My neurodivergence isn’t something I talk very publicly about, and certainly was never something I thought that I could bring into my journalistic world. I was diagnosed with Autism at 19, and though I’d been attending gigs for many years prior, rarely did I realise just how many barriers there were to neurodivergent individuals accessing live music. Even those who know me fairly well may not be aware, but there has been many a gig where I’ve silently melted down when entry to the venue was stressful, or there was more strobe lighting than I’d anticipated, or the sound was rapidly sliding the scale from enjoyable to completely overwhelming. However, anyone who does know me even a little, knows that live music is one of my favourite things in the world.
I dipped my toe into the waters of advocacy last year, when I started volunteering for the amazing organisation: Attitude Is Everything. It is definitely only fair that they get a shoutout in this article, as they do some fantastic work enabling disabled individuals to experience shows at various venues/festivals, and review their experiences from an accessibility point of view. They look for all different viewpoints from the disabled community, from neurodivergent people like myself, to those with limited mobility, or sensory impairments. I’ve been passionate about improving access, and wanting to be more open about my diagnosis in the gig community, ever since I found out about their mission.
A chance interaction on Twitter one morning with J. Willgoose Esq. of Public Service Broadcasting, regarding a post the band had made about making adjustments to their shows for neurodivergent fans, led me to ask if I could review a show and add in this perspective of a neurodivergent fan. I’m incredibly grateful that I was afforded that opportunity, as PSB have been a band I’ve wanted to experience live for some time, and their approach to making their shows more ND accessible is as unique and wonderful as their sound! (You can read the review of that show here)
Full disclaimer: every gig on this tour was a completely standard show, and these adjustments were arranged on an individual basis for those fans who needed it, an approach that I had not yet seen adopted so well to accommodate neurodiverse individuals, without the need for changing an entire show.
Prior to the show, I was sent a walk around video by PSB’s incredibly friendly tour manager, to allow me scope out the venue, sans the low lighting and crowd, to get a sense of where everything was without dealing with any sensory issues. This is a great idea for those who, like me, can spend hours before a show frantically googling everything about a venue and the entry system, and can really help keep those anxieties of the unknowns at bay. I entered via the box office with my name on the guest list; something that, even without a press pass, the band are trialling as an entrance point for neurodiverse fans that may find the usual entrance with the masses overwhelming. I can see this being hugely helpful to those who can become anxious in large moving crowds/lines, or can have trouble following sometimes confusing directions of security guards in a fast-paced situation. Here, I was also left a setlist (pictured below) – this not only gave me an idea of what songs to expect and when, but also gave some useful pointers on things like volume and lighting effects, that may be overloading on the senses for some.
Once the show had begun and I had finished my first three songs shooting, I was fortunate enough to get to sample three potential viewing areas for neurodiverse fans; the photo pit, side of stage, and front of house (sound desk). I would certainly plug the photo pit (right in front of the stage) as a somewhat of a sensory seeker’s haven, as the vibrations from speakers and drums down here are much stronger, and this offers a bit more of an open space with no risk of being packed in with a moving audience. Sound levels are of course very amplified in this area, and that may be just what some neurodivergent individuals are looking for – as with every gig-goer, however, I would advise hearing protection, even if, like me, no live music sound is ever loud enough for you at times!
Side of stage at this particular venue was a little cramped, which may be the case for a lot of other venues, and there were some narrow areas to navigate. For those who may have difficulties with balance and coordination, this area may not be the ideal space, venue dependent, although the total lack of crowd and much lower noise level were huge plus points for me. This also gave a fantastic view of the magic taking place on stage, which was massively intriguing. I personally enjoy being up close to the stage to see all elements in detail, and the seamless wizardry of PSB’s flowing sound and impactful visuals was certainly no exception!
Front of house was notably much further back than the two aforementioned spots, which is the case with most all venues. It certainly didn’t take away from the experience however; it was enchanting to see not just a more full view of the stage, but to watch vicariously through members of the audience, who were loving every moment of the show! In spite of any anxieties with crowds, I know it rings true for myself and many other neurodivergent individuals, that we still love to feel the energy of an audience. This view provided a safe ‘bubble’ to do so, without the worry of getting swept up into a sea of people, or having someone stand too close. This also gave the opportunity for me to sit down, which can sometimes be well-needed at a show to regulate, and listen to my body. For those who struggle with their interoception (recognising and interpreting what is going on in the body i.e. an empty stomach/a racing heart from anxiety), this can provide a safe space to identify and address any needs that have arisen, in what otherwise may be too chaotic an environment to do so.
All in all, my experience with the adjustments at the show was like nothing I had encountered before, in the best possible way. I truly believe that this idea could pave a great path forward with improving the accessibility of shows for neurodivergent fans, and it’s something I would love to see develop and become more widely used in the future.
Find out more on Public Service Broadcasting’s official website
Review and photography by Chloe Addlesee: facebook.com/headlinerphotographychloe