Author: Luisa Uribe
Photo Credit: Ross Uribe
At a party inside a venue in Colombia, it is common to see the scene of someone drunk or stoned wondering where their friends are, going from one place to another. It is also common to see that person disappear in the crowd and then leave escorted by the event’s security: Why did they take them out? Where did they take them? What did they say to them? Did they find them safe transport? Many questions about an image that is repeated with different variables, before and after the pandemic.
A few years ago, the proposal of security on dance floors was either not done or was considered unnecessary. But since 2021, the safety of the public, the prevention of violence inside the parties and the attempts to generate reflection and spaces for dialogue are more common. Several collectives and clubs publish “rules” of behaviour in their spaces: no to harassment, discrimination or any kind of violence. There are accompaniment teams at some events, and even hotlines. The landscape is changing.
Electronic music parties, as spaces of encounter and liberation, have been definitive for many of us. By seeking vehicles to fracture normality and build affective and horizontal links in a hierarchical and violent country, these spaces materialize what we want to be different in the world. However, they have always been insecure, violent and discriminatory spaces, although we are only just beginning to talk about it with force. Sexual, gender, economic and racial violence have been a constant in raves, clubs and spaces where electronic music is produced, consumed and circulated in the country.
In Colombia, as in so many countries, public denunciations against DJs, producers, label managers and other actors in these scenes have increased. Many complaints made through social networks feel like scratches, publicly pointing the finger at the perpetrators without any collective reflection or reparations. There have also been formal complaints, such as that of DJ Hernán Cayetano in November 2020, which are also quickly forgotten.
There are several elements in both types of denunciation: the normalization of violence, the complicit silence of the community and widespread ideas that victims lie and that the facts are impossible to clarify. This, in a national context that in 2021 left 9,000 cases of sexual violence against minors and 11,523 against women, with a significant underreporting due to fear or difficulties in reporting.
The pandemic not only forced the closure of the vast majority of party spaces, but also made it even more urgent to reflect on this normalization of violence. With formal and virtual denunciations, and with the feeling that ‘we could not go back to the way things were before’, platforms have emerged that propose reflections and tools on collectivity, security and demand the transformation of complicity in party spaces throughout Colombia. These join other initiatives that have been thinking for years about the public’s relationship with safety and care on the dancefloor.
We spoke with Ahsly Mejía from Probo in the city of Pereira, Rossana Uribe from Ediciones Éter in Medellín and Valentina Mejía from the Eco Collective in Bogotá and Medellín to understand their perspectives on electronic music communities in the country, explore the fragmentation of complicit silences in the face of violent dynamics in party spaces, and delve into the urgency of rethinking how we are constructing, inhabiting and projecting these spaces into the future.
“Diversity is not a slogan and we build security ourselves”.
“Probo was an initiative that came out of discomfort,” says Ahsly from Pereira, in west-central Colombia. The platform wanted to “make events that celebrate diversity and promote safe spaces“. This, led by a question “What are we going to do to make this happen, how are we going to build it?“
The members of Probo set out to build alternative spaces to those in their city, which focused exclusively on the events, without thinking about the audience and how they might be impacted by the organizers’ decisions. In contrast, at Probo they have explored the relationship with this same audience outside the party, to understand how they perceive DJs and electronic music spaces in the city.
They have also set up a hotline exclusively for people attending their events. If someone there is being harassed, abused, disrespected, or even if they are feeling unwell due to substance abuse, they can get help from the Probo team. They also accompany their audiences to the exit of their events so that they can take safe transport. “For us, diversity is not a brand or a flag, that’s why we are always working to make it possible in our spaces“, says this team that always seeks to be in constant transformation and improvement of these measures.
Safe spaces, sonic alternatives
In a reflexive exercise on the proposals available to the public, Ediciones Éter, an electronic label from Medellín created in 2013, also confronts the normality of mass events. How? By broadening the spectrum and spaces of listening, of dispositions and focus of its spaces.
From a less explicit perspective than that of Probo, and more sonically, Éter proposes to reconfigure our habits of consumption and the ways in which we approach electronic music, as well as the disposition of the spaces for it. They reflect on security, from a constant internal gaze, and construct spaces that go to rhythms far removed from the common electronic party in the country.
What if the listening spaces were different, more contemplative, more intimate or more focused on the music and not on DJ performance, VIP spaces and other dynamics usual in the biggest electronic music events in Colombia? How to dilute the boundaries between genres through an interest in listening and in local artists and communities?
“For us, digital will always be a fundamental space,” says Ross, one of the label’s leaders. “In the pandemic, that brought us closer to many people and we were able to do it through music that we felt contributed to the stability or mental health of people in the midst of so much uncertainty.” Now, Éter wants to take the in-person step and propose spaces outside the festival. “We are not interested in replicating what everyone else is already doing, but in proposing very particular and intimate listening spaces with small capacity and promoting a differentiated consumption, not of alcoholic beverages“.
Self-management and interdependence
Launched in 2020, Eco was also born out of these concerns. This platform, created by seven women, works to strengthen electronic music communities in Colombia and Latin America with content that questions, debates and delves into the problems of these spaces.
According to Valentina, known as Mística as a DJ, and one of the members of Eco, “We want to create tools, debate concepts and weave networks that strengthen these communities“. These tools rethink “professionalization, the security of nightlife spaces, decentralization and collective and horizontal work as fundamental ideas of what we are doing“.
Along with initiatives such as those of the Bogota-based collective and label Exotérmica, with its campaign “No estás solx“, in which they listen to and accompany victims of sexual and gender-based violence in contexts inside and outside the party, Eco asks how to follow up on complaints and what prevention tools need to be built.
During 2020, Eco held a series of virtual chats with several agents around four themes: collectivity, decolonisation, countercultural resistance, and local and regional scenes in relation to the national panorama. There, a network began to be woven to listen and gather the main problems of artists and managers in the pre- and post-pandemic contexts.
During these years, Eco has focused on making visible local initiatives that contribute to what has been built, approaching other projects such as La Curaduría to share their perspectives and articulate actions, and providing training on safe spaces for parties in places such as Video Club, one of the largest clubs in Bogotá.
These three initiatives are examples of the panorama of action around the security and care of electronic music communities in the country. In addition to including publications against violence, or training for event logistics teams, the actions are aimed at changing the conditions of access and guarantees that the public and managers negotiate when partying or being part of the electronic music scene.
Here, security is not reduced to certain rules or police restrictions; rather, it is part of a consensus to break pacts of silence, complicity and normalization of abuse and violence. It also implies thinking about how spaces are constructed, about the variables that can increase or decrease risks, and in short, how the premise of safe spaces necessarily involves reconfigurations of power in the communities of which we are a part. Questions arise: Who makes decisions about our care in party spaces? Why is a redefinition of these dimensions important? How are we doing it?
About the author
Luisa Uribe studied sociology, anthropology and cultural studies in Colombia. She is currently the City Manager for Resident Advisor in Bogotá. She has been working in feminist spaces since 2010 with a particular interest in women’s participation in public spaces and nightlife in the country and in Latin America. Co-founder of Pez Alado, a feminist collective that opened spaces to talk about safety and inclusion on the dance floor, especially for women and queer people. Since 2020, she has worked on two platforms that continue the discussions and aim to create more collective and horizontal spaces within the electronic music communities: ECO and Latitudes.