Everybody Dance Now: Crip Rave Collective interviewed by Shay Erlich
Crip Rave Collective was created by Renee Dumaresque and Stefana Fratila, two Crip organizers who are passionate about electronic music and envision a world where rave sites are accessible to everyone. Together, they have hosted both in-person and virtual raves and workshops, participated on panels at Nowadays (New York) and MUTEK (Montréal), and consulted with festivals and event promoters to enhance the accessibility of their offerings.
The following is an edited transcript of a conversation with Crip Rave Collective co-creators Renee and Stefana.
For folks who are unfamiliar with your work, what is Crip Rave?
Stefana: Crip Rave is a few different things at once. We’re an event platform, which means we host and produce events, including workshops and raves that have taken place both online and offline. We’ve participated in panels to talk about access and nightlife. We also offer consulting services to existing promoters or event producers to help them incorporate more access into their events.
We formed because Renee and I love to go to raves, but we found them largely inaccessible. I wanted to draw attention to that by putting on an accessible rave. That was kind of where it all began, seeing if it was possible, and what it might look like. It grew from there into this multifaceted project. We both bring different knowledge to it with our different backgrounds. I’m a DJ, sound editor, and musician, so my experience is largely from being within the music industry as an artist.
Renee: My experience in music is mostly attending parties. I have a pretty extensive history with music along with my current involvements with different forms of community organizing. Stefana and I met at a community conference on sickness and sexuality in 2018. That’s where we bonded over our shared love of electronic music and raving as well as some of the challenges we both had, so that’s where it was birthed.
We often go by Crip Rave, but our full name is Crip Rave Collective. The collective aspect of it speaks to all of the artists, DJs, producers, and other collaborators who’ve been involved with the project. Support workers, volunteers and folks like ASL interpreters and graphic designers who’ve helped make the project possible. The collective piece also speaks to people we might not even have direct connections to but inform our work. The lineages of disability justice, and crip and disability wisdom inform our approach.
What is it about this work that nourishes you or your soul or however you conceptualize taking nourishment from your work?
Stefana: It’s been super uplifting and encouraging to hear from folks that it’s the first rave they ever attended, or they never thought they could attend a party like ours. That affirms what we already knew: there was a hole in the music culture and scene in terms of access. And it makes me hopeful that other event producers and festivals are paying attention and incorporating access into their events. I think it is happening and people are paying attention, which is great.
Have you noticed any broader sector uptake of some of your principles?
Stefana: One thing I’ve noticed is an increasing interest in accessibility. Festivals and promoters are reaching out to us.
Renee: Crip Rave also exists alongside other projects that relate to accessibility in different ways. Our focus on disability, madness, and accessibility is part of a much bigger movement in electronic music and rave culture that is geared towards making these spaces more accessible for different historically marginalized communities. We’re joining that conversation with a different angle.
We spoke on a panel at Nowadays in New York in November on Accessibility and Rave Spaces. Those conversations were already happening before we got there and we were able to contribute to that alongside the other people who were there with us.
Stefana: We also have a close working relationship with Remote Access, who are based in New York City and affiliated with Critical Design Lab, specifically Kevin Gotkin and Yo-Yo Lin. We’ve been sharing crip wisdom with them and I’ve DJed a couple of their parties. Cross-border sharing and building on what we’ve learned together has been huge. In our case, we started IRL and then had to move online with the pandemic, which is when Remote Access got going. That worked really nicely. It felt like in both New York and Toronto, we had similar goals and were able to support each other through that.
Renee: One of the most nourishing things for me is to help create a space and a community that I’m a part of, to build community spaces for electronic music and dance music culture that is created by Mad and Disabled people, for everybody, prioritizing Mad, Disabled, Deaf, and Sick attendees. Our objective is to throw the kind of party that we want to go to and make it as comfortable and safe as we can. That is what keeps me wanting to do this work. I would also say the culture of organizing that Stefana and I share, where we get to decide the pace at which we work, is based on our energy and capacity that changes and fluctuates. It makes things a lot more sustainable and that helps to nurture trust between us and ongoing desire.
You’ve both provided this beautiful contextualization of how this is one project in a broader ecosystem of folks who are really working to transform a segment of the industry. And that, because there is a collective both in the literal sense of your collective, as well as a collective of collectives, there is the sustainability and the critical mass, that is so vital within disability justice communities and disability justice change, because we’re never in it fully alone. And it never hinges on one of us being able to do something at one exact moment, to be able to continue to move the work forward, which is like, such a lovely and beautiful place of disability justice to have come to.
Renee: Related to that, which is also part of the answer to what is Crip Rave, is I don’t think that the work would have been that way if it wasn’t informed by the history of raving, electronic music, and dance music culture. They’ve been born out of spaces of resistance and community building – specifically, Queer, Trans, Two-Spirit, Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour communities. Taking up that spirit in relation to disability just extends that again. It expands in a different direction with the same vision or mission.
In many ways, it’s not asking the electronic dance scene to change. It is asking the electronic dance scene to see that this is the same attitude they have always promoted in their work, just with a different community than they’ve knowingly engaged with before.
Stefana: Yeah, and trying to reframe it for promoters – especially recognizing access as profitable – has been something we’ve realized. It’s important to remind them there are ways to make events both more accessible and more profitable. For example, having a live stream that people maybe pay less for, but that allows people to experience an event from literally their beds is one exciting way that access can be incorporated.
Renee: If somebody is interested, it doesn’t matter if their goal is to make huge profit or not, there are ways to have conversations about offering sliding scale prices and having free tickets and then charging more for others who have more access to disposable income. There are ways that you can work with different people while still being true to the soul of what Crip Rave is, where it comes from and the future it wants to bring into being.
Stefana: A big part of our ethos is combining a disability justice framework with creativity, technology, and innovation. We’re trying to facilitate spaces where disability justice is seen as innovative and recognized as the future.
Renee: It’s written into disability justice. For example, the work of Sins Invalid is huge in building disability justice culture and frameworks of community practices. To imagine, realize, and practice new ways of being requires an enormous amount of creativity, regardless of the specific art practices you might engage in. Our ethos is accessibility can facilitate innovation in creativity and vice versa. I think ableism makes us think that in order for something to be accessible, it has to lose something. Which is just not the case.
What has been the biggest learning curve or lesson that you’ve taken from your work?
Renee: Building a space that meets the access needs of everyone there. People have different access needs. One example that we’ve encountered is different needs around volume. Needing volume to be lower or higher in order for it to be accessible. But we’ve recently talked a lot about how it’s not actually that people’s access needs are incompatible. When we come up against a situation where it appears that way, what that’s really asking us to consider is what’s happening here. What can we in our communities do to design a different space so that it works for everybody? How can we include more access points or points of entry into the experience? And certainly, there still might be challenges – for example, like accessing venue space or things related to budgets or timelines. But that framing has been helpful for us, because it locates the issue in ableism and not within people’s needs around accessibility.
What do you hope to explore in the future?
Renee: How we can keep connecting with people and communicating our project in a way that people can relate to. We felt like it was really important to have a space that prioritized Mad, Crip, Deaf, and Disabled talents and attendees, given how historically those communities had been excluded from certain spaces. We always want to emphasize that there are already Mad, Crip, Deaf, and Disabled people making music and doing cool things and attending raves.
At the same time, we understand that identity is complicated. There are lots of reasons why people either don’t feel comfortable identifying with certain language or don’t want to, or haven’t had access to it. There are risks to taking up this language and identifying in particular ways, and those risks are impacted by things like race, age, gender, where you live, etc. We want to make sure our project can include folks who have experiences that are relevant to what we’re trying to do even if they may not identify with the language. We’re still working out how best to do that. We want to make sure we’re reaching those people, regardless of the specific language that they might use, or whether or not they politicize their identity.
Are there any upcoming events where folks can check out your work?
Stefana: We’re at Mutek right now. I’m hosting a workshop about access riders. Renee is part of a pagnel on the future of live music. We’re also helping folks with consulting and helping them make their own events more accessible. We’ll post about that as it happens.
Renee: And we’re aiming to have our next in-person party hopefully the spring or summer of next year!
Shay Erlich is a hard of hearing, multiply disabled, and genderqueer child and youth care practitioner, accessibility consultant, and artist. Shay holds a MA degree in Child and Youth Care from Ryerson University and is co-director of The Cyborg Circus Project, a disability led arts collective offering arts education, performance, and social support to disabled young people aged 16-35 in Canada, centred in the Greater Toronto Area. With over ten years of accessibility consulting experience within community practices and frontline social services, Shay has also recently expanded their consulting practice to include the performing arts.
1) A selfie of two white people standing in front of wheatpasted orange and dark blue posters for MUTEK Montréal. On the left is Renee, a white person with medium-length blonde hair and bangs. They are wearing a white sleeveless top and silver chains. On the right is Stefana, a white femme with short light brown hair and rosy pink lipstick. She wears a silver chain necklace, a gold heartbeat pendant, a black t-shirt with a greyscale graphic of a white woman wearing glasses and yellow text stating “everybody has one, wants one, or is one…girlfriends” in reference to the 1978 film Girlfriends directed by Claudia Weill.
2) A rectangular poster with a dark purple background. At the top, the words ‘Crip Ravee: Free Entry”, in all-caps, appear in bold lime green letters. At the centre are four pink blocks with a shadow overlay. The pink blocks are organized in two rows that start under the event title, and run from the top left of the poster to the bottom right corner. On the right side, above the pink blocks states: “August 7th, 7-10pm EST, Virtual Event, DJ Syrus Marcus Ware, DJ Nik Red, ASL-Music Interpretation by Gaitrie Persaud, Live Illustration by Isabel Lainez” in off-white letters. These event details are on top of an animal print pattern, and to the right, are two access icons in baby blue: ‘CC’ in all-caps, which represents closed captioning, is placed above two hands signing, which represents ASL-English interpretation. On the left side of the poster are cloud-like peach shapes that run from top to bottom. The Crip Rave and Toronto Arts Council logos are at the bottom: bold off-white all-cap letters state ‘Crip Rave’ inside of a thick rectangular border. Off-white all-caps letters state ‘Toronto Arts Council’ between two lines. The ‘A’ in Arts is made up of a triangle. Next to this, is a thin line and the words, ‘Funded by the City of Toronto’ also in off-white all-caps. This graphic was designed by Casey Helm.