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LGBTIQ+ List 2023: Adem Holness, Southbank Centre

Continuing a series of interviews with this year's queer pioneers, IQ speaks to the UK-based head of contemporary music

By Lisa Henderson on 17 Jul 2023

Adem Holness, Southbank Centre

Adem Holness, Southbank Centre

The LGBTIQ+ List 2023 – IQ Magazine’s third annual celebration of queer professionals who make an immense impact in the international live music business – has been revealed.

The ever-popular list is the centrepiece of IQ’s third Pride edition, sponsored by Ticketmaster, which is now available to read online and in print for subscribers.

To get to know this year’s queer pioneers a little better, we interviewed each of them on the development of the industry, the challenges that are keeping them up at night and more.

Throughout the next month, IQ will publish a new interview each day. Check out yesterday’s profile with Amy Greig, booking agent at Runway Artists in the UK.

The series continues with Adem Holness (he/they), head of contemporary music at Southbank Centre in London, UK.

Having been responsible for arts and cultural organisations; talent development programmes; live music festivals, tours, and gigs, Adem specialises in enabling the ambitions of music artists and creatives from diverse backgrounds to realise ambitious contemporary music programmes. As music curator at the Horniman Museum & Gardens, he led the award-winning 696 programme and festival celebrating Black British music and the sounds of south London.

Adem is a fellow of Clore Leadership, the Royal Society of Arts, and PRS Foundation’s Power Up scheme, an award-winning initiative supporting Black music creators and industry professionals to address anti-Black racism and racial disparities in the music sector.

Tell us about the professional feat you’re most PROUD of in 2023 so far.
Straight in with a pun, love it. Well, I’m right in the middle of delivering Christine & The Queens’ Meltdown. Meltdown is the longest-running artist-curated festival in the world. Chris is the youngest-ever curator. With this being my first Meltdown, having only started at Southbank less than a year ago, it’s been amazing for the two of us silly queer kids to make something that we both feel really proud of. We want the festival to feel really fun and have huge amounts of imagination, with artists that we both love. There are loads of queer artists, creatives, and collectives at the festival, so definitely something I feel proud of.

Name one queer act you’re itching to see live this year.
Am I allowed to say one of my own shows? Is that bad? Because it’s Honey Dijon. We’ve got her doing a huge takeover of our site in September, including her performing with an orchestra – it’s going to be wild! If I’m not allowed to say one of mine, I’d say Iniko. I think they’re incredible. They give me a glimpse of the queer future and I would love to see them live.

“We need you – as you are – in our industry. We need your perspective, ideas, and imagination”

What advice could you give to young queer professionals?
Be yourself and find a good support network outside of work. So, if it’s ever uncomfortable and scary to show up to work authentically, you’ve got people outside who can charge you back up. Because we need you – as you are – in our industry. We need your perspective, ideas, and imagination.

What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made?
Contacting an artist’s management that I didn’t hold the relationship with and nearly getting a major show pulled as a result. Big squeaky bum time. But I learned the power of good relationships in our business and not overstepping. In a way, I feel like we should all be making mistakes all the time because failing is how we learn. Ideally, not huge mistakes that cancel gigs or destroy our industry but small things along the way that mean we can each get better and refine what we do.

In terms of challenges in the industry, what’s currently keeping you up at night?
Ticket sales! Particularly for the smaller- to mid-level acts. There is so much amazing activity in London this summer and I feel really proud to be in one of the most exciting music scenes in the world. I just hope that we are protecting enough space for people at the grassroots and emerging levels to be able to build amazing careers.

“I’m so excited by the new generation of leaders that are coming through and helping to create a more inclusive landscape”

How do you see the live music business developing in the next few years?
I do genuinely believe we are on a journey to becoming more inclusive. I think we’ve got a way to go but I feel really hopeful that we’re getting there.

Name one thing you’d like to see the live music business change.
I’m so excited by the new generation of leaders that are coming through and helping to create a more inclusive landscape. For example, I feel really proud to have been a part of Power Up, an initiative confounded by Ben Wynter and the PRS Foundation powering up Black music artists and professionals. So, I’d like to see more people from my communities in leadership positions.

Name one thing the industry could do to be a more equitable place.
I think it comes back to the question about making mistakes. One thing that we could all do is recognise that it’s okay [that] we’re not all getting everything right all the time. By being open to trying things differently and seeing what makes a wider variety of people able to do their best at work, I think we can create a more equitable work environment. I know sometimes people who might already feel comfortable in an environment worry that changing the setup to welcome others might alienate those who are already doing well. What I want is for all of us, everyone, to feel comfortable and confident at work. It’s okay that we’re not there right now if we’re open to experimenting and trying new things to see how we can get to a place where we’re all having a great time and putting on great gigs.

Do you support any LGBTIQ+ causes?
I have to shout out The Chateau, which was a queer venue in southeast London, and we are bringing it back for the opening night of Christine and the Queens’ Meltdown. Bring back The Chateau!


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