The five fearless innovators using punk, drag, film, fashion and fanzines to strike back against the mainstream
Taken from Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Dazed:
This generation is taking the power back. Whether its inspired by feeling outside the mainstream, frustrated with the restrictions of urban life, or by politicising themselves, young creatives are re-writing what you thought you knew about youth culture. In a world where everyone is shouting to get heard, Dazed brings you the voices of thrilling British creatives whose work is elevating them above the cacophony. We’ve taken some time to celebrate a range film-makers, drag artists, designers, DJs and artists who have inspired us by injecting new energy into the arts. They have been inspired by their cultural experiences and criticism of the mainstream to react using the tools that have been accessible to them. While a generation of British youth continue to be squeezed by a climate of arts cuts, unemployment, and high-cost living, these creatives are pushing back by championing culture, and sending a clear message: youth culture isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s more exciting than ever. Let us introduce you to the new world order.
Try telling Lotte Andersen that print is dead. The 24-year-old London-based artist is part of the current wave of creatives pushing self publishing forward. A print girl in a digital world, she makes physical fanzines and iconic posters for her club night Maxilla. In a climate that submits to digital platforms, Lotte’s biggest problem is that the posters for Maxilla keep getting nicked. Her most recent zine was a 40-paged labour of love. Her message to a new creative generation is simple: “Fuck up, figure it out, and to get off your computers and experience life.”
Why is this an exciting time to be a creative?
Lotte Andersen: We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We are squished into funny little houses living with friends, having to be quite inventive with our time and money. Creatively it’s a blessing in disguise. You have to think outside of the box, to do things that are going to make you happy. That’s how Maxilla came to be. It’s a space for young people to come, have a drink, meet new people; it’s a happy zone. As everyone gets pushed further out, I feel the sense of creative community has become quite sparsely scattered. That’s why clubnights are so important – they get everyone doing something together, somewhere less serious, somewhere to let your hair down. It’s sad to watch so many venues, clubs and pubs being closed down London. However, hopefully this will give people more incentives to find interesting venues that would more often be overlooked.
What are the details that you look for that makes a piece of work special?
Lotte Andersen: Authenticity – I’m interested in work that feels real and is imbued with someone’s particular point of view. I wanna know what you like. I worry that my generation has been very caught up with irony, which scrambles the intention of the work.
Has online carved a way for people wanting an alternative to the mainstream? How important is its influence to you?
Lotte Andersen: Online is mainstream. I was more outspoken online when it was less important. I had a blog and I quickly realised lots of people were reading it, as the online presence grew I found myself retreating. I took it quite seriously that whatever I put up would potentially exist forever. What has been important about social media however is spreading the word… getting people connected so they can meet IRL.
What was the last thing that really excited you?
Lotte Andersen: Making my last zine, decorating my last party, opening magazines and seeing my mates work, going to their shows, watching their bands, seeing their art, going to their parties. Jesse Kanda and Arca – they could be our generations Aphex Twin and Chris Cunningham.
How do you want to inspire the next generation?
Lotte Andersen: To get off their computers and go and experience life!
Asifa Lahore doesn’t care that her role models might be controversial. As the self-proclaimed first muslim drag queen in the UK, Asifa’s life is about duality and pushing boundaries. Performing across the country in both mainstream and gaysian club nights, she wants to create plurality within the British Muslim experience through her art.
Who are some of your artistic and political inspirations?
Asifa Lahore: I’m inspired by Margaret Thatcher and Benazir Bhutto. Both of those women were existing in a mans world differently, and they used femininity in fascinating ways. I might not have been a fan of their politics, but I was a fan of them as women. I'm also a huge fan of Eurovision.
How does drag empower you?
Asifa Lahore: Drag is an art form that is often not always appreciated. When I wear my burqa on stage, and my wig, I’m sending a message – that you can be whatever you want to be, and we all have a right to express ourselves through art. Now is the time to do it.
Do the cultural challenges of your work motivate you?
Asifa Lahore: I use my ethnic background to my advantage. When I graduated and started looking for roles, I found that they were very stereotypical – they were either for a terrorist or refugee. I was very effeminate, I would have to butch up so I learned very early on that in terms in what I wanted to be as a performer I had to create my own platform. Social media and youtube in particular was key in creating my character and feeling in charge of it. It hasn’t always been easy for me or for other queens in my community but in the end, you will always do what you’re creatively drawn to.
How do you hope your work speaks to people in your community?
Asifa Lahore: People think of british asians and muslim in particular stereotypes. I like to think that I’m part of a generation where that is being challenged, and it’s changing. I did a ‘Punjabi Girl’ video which is a parody of Aqua's ‘Barbie Girl’ which felt like a fun way to poke fun at some stereotypes. I want the new generation that make up the South Asian LGBT community to be inspired to be themselves no matter what.
The London-based Jamaican British film-maker is a producer, writer and editor best known for the acclaimed short film Ackee & Saltfish and the documentary series Strolling, which she describes as a representation of everyday conversations that her and her friends were having. Inspired by the likes of D’Angelo and philosopher Paulo Freire, her view, like her work, is politically charged, and aims to re-structure the balance of storytellers in the mainstream.
What inspired your direction as a film-maker?
Cecile Emeke: I'm very inspired by real life experiences and the people around me. I always carry around a notebook to jot down things during the day. It's crucial to me to capture the energy of a moment more than anything else, I think this has informed my attention to detail which is noticeable throughout my work.
Why was it particularly important for you to represent the black female experience? What did you feel was missing?
Cecile Emeke: I feel like I've rarely been able to see representations of black women through the lens of a black woman; I think that is missing. I'm tired of other people trying to tell our stories.
What is the significance of ackee and saltfish to you?
Cecile Emeke: For me personally, Ackee and Saltfish reminds of me of blissfully lazy Sundays in my childhood, where I would wake up to the smell of my mum's cooking. It was a much simpler time when my biggest concern was mastering my ackee and saltfish-to-dumpling-ratio.
Do we need to re-think the way we define ‘minority’?
Cecile Emeke: I'm not a minority and I think people should start rejecting this term. I view the world through my own gaze and every morning I wake up in a house full of black women, on a planet where the majority of people living are brown like me. The real minority in this country, and in the world, are the wealthy, white, upper-class elites, not people like myself. How can we be surprised that people don't feel that they deserve to hold a share in all parts of society, including the arts, when they are called a "minority". By definition that term defines you as smaller, less significant "other". Language is powerful.
How do you want to inspire the next generation?
Cecile Emeke: All I can do is be my authentic self and I hope younger people will be inspired to be themselves too.
Matty Bovan’s work demands to be heard. The London-based fashion designer is repositioning colour and texture into new forms, and is inspired by the changing world around him. He describes his work as a ‘bit of a riot’ responding to a culture where being an artist is increasingly difficult. His view, is that this generation are agitators, which informs his work. His thrilling aesthetic which using clay, lurex and neon, is a representation of Bovan’s personal style.
Is the political climate inspiring a generation of creatives?
Matty Bovan: I don’t think young people are on the fence. You have to be quite brave to be a creative in this climate, it’s a risk and I see labels go under every week. But people are still pushing themselves and pushing boundaries.
Is is a risk to be creative in the current climate?
Matty Bovan: It’s very risky for a lot of people, but that kind of makes it a lot more inspiring because people have to really believe in the work they are creating. I believe in my aesthetic and I’ve been lucky enough to be in spaces where that’s been encouraged.
Is being uncompromising key to way you make work?
Matty Bovan: You have to keep questioning taste. Glitter, and dodgy colours are exciting to me because it helps me challenge peoples perceptions. If it encourages people to look at the world differently that’s great – and if people hate it, well, that’s fine.
21-year-old Alanna is the front-woman of punk band Joanna Gruesome, a five-piece best known for its thrilling DIY ideology, and playful relationship with the mainstream. Her lyrics read like a diary entry, and her work is a brash statement declaring that she, and other women like her exist. Her music, like herself, is proudly political, and her view is that dissonance can open doors to send a message of solidarity.
What inspired your direction as an artist?
Alanna McArdle: Lyrics have been an extension of my diary since I started being in bands. I think it's interesting to note that the confessional in regards to depression, is seen more as a 'diary' when it's expressed by a woman. Lyrically, it’s like, “yeah, I'm telling you about my feelings and that makes you uncomfortable because I'm a woman, because I'm queer, but you put this song on so now you have to sit and listen to it”. I think there's a misconception that young people today are apathetic or apolitical. Mainstream music media seem to be obsessed with the idea that political acts or artists no longer exist.
What has been most important for you to capture, in terms of your music?
Alanna McArdle: In Joanna Gruesome I was given an opportunity I never gave myself before, the opportunity to be really loud. So once I had it I really wanted to run with it: the idea of loudness. Loudness and aggression are not welcome features on a woman, so since I've been in the band I wanted to capture maybe that pent up loudness and anger that I've been feeling my whole life and that I'd never before found a way to express.
What is the last thing that you saw that you needed to write about?
Alanna McArdle: I've been reading Heroines by Kate Zambreno. It's made me think a lot about women who are overshadowed by their male counterparts, and how even in progressive scenes, women can be given a backseat in favour of men because of this longstanding notion that women are mainly tools to help men succeed. I've been writing a lot about that struggle of coming through in your art on your own terms.
Why is lyrical storytelling important to you?
Alanna McArdle: When I first started writing lyrics, the storytelling and narrative aspect was key because I've always loved the novel. But when I started writing in Joanna Gruesome, storytelling wasn't a priority. It became more about the sonic value of words and how sounds could affect you rather than meaning.
What do you hope to achieve?
Alanna McArdle: I hope I can help other people with mental illness stop feeling ashamed of themselves by speaking in the way I've spoken out before. I want to show women and queer women it's possible to be fearless but you still have every right to feel vulnerable.
Hair Kota Suizu at Caren using TIGI Bedhead; make-up Thomas De Kluyver at D+V Management using Chanel S2015 and Body Excellence; photographic assistants Matt Hay, Sarah Merrett; styling assistants Giulio Ventisei, Ioana Ivan; hair assistant Andrew Wang; make-up assistant Akari Sugino
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