Sunday, May 24, 2009

It's all in the LABEL

I went to see a band play the other night at Oxford Art Factory. No ordinary band mind you; in fact, they are quite an extraordinary group of individuals because the five members met at a centre for the disabled in Melbourne and are either blind, deaf, autistic or have Downs Syndrome. They’re a solid band (as any quick google search will attest), but I got there just in time for the last song so I’m in no position to bang on about that. What I want to talk about is a label.

A few days before this particular gig I was invited to come and see “a disabled band” play. Just like that. No mention of radio play, gigging background, genre, or any other defining elements, just a simple and effective label: “disabled band”. The label worked – my curiosity was piqued, I talked about it for the next few days, invited other friends down, and we all showed up to the gig. I was delighted to catch the last few minutes of these enthusiastic musos rocking out, lapping up the applause and posing for photos with fans afterward.

The next day I got to thinking. Would I have been as delighted for any other band of able-bodied 20-somethings? Would I have even bothered to turn up to a gig of some band I’d never heard of and whose music I didn’t know if they hadn’t been disabled? Maybe I just contributed a couple of little drops to the ocean of discrimination against people who have disabilities by treating them as a novelty act, rather than taking them seriously and enjoying their music just like I would the music of any other person.

It has to be acknowledged that getting a band up and running and on the road with a national tour is no small feat given their particular physical and mental disabilities, but I think that perhaps there is a thin line between giving due credit for triumphing over obstacles and identifying these people primarily by their setbacks. So, in the interest of tearing off the label that I over-zealously slapped on them last week, check out this video and make up your own mind about them . . .

Rudely Interrupted playing for the UN General Assembly 2006