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Guest Column - How the DIY scene can give musicians learning disabilities a voice

Guest Column - How the DIY scene can give musicians learning disabilities a voice
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Tomorrow (4 April) band The Fish Police kick off their UK tour at the Nottingham Contemporary venue, before heading across the UK. Though members of the band have “learning disabilities”, organisation Constant Flux has channelled the spirit and can do attitude of the UK’s DIY scene to help get them out on the road. It’s founder Richard Phoenix – a veteran of bands including Beat Express, Heavy Load and Zombie Crash – explains why it’s only the beginning.

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Have you ever thought about learning to play an instrument? Going to a shop and buying a guitar and teaching yourself how to play? If you’ve already done this, have you ever thought about getting together with some friends to play music, booking a rehearsal space and writing some songs together? How about booking a gig? Getting in touch with a promoter in your local area and getting on a bill to play with other bands? What about going on tour? Releasing the music you’ve written?

Now all of these things may come very naturally to some people, or at least within the realms of possibility, but to others these steps may just be a complete impossibility, and I don’t believe this should be the case. The people I work with have learning disabilities, a term which encapsulates a vast number of conditions, syndromes and behaviours, such as autism or downs syndrome, which means that they need varying levels of support to live their lives. Across the UK and the world there are many very talented musicians with learning disabilities, some that need support physically, some mentally, some of which are supported by specific music organisations or arts organisations, others that are supported by their direct care, others that are independent and find a way of making music by themselves. The situations are a varied as the people themselves.

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These types of musicians and bands are growing in numbers, as awareness of what people can achieve with support is increasing. But despite this, a large gap has appeared between writing songs and actually getting the music heard, as there is no-one putting on gigs for these bands. It is extremely difficult to go on tour because of the prohibitive costs of covering support needs, and it’s difficult to find any information about the musicians in general. It’s probably the most underground scene you’ve never heard of, but unintentionally so…

I started Constant Flux in 2013 to help create more opportunities for musicians with learning disabilities; to put on ‘integrated’ gigs – where learning disabled and non-learning disabled musicians share the stage in accessible venues for both local audiences and people from the learning disabled community; to put out records by these musicians and to book tours. This all stemmed from many years working within learning disability arts and music but also my involvement since a teenager in the UK’s DIY and punk community. For me working outside of the mainstream was a natural thing to do and through Constant Flux I’m trying to apply some of the principles learnt within that scene and community to raising awareness of these musicians.

On 4 April a band from this music scene is going on tour. This is an integrated tour that has been supported by a grant from Arts Council England. The band are called The Fish Police and have created their own unique blend of electronic left-field glitched pop. The music, like themselves, sits between many different labels. The tour co-incides with the release of their debut album, The Marzipan Transformations, by the organisation that supports them, Heart N Soul.

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Working with some amazing promoters across the UK, they will be playing with some of the best bands from the UK’s DIY music scene and more from the learning disabled music scene. There is a movement going on and if you want to be a part of it you can at the dates below.

Richard Phoenix@theconstantflux

For more, including full tour dates, head to Constantflux.co.uk.

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