INTERVIEW: Meet Tony Gurney, the DJ mastermind behind London's first accessible rave.

Anna Cash Davidson

MDD spoke to Tony Gurney - aka Groover The Barbarian - who, in November 2019, launched ‘Daylight’: London’s first accessible rave aimed at people with disabilities.

What inspired the Daylight event?

Necessity is the mother of all invention, I was looking for a J/DnB event tailored to people with extra support needs and there wasn’t one, so I thought it would be fun to have a party…

What are some of the key steps taken to make the event more accessible?

The primary thing with making the event accessible is the venue. I know I probably sound like a salesman, but they’ve made the venue (OMEARA) so it is as step free as they can manage. This means people can come in off the street and can go round the whole venue without needing to use a step. They also have three disabled toilets. So if you compare that to my own experience of going to a club with one disabled toilet that had stacks of chairs in front of it, and they refused to move them, I think it’s pretty self-explanatory why the venue is so important.

Jack, the venue manager, and I had a meeting with Tricia from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and some of their members at OMEARA so they could assess how accessible/useful the venue and event will be for their members. We got a thumbs up. I felt it would be important to have CarersUK there on the day in case a carer needed someone to chat to, and CarersUK came along, and I also invited Hart Club to host a table. Hart Club is a community based Arts Programme so it opened up other potential opportunities for our guests. I also reached out to Scope, Headway East London, Leonard Cheshire Homes, Coin Street and Abs from Disability Advice Lambeth. Abs helped people with disabilities that she is in contact with to attend, as did the RNIB. It was a real team effort.

I had quite a few development meetings with Jack to discuss things like ticket prices to make sure its accessible price-wise and won’t stretch peoples budgets. […] We added in an hour for the guests to get in and leave so there was hopefully no need to rush. I also got space blankets and ponchos in case of evacuation and gave everyone some glow sticks to decorate themselves or their chair. We had 2 paramedics in the Siding Bar which was also the quiet space and it proved to be really useful for the guide dogs that came along. It was really nice being able to sit down with the guide dogs and they got fussed over quite a bit. They were a definite winner.

Last and not least, the venue staff, the Pandemonium Drummers and the volunteers Jamie, Jo and Emily all helped give everyone a really warm welcome. The icing on the cake was making sure I got a genuine line up of underground DJs (DJ Future, Mindset and M_A) and an awesome MC/vocalist, Sofi Mari, so it was as near to a real night out as possible, just without all the people who have overdone it…

There was also a VIP there in the guise of my Mum. She has a lot of experience in caring from looking after my brother Mark who had spina bifida and she has a bit of an eagle eye. It did her the world of good and it meant she had a chance to have a good chat with some people and see me DJ at a fancy London Venue (LOL).

OMEARA, the accessible venue that Daylight calls home.

What small changes could other raves/venues make to make their events more inclusive?

A) Not having a countdown timer on the ticket sellers’ website. They can make it impossible for people with VI (visual impairments) to buy tickets.

B) Not using the disabled toilet as a storeroom.

C) Assuming people with disabilities won’t be coming

4) Maybe investigate training for venue staff for guiding people with VI and how to communicate better with people with learning difficulties.

BUT: sometimes for venues it's impossible to adapt them because of the age and layout of the building, or restrictions on what can be done to it. It’s not just about clubs. Even modern buildings slip up on accessibility and placement of toilets etc.

The event is called Daylight - is it important that these events take place during the day rather than the more typical night-time rave hours?

Not necessarily, I guess, but I did it specifically during the day to make sure it was easier for people with a disability and their carer to get to the venue. There’s always challenges on any trip, but having the extra needs of a wheelchair user, for example, can make nighttime adventures a bit more precarious. Not everyone is nice.

You’re a DJ yourself - I’ve read that you live with Crohn’s disease and fibromyalgia. How have you overcome these difficulties as a DJ?

I haven’t. For those who don’t know; Crohn’s disease is an Inflammatory Bowel Disease. There is no known cause or definite cure for it. It causes tiredness, fatigue, pain and a lot of trips to the toilet causing a hefty toilet paper bill every month. It’s really confusing and it’s more the music that helps me get through it. I’ve been focusing on music production and songwriting for quite a while and Point Blank have been really supportive with my studies and I’m getting some fascinating results. Crohn’s really knocks your confidence as well and the medicine I’m given always disagrees with me. The last medicine I had made me really ill and it made last year a much bigger challenge, but the Crohn’s is still active so I need to go and try another medicine, but I don’t know if it will work or if it will make me ill.

DJing got me through so much stuff in the past. I’m hoping I might start to get some more gigs so I have something to look forward to other than another trip to the doctor. Doing Daylight really helped me out, but it's almost like my first job is the Crohn’s and fibromyalgia, so doing Daylight really helped me reconnect with something I love which I’m hoping might help heal me. I’ve got nothing to lose.

Daylight took place in November and seemed to be a great success. What did you learn from this and are there any changes you would introduce to a future event?

What did I learn?… I guess you never know what you’re capable of until you give it a go. [...] It's really good to see so many people happy. I’ve never had such a constructive response from a gig. It’s been amazing.

I’m hoping to adapt the ticket structure so the primary ticket purchaser gets their free carer’s ticket and then they can buy a further 2 tickets for able bodied friends or family to come along. That needs investigating first but it does make it more inclusive.  I’m also hoping the ticket website will be able to suspend its countdown clock.

I thought it might be better to have CarerUK set up downstairs in the Siding Bar at Omeara so everyone can gain access to them rather than being upstairs. Originally I thought it might make for a useful escape for a carer who might not be into the music and needed a break but that wasn’t the case at all.

Funding is a massive issue, but I’m hoping some leads will follow through so that should take pressure off relying on JustGiving and doing it through friends and family. […] I really think it’s encouraging to see venues like OMEARA and Printworks step up to the mark and cater for people with extra care needs. Compared to how it used to be, we’ve come a long way but it's one of those things that is a journey without a destination, kind of like the rest of life.

There will always be a place where an improvement can be made, or a new technology changes our capabilities though, so while it’s important to discuss accessibility, it's important there is no aim to put a bow on it and say “That’s done. We can forget about it.” It’s very tempting and it’s what people like to see. We see it so much in politics, but at the end of the day things need maintaining, which requires education. There’s a bit of me wondering what the world might be like if we taught children First Aid, guiding people with VI, sign language, handling a wheelchair, self defence…You might say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. (John Lennon, Imagine, Apple Records, 1971)

Biggest lesson of life is: you don’t have to do what the thoughts in your head are telling you. We do genuinely have a choice there.

Are there other Daylight events on the horizon?

Hopefully. I’m investigating funding options and I’m hoping that because I’ve done it once and it worked and everyone was really happy that it might make my application for funding more acceptable. Did I mention how happy everyone was?



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