field and DIY Space for London (DSFL), were purpose built to be wheelchair accessible.

I also went to a gig organised by Carousel and Constant Flux which got me thinking about why learning disabled musicians and fans who make and listen to great DIY music weren't visible within the DIY punk communities that I was a part of.

Then I saw links to an event put on by Paul Hawkins that had lyric captioning during the bands' sets. I emailed to ask how this was done, and after realising that it was just a PowerPoint presentation displayed on a monitor, decided that I would try and do the same for the next event I was organising at DSFL (Synth Punk Fest LDN).

I also read an article about creating a Chill Out Corner for people with anxiety and autism at arts events, based on autism-centred design principles. I saw this and thought “I could totally do this at gigs!”. So I made an initial investment into the materials and set this up, at Synth Punk Fest and the Petrol Girls gig I organised in Brighton.

What was the access situation like initially?

The Petrol Girls gig was at the Cowley Club which has step-free access to all areas from the street, except for the accessible toilets which can only be accessed by going round the block and entering at the back of the building. Whilst inconvenient, this isn't exclusive. The main room is also quite narrow and dark, which gave even more reason to set up the Chill Out Corner for anyone feeling overwhelmed during the gig.

Jaca's map showing the wheelchair accessible route from the Cowley Club entrance to the accessible toilet.

What steps were taken to improve accessibility?

The first thing I did was make sure the accessibility adjustments that the venue and I had provided clear in the promotion, inspired by the Access Starts Online campaign. I made a post in the Facebook event page covering wheelchair accessibility, transport, a map showing the route from the venue to the accessible toilets, lyric captioning and the Chill Out Corner.

These last two were the biggest changes to the space that I made. The Chill Out Corner was the easiest to set up, as it just involved buying the materials suggested in the article.

The lyric captioning was much more labour intensive. It involved asking the bands for song lyrics in the exact order they'd be playing them, and making PowerPoint presentations with around two to eight lines of lyrics per slide (ensuring the lyrics were readable and made sense musically).

DIY lyric captioning in advance of the gig

This took about one hour per band, but as Paul Hawkins suggested, I’ll look into making a template bands can fill in themselves next time! I borrowed a projector and set it up with my laptop next to the stage, projecting the lyrics behind the band. I was the only organiser at the event and had to take money at the door, but several band members happily agreed to click through the presentation so it went ahead as planned!

One issue I hadn't anticipated was bands having potentially triggering lyrics about abuse, racism and other difficult topics, and them having a bigger impact on the audience due to being more visible. Not wanting to censor the bands, I decided to add a 'content note' slide before songs with potentially triggering subjects (with the bands' consent) in order to give any audience members advance warning of difficult topics, as well as offering support if needed.

Did you receive any feedback from attendees about access?

A few people at the end of the gig complimented me on the effort I'd put in to include these accessibility adjustments, and one or two people spent some time in the Chill Out Corner drawing and quietly talking during the gig, so it was definitely useful and helped a few people feel more comfortable.

The chill out corner at the Cowley Club

One band played the songs in a different order to the one they'd originally told me, which interfered with the lyric captioning for their set. More communication to help the band understand why lyric captioning is a reasonable adjustment could help with this in future.

Would you do anything differently next time? Do you have any future plans around access?

For future gigs I would make the Chill Out Corner more obvious and exclusive for people who need to use it, with more & larger signs around the venue explaining what it's for. This would be easier in larger spaces where the Chill Out Corner could be separate, which would also make wheelchair access easier.

Next time I will make an easy to use template for the lyric captioning and get the bands to fill it in themselves, as it can be labour intensive to write up all the lyrics. Working the projector during the gig is a task for one dedicated person as well, so I would make sure to have an extra person on hand for that.

Aside from only using fully wheelchair accessible venues, with extra seating, and the measures I've used so far, I want to make the promotion more accessible so people know every event I put on will have these adjustments made, for the people who require them.

I’d also like to reach out to and work with local organisations such as Carousel and Constant Flux.

If you organise gigs and you’d like to know how to make them accessible, check out our DIY Access Guide here.