London party crew SIREN speak to six other collectives about how they’re creating an inclusive environment for clubbing
It’s an exciting time for London’s femme and queer music scenes, as so many women and queer-led collectives are carving out spaces for themselves, promoting visibility, and tackling harassment. We’re also in the midst of a cultural shift whereby these issues are fighting their way to the mainstream, largely due to the work of the DJs, party-makers, and activists that make up these groups. Yet coverage of these issues can often feel quite superficial, treating feminism and queer issues as trends rather than social movements. At the same time, the ongoing demise of queer or DIY nightlife spaces is putting pressure on diverse events, and perhaps causing us to re-evaluate our relationship to partying.
SIREN is a London-based femme collective who throw parties and publish a zine. This Saturday we’re celebrating the work that different groups are collectively doing around the city with Synchronize, an event bringing together various groups – including femme party starters UNITI; South London queer women of colour collective BBZ; queer, trans, and intersex people of colour arts collective Batty Mama; Dalston Superstore women’s night Goldsnap; and radical events collective Resis’dance – who are pushing dancefloors forward.
SIREN: How and why did you start your collective?
UNITI: We came together in March 2016 after meeting each other on nights out. UNITI was originally the idea of Molly O’Reilly, aka DJ Terribilis. It came about out of a frustration at the lack of femme and LGBTQ+ representation in the nights we were attending.
BBZ: BBZ started because we’d had enough of having to trek to east London to go to any kind of a queer rave, and I didn’t feel like there was a platform for women of colour to network and display artwork and just interact with each other in real. I feel like everything is very online, and it means that you’re not able to actually forge real friendships with this huge community. So BBZ creates an opportunity for you to interact with people and build a friendship that will be long lasting and not just a fleeting thing.
Batty Mama: The Batty Mama came from a series of conversations between artists Hakeem Kazeem, Ama Josephine Budge, and Lasana Shabazz. (We found) that many queer nights marketed to a black and brown audience were often dominated by a white audience, who took up a lot of space. We talked a lot about mainstream gay spaces and gay rights more generally being something that black, brown, and POC bodies have fought for, lobbied for, been on the front line for, been gay-bashed for etc. just as much as other LGBTQ+ campaigners. Yet seemingly all of the mainstream gay spaces that we won are not ’for us’.
Goldsnap: With nights like DOMO, Twat Boutique, and even lesbian bars like Blush on a rapid decline, I noticed there was a need for more women-only or women-centered spaces. There wasn’t a space being made for women where the music reflected the need to dance, or want to socialise. Also, within the queer community there is already an alienation or disparity between queer women and men that isn’t really taken into account when programming nights – women don’t feel as welcome in male-gay spaces as male-gays feel in women-centered spaces. I wanted to create a space where women could feel conformable, safe, and free, without turning our backs to the queer community.
“Changing the scene is not our job as individuals, but the collective job of our community” – Goldsnap
SIREN: Do you have a philosophy towards the parties you throw and the atmosphere you create?
UNITI: We want to create a nonjudgmental safe space for marginalised people to be able to dance, have fun, and show their immense talent in both music and the visual arts. Whether you’re performing or attending, we want you to have a good time and remind you to keep empowering and expressing yourself.
BBZ: The philosophy is that everybody brings good vibes, is respectful of everybody else, and is aware that it’s been curated by and for queer women of colour. The atmosphere is dictated by the fact that we have artwork in the beginning. You can interact with people, you can talk about artwork which is all generally across a similar theme of identity, and what it is to be a queer woman of colour. The energy that we’re aiming for is something that is inclusive, respectful, uplifting and empowering. The artwork really helps to foster that and the fact that we do lots of different events outside of BBZ, it really is about forging the community properly, not just on that night.
Batty Mama: The Batty Mama parties have to be an experience. There was always supposed to be a bit of a power play between one space which is more dancey and traditionally clubby and another space which is more immersive, performative, kinky, sexy. We want to develop this in future nights, while keeping it accessible. The other reason to programme nights in mainstream spaces is for those of us who aren’t already in a/the POC ‘community’.
Goldsnap: Goldsnap aims to create a space where QTIPOC people feel like they own the space and can be free in the space. Spaces like these allows a different set of behaviours. We want to create a kind of space where people can look up at the DJ booth, see that there are women of colour behind the DJ booth, and feel comfortable that these women can appreciate where the music we all want to dance to comes from. Giving affirmation, in a world where people don’t affirm you anywhere else. Also the music needs to be tight.
Resis’dance: Our philosophy is that we prioritise the voices of people who normally feel uncomfortable in ‘normal’ party spaces. It is a diverse group in terms of race and class and background, but we are all women who have experienced violence in the club/party scene. Our main priority is to create an atmosphere where women can feel free to be themselves, without the threat of the male gaze or being judged for being who they are. As a crew and events collective we raise money for activist groups that may find it hard to access funding because of how radical they are, as well as bringing different campaigns and activist groups together on the dancefloor. We also aim to create anti-commercial party spaces and support venues that are at risk of gentrification.
SIREN: What is most important for you in terms of changing the scene?
Batty Mama: Personally we rarely feel compelled to go to most clubnights, so making events that appeal to a wider range of queer brown people, not just clubgoers, is essential. Also, making sure there are nights where people know the menu is primarily hip hop, dancehall, bashment, R&B, Afrobeats, drum‘n’bass – all the old skool anthems!
Goldsnap: Changing the scene is not our job as individuals, but the collective job of our community. I just want to do my part with Goldsnap by ensuring there is a regular night where women can go, experience good, thought-out, seamless and appropriate music to dance to, without feeling alienated. Ideally, I just want to change how frequent and prevalent QTIPOC nights happen within the east London scene.
Resis’dance: We want to support groups, campaigns, and organisations that are outside of traditional ‘scenery’. We’re trying to make space with people who want to create their own space, where their voice and music might not be heard or appreciated within a traditional party/music scene, we aim and focus on creating spaces with these groups. Our focus is not on the scene, we’re actually trying to reject it.
“Paying artists, especially queer and trans people of colour, is extremely political” – Batty Mama
SIREN: Have you experienced any opposition to what you do or issues at the parties?
BBZ: Yes. I had one friend in particular say, ‘What if I was to do a rave that was just for white straight women?’ I was like, ‘That’s your everyday, so those raves already exist.’ It’s not a thing about us being exclusive, it’s made really clear that the rave is inclusive. But everyone that comes needs to acknowledge that it’s curated by and for queer women of colour. To those people creating friction, I’m like, nobody is forced to come here, so if you have those opinions about it, then fine – don’t come. If you get it, then come through, but if you don’t, stay away.
Batty Mama: Creating black and brown spaces is harder than we expected. There was one comment under our QX blog, with a man who had issue with us asking non-QTIPOC people to let brown and black people in first. It was always going to be part of the ‘takeover’ idea, rather than creating a space in a much more exclusive or less central venue. There is especially a white, gay, male crowd that is hostile to queer women and trans people and even more so to brown bodies. We had a lot of them demanding to be let in at the door at Dalston Superstore, unable to comprehend that their Friday night local could be doing an event that wasn’t all about them.
Goldsnap: Likewise, the main issue is men feeling entitled to the space. The amount of men who come to the door at Dalston Superstore, are told it’s a ladies’ night, and won’t let off that they’re not invited. Goldsnap aims to create a space where women feel safe, respected, and free, therefore our door policy is women-only, but we do at times let queer male allies in.
Resis’dance: We’ve definitely faced difficulties such as sorting our venues and logistics around it, because we are limited with funding. In the past we used local venues such as Silver Bullet which was unfortunately bought out by a coffee chain. But, in general, organising fundraisers in London can prove difficult because there is not capital to be won. Sometimes we also have issues during the events about our safer spaces policies – men coming in and challenging our safer spaces crew, or bouncers not quite understanding what our safer space policy is.
UNITI: No opposition, just support and love. There’s only been two times where people have been told to fuck off. The security at The Yard are lovely people, and they back our philosophy 100%.
SIREN: Do you feel the work you’re doing relates to wider political issues?
BBZ: The current climate of the world is pretty bleak, and on one level, just creating a space which is happy, free, and fun, and people can feel like they can be themselves, is a great way of combating that. But on another different wave, the more we’ve been doing it, the more aware we’ve become of different social issues and the way that BBZ can combat these. Women, regardless of race, have to deal with a lot of shit, so forging a community amongst women is incredibly important. On another level, it’s really important to forge communities in light of today’s political climate, especially – in America, with Brexit, with the way that racism is becoming such a casual thing these days.
Batty Mama: The biggest need is being able to afford to do what you love. Making sure the events are financially viable and sustainable for everyone involved is the only way everyone can grow and keep creating. Paying artists, especially queer and trans people of colour, is extremely political. Outside of that, we are very politicised people, so this naturally affects the programming and ethos of the night.
Goldsnap: It’s related to things mentioned before – racism, misogyny, and violence against women in the club scene. QTIPOC nights in white spaces, challenging traditional DJ/music/club conventions.
Resis’dance: We exist to make a platform for women, especially marginalised women; women of colour, trans women, working class women, women who are struggling. It’s about saying these women are doing amazing things, affirming their value, and giving them platform to showcase their work and passions.
SIREN: Where do you see your collective in the future?
UNITI: In the future, we hope to have a bigger audience, to throw more parties of different types (charity, day events, etc.), for us all to develop as musicians and DJs, as well as continue to offer this and even bigger platforms for LGBTQ+/femme DJs and musicians. It’s all about furthering the message of inclusivity as much as we can.
BBZ: We would like to see it develop into a platform whereby new artists are able to exhibit next to established artists, and sell their work, and it be a springboard for their careers. We’ve also got a radio show coming up, and we really like the idea of creating a festival. The idea ultimately is to create a wider community of artists and women who can kinda lean on each other for support. We would love to be able to monetise it so everybody can get paid, and everybody is benefiting off their work.
Batty Mama: The aim is to do a range of events from concerts to stages at Prides/Festival, touring nationally and maybe even internationally and doing more collaborations. But we want to remain by QTIPOC for QTIPOC, by and for the community and therefore open to their thoughts and feedback. We want to keep taking over mainstream spaces and reminding much of the wider LGBTQ+ community that we’re here too: these spaces are also for, about and because of us.
Goldsnap: I see us being bigger, with more women of colour involved. A bit like Discwoman; a collective of amazing individuals all fighting for the same cause but bringing different aspects into the community we’re trying to build. I see us playing at more nights, representing on a broader national scale, holding more nights. Fighting the good fight with our coloured Sistrens.
Resis’dance: Resis’dance needs to grow a more, recruit women with more skills in order to keep up the energy. We want women and non-binary people to join us and work with us to throw radical parties. We need some more skills under our belts, so our immediate future is to do more skill shares with the group and other women who are interested, as well as spending more time practicing those skills. We aim to continue to raise money, and fight against patriarchy.
SIREN presents: Synchronise takes place at The Yard in Hackney, London on Saturday August 20
SIREN is also working on a short film raising awareness about harassment in club spaces – if you’d like to be featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject VIDEO INTERVIEW and include a little about yourself and your story