UPDATE 08/03/17: The lighting technician involved in the incident at Gaytimes Festival 2017 has claimed that the festival’s characterisation of the events is inaccurate.
ORIGINAL STORY: An Australian artist who suffers from photosensitive epilepsy has spoken out after a lighting technician refused to turn off strobe lights at this year’s Gaytimes Festival in Marysville, Victoria.
Misha Grace from audiovisual duo Friendships performed with Melbourne duo HABITS at Gaytimes Festival in late February. By request, strobes weren’t used during the set, because they can cause Misha Grace to have seizures.
Later that night, when Misha Grace attended sets by American musician Fritz Helder and Melbourne duo SHOUSE, a lighting technician refused to turn off strobe lights which were being used at the performances, despite requests from multiple artists in attendance, including SHOUSE, who requested that strobes not be used during their set because Misha Grace was in the crowd.
“I swiftly took shelter and my friends went to speak to the lighting person to ask if they could refrain from using the strobe lights. She refused to do so,” Misha Grace tells Music Feeds.
“Unfortunately they showed no empathy, no understanding.”
Gaytimes Festival spokesman Mason Browne says the lighting technician who initially refused to turn off strobes on the festival’s Saturday night initially thought that requests to stop them were “from patrons, rather than performers”.
“After this altercation, the lighting technician cut the lights to the stage, and then turned the strobe back on briefly during SHOUSE’s set,” Browne says.
“When this matter was brought to the attention of the festival organisers, we immediately stepped in and instructed the lighting technician to refrain from using the strobe for the remainder of the night.
“This technician, who was a contractor, behaved in a manner which was unprofessional and regrettably impacted not only the artists on stage but also the rest of our crew.”
Gaytimes Festival says it will be reviewing its policy towards strobe lighting for future events.
Misha Grace says the use of strobe lights is an all-too-common occurrence at shows she plays, even when it’s requested ahead of time that strobes aren’t used.
“Unfortunately, this is a frequent response upon a simple request for my wellbeing of having no strobes or erratic lighting,” Misha says, despite Friendships’ rider supposedly stating “in bold capital red font” that the use of strobes can lead to her having a seizure.
“I’ve lost count of the amount of times that we have had to stop the set, jump on the mic and tell them to turn the strobes off. It’s embarrassing and awkward for me, and it really makes me uncomfortable,” she says.
Misha Grace maintains that the incident at Gaytimes Festival wasn’t the festival’s fault, as it was “the actions, words and decisions of one individual at that event”.
That said, she wants music events (and especially those which promote themselves as ‘safe spaces’) to take photosensitive epilepsy more seriously.
“I guess after a few years working in this industry and contributing to it, it’s just kind of like, ‘Come on now, is it always up to the people with disabilities to cater to the people without them?’
“It’s a really simple change that events can make, but people need to educate themselves, be willing to listen and then take action if you want to be inclusive and create those spaces. You can’t just say that they are [safe spaces].
“When you are excluded from a space, it magnifies your disability and makes you feel even more isolated for it.”
Gaytimes Festival says it has apologised to all artists impacted by this year’s strobe incident.
The views expressed by people and organisations quoted in this article are not the view of Music Feeds or its employees.