“They might have never had experience with someone close to them having a disability, if they have never experienced it then how are they supposed to understand it. The answer to that is communication.”

Dom Smith is an active presence in the music industry. He drums for a band THE PARASITIC TWINS and does a lot of work to help spread awareness for better accessibility in music venues with his platforms Wobbling About and Rocking Out (WARO) and Soundsphere. Lotty Whittingham spoke to Dom about his work with WARO, how having an open conversation can help people understand disabilities and the charity single they have released.

Hello Dom, thanks for joining Rock Out Stand Out this evening. Tell the reader’s more about Wobbling About & Rocking Out is.

The idea behind Wobbling About & Rocking Out, or WARO for short, was formed when I was working at MIT in Boston. It’s a leading Science and Tech university, they were developing the next generation of robotic limbs. I was there for six months initially to document the entrepreneurial eco system in Boston.

When you were over there, it doesn’t matter what you were doing with your time. They’re always wanting to know what you really want; they have a strong entrepreneurial mindset and it’s incredibly intense. Even if you are there for a short period of time, they want to push you to be the best person you can be. I would speak to these incredibly wise, Dumbledore-esque professors who have had far too much coffee and god knows what else. These guys are geniuses.

They would ask me “so what’s your story?” and I would explain that I am working to develop a music platform that’s based in the North of England but then they would ask “and what else?” I answered that I was in three bands. They turned around and said “there’s more in you. What do you really want to do?”

It got me thinking, is there more I can do in my time? I love writing my music and documenting bands, particularly in the north of England. As much as I loved working for NME, Metal Hammer and all these wonderful publications that gave me these opportunities to do what I do now. I thought there was something more to do.

Most of our projects are about supporting young people. I noticed there was a huge gap in the market surrounding mental health and disability awareness in the Yorkshire area. We wanted to do more around these two aspects. This was inspired by Soundsphere, all the wonderful people that supported me during my internships and working at the publications and MIT.

It’s amazing that I have been able to do all those things but through this intense experience with these professors, I was pushed towards thinking what I really wanted to do. There are some wonderful initiatives in Hull and the surrounding areas that are doing amazing things. I wanted to be the resource where people could go to and find out about these initiatives.

So, to summarise, WARO was born out of a conversation with the world’s intellectuals from MIT in a pub call The Muddy and from some intelligent lecturers who said to me “Dom, what are you doing with your life? Do something more, do something that makes you happy.” WARO is much closer to my heart as I have cerebral palsy.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Soundsphere, it’s my baby but I needed to do something else to reinvigorate that passion for music and the arts. WARO did that for me in ways that I hadn’t felt for six to seven years. WARO is about supporting those in the creative industry, whilst supporting those with mental illness and disability.

There has now been campaigning for better access facilities at gig venues, from what I understand you have been involved with these. Is that right?

Yes, that is something we have been getting involved with. There’s an incredible resource that I have been in contact with called Attitude Is Everything. They have doing some amazing work nationally and I have had a conversation with them on a panel hosted by the event Fifty Three Degrees North. It’s an event that takes place in Hull every year where the best creatives come from all over the country to attend. We spoke with Attitude Is Everything at that event and we are hoping to do some work with them in the future. That’s my aim anyway.

They are doing some amazing campaigns and I am part of a group called Disabled Entrepreneurs UK. We try and promote accessibility awareness wherever possible. There’s a company in the USA I do some work with called Muzo and they are all about accessibility as well. So, it’s something I am going to be more involved with over the course of 2019. We are barely scratching the surface since its early days but we are going to do more work with them and raise more awareness. We hope to do some charitable work around that too.

I do struggle getting on and off stage to perform with the band but I am quite lucky because I can climb onto the stage, I do that quite a lot. People don’t always have that luxury so more needs to be done but it’s about having a conversation. For example, if I started having a go at you saying “you don’t understand what it’s like to be disabled, I can’t play your venue because don’t have such and such.” It would be very weird for me to do that as what if you don’t have a friend or family member who has a disability.

Some people may disagree with this but I think you shouldn’t attack the venues unless you have had a conversation with them because as a venue manager, how are they supposed to know. You need to have a conversation and talk about what options are available so you can raise their awareness. There’s a lot of people with disabilities that play music, there’s not a lot of awareness but that awareness needs to come from experience of people with disabilities.

Soundsphere and WARO have been asked to do some campaigning around accessibility awareness. I will always promote accessibility awareness but what people need to realise is, you shouldn’t attack someone for not understanding a disability. They might have never had experience with someone close to them having a disability, if they have never experienced it then how are they supposed to understand it. The answer to that is communication.

When you go and watch a gig, if you are in a chair and you need accessibility. The bigger venues have access facilities and their needs are seen to. I play in a punk rock band in the underground scene so I am talking about smaller venues. If you or another band member has a disability, you need to be talking to these venues and asking what they can do and provide.

02 Academies and the bigger venues have got a duty to fulfil these needs due to the number of people that they bring in. If you are in an upcoming band and you have a disability then you should be playing these upcoming venues but if they haven’t got the access, it’s because they haven’t had awareness. They haven’t encountered that many people with disabilities in their venues and that’s a conversation that needs to be had.

So, if you buy a ticket for a gig and you got a wheel chair, in the same way for 02 Academies and large festivals like Download, you make the organisers aware you need access facilities. At the bigger shows, there’s a viewing platform so they have a better view of the show.

It’s the same thing when you are in a band, you need to make venues aware. I know it sounds like a ball ache and it is, but that venue will use that experience they had with you and now they have that accessible facility for future bands with disabilities. You have got to educate and inform, if you can you got to inspire people too.

Going back to your point about not attacking the venues for not having access facilities, that is a good point as some of these venues are old buildings where amendments are restricted.

Yes, you’re right. That’s a good point. In London for example, I hate escalators. I used to struggle with them so I got two buses to work in the morning when I was living in Staines. You can’t stick lifts in a lot of these London stations. So, what I would say to that, if you do things and offer to educate people yet they still show ignorance then they should be called out on it. Most of the time, however, even if the building is old and they can’t make adaptions physically, most of the places I have been to have staff on hand who will figure out a solution.

The issue is that the person or artist with the disability has to be open minded to what that might be. There are ways and means around everything. If you are going to be in a band and you’re going to put yourself out there as an artist, then you need to be open minded and you will have to be willing to bear your soul on stage. I think in order to get you onto that stage, things can be done and most venues will support you however that may be, they will support you.

You are in a band called The Parasitic Twins, out of curiosity did the name come from The Dillinger Escape Plan song?

It did come from The Dillenger Escape Plan song. Originally, we were just Parasitic Twins, conveniently there was a band on the scene with the same name that do a very similar style of music. They have been debunked for years but just to be on the safe side we added the in the band name and be like The White Stripes of grindcore. We have been called that.

So yes, it originally came from that song title. I was driving in my car along to one of my favourite songs of theirs and I thought we need a suitable name for a grindcore, hardcore punk band. The Parasitic Twins was the name that felt right. My music partner Max rarely agrees with me on anything but we both agreed that was a good band name.

You guys released a single where proceeds go towards CALM. Tell us more about that.

I’ve got a lot of friends who have dealt with various mental health issues, nationally and internationally. I love CALM and I love the work they do. I was first alerted to it years ago when we did an interview series with Gary Numan. Gary Numan was involved with the series. We called offices from York and Leeds, we were based in York at the time, we did a piece on them. They talked about CALM, they did some work with Gary Numan on a track called Petals and the proceeds from that went to CALM.

CALM is an amazing male mental health charity. I don’t think in general mental health is not talked about enough but with male mental health particularly, men are genuinely afraid of talking about their feelings and being open. Behind the ethos of CALM, I want to do more up north to promote them. We have done some charitable stuff for them through Soundsphere over the years and then when I got into a band, Max and I spoke about things that we would like to cover. So, we were like “You know what, let’s break out the nineties classic Spaceman.” That song was way before it’s time and I thought it was brilliant. So, we decided to do a horrible grindcore version of this.

We decided to record it and put it out for charity to raise some money. We have raised a few hundred quid and it’s still going. I’m really proud of it, Matt and I had lots of fun recording it. We have had a fair bit of radio play, national and international exposure. From my perspective, it’s good for the band but more than that it’s been good for the charity. WARO, Soundsphere, The Parasitic Twins and everything else I am involved with, I will continue to promote the work of CALM because it’s a great charity and we are very proud to be involved.

What advice would you personally give to a young person with a disability trying to make it in the creative industry?

I would say, you have to be open minded. You have to acknowledge that some things are going to hurt and some things are going to be difficult. Remember that people are afraid of what they don’t understand and rather than getting annoyed at that, make it your mission to educate, inform and inspire.

Go on a mission to educate people about your disability, how it affects you and how it doesn’t stop you doing things. If you inform people by showing them what you’re doing and they can see that you are doing cool things.

If you want to be a journalist; start a blog, you can do that on a computer. If you want to be in a band; find your best mate who believes in you as much as you do and start a band, which is what I did. That way you knock down doors by playing good shows or writing good articles.

In summary; there is work around everything, find something that works for you and I would say embrace the fact you are going to face challenges and that there are road blocks. There will be people who won’t give you certain opportunities because they think you aren’t capable. So, what you have to do is you have to show people and opportunities come from that.

Thank you so much Dom for this great and informative chat. Hope the work with your campaigns go well.

Here are some websites to the charities and groups mentioned in the interview.

CALM – A leading movement against suicide.

Attitude Is Everything – Improves deaf and disabled people’s access to live music by working in partnership with venues, audiences, artists and the music industry.

Disabled Entrepreneurs UK – The only place in United Kingdom that supports people with disabilities into self-employment and encouraging disabled entrepreneurship

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