Safety, and the idea of the “safe space” is a privilege that very few can claim.
Simply put, the term “safe space” rose in prominence as an idea and concept for marginalised groups, where they could carve out and protect a place to define their own rules and customs.
But status quo disruptors are now entering a new realm of claiming spaces that might not have catered to them before. The most recent iterations of this phenomenon are deliberately transient: pop-up safe spaces which exist to instil unforgettable experiences for creative youth in club culture.
These movements are only now seeing the light of day, where revellers opt out from traditional clubs exchanging these old traditions for unusual features: female bouncers, lower-priced and free entrance fees and tailored sounds to suit their delectable taste — brought to this audience by women and queer DJs that we often don’t see enough of.
Such rapid change is taking over the nightlife in South Africa’s big cities, where inclusive night projects are being erected, while social media is used to heighten the visibility of these new movements.
In Johannesburg, Kitcheners — one of the oldest bars in the city — is home to Pussy Party, a monthly event that allows femme DJs to amplify their abilities to a receptive crowd. Here, free DJ workshops are held for people who might be interested in playing on the decks. The party “is free for honeys”, aiming to make the space comfortable for those who might not ever have that chance elsewhere.
The regeneration in these centres also opens up a new conversation on reclaiming Jo’burg and turning it into a creative city for young individuals who want to be professionals in their own fields.
KOP Jhb is another event that contributes to the reclamation. Based on the highest rooftop in the Maboneng Precinct, this creative movement encapsulates music and culture, while breaking norms and giving young people a chance to experience the beauty of their city.
Attendees of KOP use their style as tools of rebellion. The DJ line-ups usually offer eclectic choices of two-step electro and drum and bass, head-bopping trip-hop, and gqom.
In their recent statement, KOP outlined their refusal of any form of violence, homophobia, racism and sexism — a foundation for the event’s ethics to make sure it is a safe space for everyone.
Similarly, Same Sex Saturdays has been home to Durban’s mostly black and gay youth for years, founded by the One Village People to create a home and an open space for everyone, while catering for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community in the city. The party migrates around the city, finding its latest home on Mahatma Gandhi Road in Durban’s city centre.
In Pretoria, Woke Arts emerged in 2015 as the capital’s answer for safe spaces. Described as a conscious collaborative experience that serves as a platform for growing independent artists, Woke Arts supports artists who push the boundaries of conceptual work in poetry, visual arts, music and photography. Woke Arts boasts of monthly events that proactively push young artists who are passionate about their craft.
In Cape Town, a handful of events take centre stage such as the much-celebrated Drag Night at Zer021, one of Cape Town’s most diverse and frequented social clubs, which is in the heart of District Six.
These pop-up events, safe spaces and monthly nights are a clear indication that many people crave new experiences outside traditional settings, and it is refreshing to see people find their voices through art while shaping, nurturing and imagining new identities rooted in decades of community building.
We are rapidly moving away from a mainstream culture that flattens out diverse experiences and we are finding joy in these spaces that offer the promise of safety to all who seek it. These party rituals are forming a large part South Africa’s emerging nightscape.
They’ve become sanctuaries for most, also aiding in forming new relationships among people who share the same ideals and perhaps even similar experiences, aspects we’ve never come to expect at a club.
There are mutual benefits in spaces that are created with everyone in mind. Slowly, they encourage us to take responsibility in changing the future of what it means to have a good time.