1975 Malaysia furore prompts touring rule change
Promoters of upcoming events in Sepang, Malaysia are being asked not to feature overseas artists as the fallout from The 1975’s aborted festival headline set continues.
The British group’s 21 July performance at the Good Vibes Festival at Sepang International Circuit was cut short by officials after singer Matty Healy attacked Malaysia’s strict anti-LGBT laws and kissed a male bandmate on stage.
Healy’s “controversial conduct and remarks” resulted in the remaining two days of the festival being cancelled by the ministry of communications and digital, and left the band facing the threat of a class action lawsuit from local artists and vendors. Promoter Future Sound Asia is also “exploring legal options”, a spokesperson tells NME.
In the wake of last Friday’s incident, The Star reports that Sepang Municipal Council has ruled that only local artists will be permitted to perform in the district “for the time being”.
“The council retains the discretion to blacklist individuals, companies, events or any related entities,” said council president Datuk Abd Hamid Hussain. “We have made a decision to only allow local artists to perform for the time being.”
Speaking at a board meeting last night (26 July), Hussain said the decision can be overturned if event organisers “submit an appeal to the higher authorities and it is approved”.
Six foreign electronic music acts are currently slated to perform at the M4ntap festival at Sepang International Circuit from 5-6 August
International acts can apply for a permit through the Central Agency for Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artistes (Puspal).
“Once approved by Puspal, the council will decide to approve the performing location,” said Hussain. “Event organisers will need to adhere to additional requirements, including ensuring that artists’ conduct and behaviour complies with the applicable laws at all times.
“Any violation of this will see the council taking necessary action, including the immediate cancellation of the event,” he said, adding any such violations would result in legal action.
Six foreign electronic music acts, including Dash Berlin, DubVision and Super 8 & Tab, are currently slated to perform at the M4ntap festival at Sepang International Circuit from 5-6 August.
Last year, the Malaysian government set out new rules for international artists following complaints from political party PAS Youth after a stadium show by Billie Eilish in Kuala Lumpur. PAS had previously called for a Selena Gomez concert to be banned in 2016, alleging it promoted “western culture and hedonism”.
All concerts by foreign acts include conditions for organisers and a code of ethics for artists – including how they dress and behave on stage – but according to The Star, the guidelines were being updated to take into account “all sensitivities of the Malaysian public”.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Legal action mooted as The 1975 row escalates
The 1975 could face a class action lawsuit from Malaysian artists and vendors as the fallout from the cancelled Good Vibes Festival (GVF) rumbles on.
The British band’s opening night headline set was cut short by officials on Friday (21 July) after frontman Matty Healy criticised Malaysia’s strict anti-LGBT laws and kissed a male bandmate on stage.
Healy told the audience: “I made a mistake. When we were booking shows, I wasn’t looking into it. I don’t see the fucking point, right, I do not see the point of inviting The 1975 to a country and then telling us who we can have sex with.”
After kissing bassist Ross MacDonald on the mouth, Healy added: “I am sorry if that offends you and you’re religious and it’s part of your fucking government, but your government are a bunch of fucking retards and I don’t care anymore.”
Healy’s “controversial conduct and remarks” led the ministry of communications and digital to pull the remaining two days of the Future Sound Asia (FSA)-promoted festival. Homosexuality is a crime in Malaysia, punishable by 20 years in prison.
“There will be no compromise with any party that challenges, belittles or violates Malaysian laws”
“There will be no compromise with any party that challenges, belittles or violates Malaysian laws,” said Malaysian communications and digital minister Fahmi Fadzil.
Meanwhile, Malaysian lawyer Mathew Thomas Philip announced on Facebook that he is heading up a pro bono legal team working on a class action suit against The 1975. The first draft, which names all four band members, says it is seeking damages for local artists and vendors for losses resulting from the group’s alleged “negligence”.
The New Straits Times reports that one of the 28 food vendors at GVF issued a video plea to the communication and digital ministry to reconsider its decision to cancel the event, having spent RM15,000 (€3,000) just on preparing food stock.
“This is not a small amount for small entrepreneurs like us,” says the business owner. “What does this mean for us? How do we move forward from this? Please help us save Good Vibes 2023 and punish those who are actually at fault instead of us, who are here to participate and to do what we do best.
“Everyone needs to consider that a lot of money has been spent to ensure that everyone has good times and good vibes. We should not be penalised for one person messing it up for everyone.”
FSA described the festival’s cancellation as “a catastrophic financial blow”
Police chief Comm Datuk Hussein Omar Khan says the band left the country on Saturday morning.
“In terms of action against the band, there is not much that can be done,” he tells The Star. “That said, we will hold the [festival] organisers responsible for their actions.”
GVF’s 10th anniversary edition was scheduled to run at Sepang International Circuit from 21-23 July and feature performances by the likes of The Strokes, The Kid Laroi and Dermot Kennedy. FSA described the festival’s cancellation as “a catastrophic financial blow”.
However, the repercussions of this incident extends beyond us,” says company director Ben Law. “We fear it will erode the confidence of music promoters and stakeholders in the live entertainment industry in the nation and threaten our burgeoning live arts scene.”
Law says organisers had been reassured by The 1975’s management team prior to their set that the band “would adhere to local performance guidelines”.
“One can appreciate the meaning of Healy’s protest, but I think the timing of it may not necessarily benefit folks”
“Regrettably, Healy did not honour these assurances, despite our trust in their commitment,” he adds. “His actions took us by surprise, and we halted the show as promptly as feasible following the incident.”
FSA director of entertainment Wan Alman tells the BBC World Service: “I think it was very unfortunate that the festival had to be cancelled and I think it’s very easy for him to fly in and do whatever he thinks that he wants to do without having to face or taking accountability for any consequences for his actions while the ones who suffer the implications are his fans here, because his set was cut short, the festival organisers and I think the industry as a whole.”
A source close to the 1975 told the BBC: “Matty has a long-time record of advocating for the LGBTQ+ community and the band wanted to stand up for their LGBTQ+ fans and community.” Healy’s sole public comment since the incident came via an Instagram post on Saturday, which said: “OK, well why don’t you try and not make out with Ross for 20 years. Not as easy as it looks.”
The 34-year-old, who previously defied Dubai’s anti-LGBTQ rules by kissing a male audience member during a concert in 2019, received plaudits from his actions internationally, but the reaction from the LGBTQ+ community in Malaysia has been mixed.
“One can appreciate the meaning of Healy’s protest, but I think the timing of it may not necessarily benefit folks,” Thilaga Sulathireh of the LGBTQ+ group Justice for Sisters tells the Washington Post. “Political parties are currently campaigning, and we know LGBT issues are often scapegoated.”
The 1975 cancelled their shows in Indonesia and Taiwan “due to current circumstances”
James Chin, an expert on Malaysia at the University of Tasmania, adds: “Among the Muslim communities of Southeast Asia, they see LGBT rights as part of this Western agenda to impose cultural values on other countries, especially Muslim countries.
“One of the problems with trying to promote these sorts of things around the world is that without the local context, you tend to get it wrong.”
Speaking to the BBC World Service, meanwhile, Malaysian drag queen Carmen Rose says: “I think there is a right place and time to do that and how you deliver the message that he delivered, and it was very obvious that he was intoxicated and he wasn’t in the right space to do that.
“The way he said it and the way he delivered it, I think it’s very performative. It’s giving ‘white saviour complex’ and he wasn’t doing it for our community because if he was doing it for our community he would know what the consequences we would have to go through.
“Right now the state elections [are] just around the corner, and the politicians are going to use this as a scapegoat, or it gives them more ammo to further their homophobic agenda to gain votes.”
The 1975, whose live career is guided by agent Matt Bates of Primary Talent International, cancelled yesterday’s slot at Jakarta’s We the Fest in Indonesia and tomorrow night’s show at Taiwan’s Taipei Music Center “due to current circumstances”.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Malaysia festival axed after The 1975 controversy
Malaysia’s Good Vibes Festival has been cancelled after The 1975 frontman Matty Healy hit out at the country’s strict anti-LGBT laws and kissed a male bandmate on stage.
The British band were headlining the first day of the festival’s 10th anniversary edition, promoted by Future Sound Asia. The event was scheduled to run at Sepang International Circuit from 21-23 July and feature performances by the likes of The Strokes, The Kid Laroi and Dermot Kennedy.
The BBC reports that Healy criticised the government’s stance on homosexuality in a “profanity-laden speech” before kissing bassist Ross MacDonald. The performance was then cut short 30 minutes into the set, with the group claiming they had been ordered off stage by officials.
Homosexuality is a crime in Malaysia, punishable by 20 years in prison.
A source close to the 1975 tells the BBC: “Matty has a long-time record of advocating for the LGBTQ+ community and the band wanted to stand up for their LGBTQ+ fans and community.”
“The ministry has underlined its unwavering stance against any parties that challenge, ridicule or contravene Malaysian laws”
Good Vibes Festival (GVF) organisers outlined the reasons for the cancellation in a statement.
“We deeply regret to announce that the remaining schedule of Good Vibes Festival 2023 planned for today and tomorrow has been cancelled following the controversial conduct and remarks made by UK artist Matt Healy from the band The 1975,” says the statement.
“The decision adheres to the immediate cancellation directive issued at 1.20pm, 22 July 2023, by the ministry of communications and digital. The ministry has underlined its unwavering stance against any parties that challenge, ridicule or contravene Malaysian laws.
“We sincerely apologise to all of our ticket holders, vendors, sponsors and partners. We are aware of the time, energy and efforts you have put into making this festival a success, and we value your steadfast support. We will update you on refund mechanics as soon as possible. We appreciate your understanding and continued support during this challenging time.”
Future Sound Asia (FSA) founder and director Ben Law elaborates on the situation in an additional statement published by the New Straits Times.
“The cancellation of GVF deals a catastrophic financial blow to FSA. However, the repercussions of this incident extends beyond us”
“Over the past 10 years, we have built GVF to be a uniquely Malaysian platform for enjoyable music experiences,” says Law. “Now, this decade-long labour of love faces an unprecedented threat due to the actions of an individual.
“This is a challenging time for us. The cancellation of GVF deals a catastrophic financial blow to FSA. However, the repercussions of this incident extends beyond us. We fear it will erode the confidence of music promoters and stakeholders in the live entertainment industry in the nation and threaten our burgeoning live arts scene.
“As festival organisers, FSA appreciates the trust our fans and authorities have placed in us over the years. We take our role in providing a safe, enjoyable music experience very seriously.”
FSA says that, prior to the group’s set, it was reassured by The 1975’s management team that Healy and the band “would adhere to local performance guidelines”.
“Regrettably, Healy did not honour these assurances, despite our trust in their commitment,” adds Law. “His actions took us by surprise, and we halted the show as promptly as feasible following the incident.
“Healy’s unprofessional behaviour and defiance of laws and regulations are disturbing and that he chose to use his performance as a platform to express his personal views, rather than delivering the quality show that his fans were anticipating. This act is unfair to fans who were looking forward to enjoying a memorable music experience.
“We are committed to learning from this experience and taking steps to reinforce communication with artists and their management teams. We will emphasise the importance of professionalism and adherence to local regulations to ensure that future events are conducted with even greater care and diligence.”
Healy previously defied Dubai’s anti-LGBTQ rules by kissing a male audience member during a concert in 2019.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Pride & prejudice: Promoting behind enemy lines
Palestinian artist Bashar Murad is used to risking his life to perform. As a queer Arab and a resident of East Jerusalem, Murad has learned to live with oppression and the threat of violence, both onstage and on his doorstep. Neither, however, has deterred him from openly addressing loaded issues such as the Israeli occupation and LGBTIQ+ rights in the Middle East. “But the more vocal I become about these issues, the greater the danger is,” he tells IQ.
In 2019, Murad took one of his most daring steps when he performed in a wedding dress at an event in Ramallah, a Palestinian city located in the central West Bank. While the West Bank’s biggest draw for promoters is that it’s the only place where Palestinians from both sides of the barrier can meet, Murad says that the mixed demographic is also where the danger lies.
“Probably the biggest risk is if someone in the audience doesn’t like what I’m doing. Audience members could be from anywhere, from all over the country. There are different kinds of mentalities, people who are extremely open-minded but also people who are uneducated and attached to the traditions and the customs that we are taught in this quite patriarchal society,” he says.
Murad explains that each city in the Palestinian territories has different variations of laws relating to queer people. Jerusalem, where he lives, is under Israeli law but the West Bank is under Israeli military law as well as Palestinian civil law, which presents varying degrees of discrimination and legal challenges for queer people. To make matters more complicated, Murad says, some of the laws aren’t representative of the reality on the ground.
This minefield of laws across the territory means Murad is forced to make a risk assessment before booking a gig. While agents and promoters in liberal nations may book shows based on venue capacities, fees and convenience, Murad has to weigh up how dangerous each city is, the make-up of the audience, and how provocative his show should be. However, Murad has found refuge within the realms of the music industry, “the safe place,” having built relationships and established trust with promoters and record executives.
The international showcase at which Murad performed in the wedding dress, the Palestine Music Expo (PMX), is one such stronghold. Though Murad would not generally view Ramallah as 100% safe for queer artists like himself, PMX is something of a haven “free of oppression, for all human beings.”
PMX co-founder Rami Younis has been something of an outspoken ally for oppressed artists and is eager to give queer artists like Murad “a free and fair platform to do the show they want.” When IQ asks what he thought of Murad’s 2019 performance, Younis says: “I absolutely loved it. In general, we encourage our artists to be as creative and free as they can and to not be afraid to experiment. Murad’s show was a big success and a great example for that.”
Murad says he depends on support from alternative organisations like PMX, as the culture ministries are “too scared” to back queer artists like himself – though his talent has been verified by international press including CBC, The Guardian and the BBC. “They don’t show any support towards me because they’re worried about me being gay,” he says. “They fund music videos and productions for artists who have taken part in competitions like Arab Idol but forget about other artists who are carving their own paths and doing things their own way.”
Not only has PMX provided Murad with a safe space in which to deliver his most thought-provoking show, it has also given him a rare gateway to the international live music business and a world outside of conflict-ridden Palestine.
But establishing a platform like this, which has invited 150+ international music industry professionals each year since 2017, is no mean feat in a state where promoters, agents – and even performance venues are few and far between. “People must understand that we never had a chance to develop a proper industry simply because we never had the proper infrastructure,” says Younis. “Developing art industries organically in war zones is near impossible. So, what we do is push back against that and lay foundations for a proper and healthy infrastructure in the future.”
While agents and promoters in liberal nations may book shows based on venue capacities, fees and convenience, Murad has to weigh up how dangerous each city is
From the ground up
“I can’t believe that any queer person who is living in Poland and looking at the news doesn’t feel personally attacked,” says Kajetan Łukomski, a queer Polish artist, promoter and Keychange ambassador who goes by the name of Avtomat.
Poland is one of just a handful of countries in Europe that is yet to legalise same-sex marriage, and already bans same-sex couples from adopting children. As of June 2020, some 100 municipalities, encompassing around one-third of the majority Catholic country, have adopted resolutions declaring themselves “LGBT ideology-free.”
In a campaign speech when he stood for re-election, President Andrzej Duda called the promotion of LGBT rights an ideology “even more destructive” than communism. Elsewhere, the Archbishop of Kraków recently warned of a neo-Marxist “rainbow plague.”
“We just don’t feel safe in our own country anymore,” says Łukomski. “I started carrying tear gas with me on the street, and every time I go out with my boyfriend and we hold hands, we have to keep looking over our shoulder because there have been occurrences of queer people getting knifed in the street. This is why we need to work so hard to change the status quo.”
According to Łukomski, a shift in paradigm is also needed in the mainstream music scene, which has eschewed queer artists like himself. This segregation has forced queer artists to adopt a do-it-yourself mentality and promote their own shows and establish their own performance spaces. Back in 2017, Łukomski co-founded the Warsaw-based Oramics collective, which acts as a promoter, in a bid to “level the playing field for under- represented groups.”
“No one had really thought of that. All of the line-ups were male and there was no real push towards making women and queer people and so on visible in the scene, so it had to happen as a grassroots movement,” he says. “We’ve had to carve out our own space in the music industry.” Developing their own queer underground scene has also been a means of protecting the artists and fans within it because, like Murad in Palestine, Łukomski has to be selective about where he performs.
“It would be easy to go ‘I’m playing in this huge prestigious club’ but then my community may be in greater danger of, say, harassment. I make it a point to play in spaces that I deem safe for my community,” he says. Łukomski says that as Oramics’ reputation has grown, they have had greater bargaining power to talk to clubs about their safe-space policies and line-up balances. The collective has even brought workshops to smaller, less tolerant cities to show queer people how to organise their own spaces – though Łukomski says they had to organise their own security for these visits.
While the queer community in Poland may be safer existing on the fringes, their exclusion from mainstream culture creates a glass ceiling for artists, which prevents them from performing at larger capacity venues, earning bigger fees or securing representation. On a broader scale, if queer people and creatives aren’t able to assimilate with the rest of society, the oppression will likely perpetuate.
Warsaw-based promoter Follow The Step (FTS), however, is sensing some progression in the acceptance of queer people, which is allowing them to expand their portfolio of queer artists. Next year, the company will promote its first-ever show by a queer artist – American drag star Sasha Velour at Warsaw’s Palladium (1,500-cap.) – which FTS’s Tamara Przystasz says has been a long time coming. “We’ve been trying very hard to promote queer artists, but a lot of agents were saying Poland is not ready for it. But finally, people are much more open-minded than they were before,” says Przystasz. “To do something for the first time, after so many hard months, was a huge risk, but we thought let’s just do it, and it’s going well already. We didn’t expect such amazing feedback,” she adds.
Przystasz says FTS are keen to use Warsaw as a litmus test before promoting queer artists in more rural cities. “We are so lucky because we are living in Warsaw and it always works differently with capital cities, but in the smaller cities, it is hard; we have to fight for their rights. Education via music; I think that is the best option for us.”
Kostrzyn-based festival Pol’and’Rock, which has been running for more than 25 years and typically attracts an audience of almost half a million people, has had a little more time to establish a portfolio of queer artists, and hopes to lead by example. Originally inspired by Woodstock, the community- based festival deems itself an outlier in creating a refuge within the country’s conservative society.
Over the past three decades, the festival has played host to performances by queer artists such as Skunk Anansie and Polish children’s artist Majka Je owska, as well as Polish singers Ralph Kaminski and Krzysztof Zalewski – some of which have incorporated demonstrations for queer rights into their shows.
“We want to show Poland as an open place, a place where people can be themselves, which becomes more and more difficult each year,” says Olga Zawada from Pol’and’Rock. Zawada says that the festival has encountered many challenges since the recent government came into power, including reportedly being saddled with “high-risk” status four times since 2016.
The high-risk label, according to Polish law, applies to events where acts of violence or public disorder are expected to take place, though Pol’and’Rock has never encountered anything of the sort. Zawada believes that this is the government’s way of indirectly jeopardising the festival: “I don’t want to speculate on the government’s motivations, but we’re quite unpopular with the very conservative ruling party.”
The high-risk status means that Pol’and’Rock has been required to introduce different safety measures such as a fence around the perimeter, which Zawada says tarnished the festival’s aesthetic as a free and open festival and proved to be a “massive expense.” Does she think that the government was taking aim at the festival’s Achilles heel – its budget? “Yes. The fence was the biggest thing in our budget and from a crowd management point of view it was completely pointless. But the guests respected the fences and even used them creatively, to dry their laundry and things,” she says.
“We want to show Poland as an open place, a place where people can be themselves, which becomes more and more difficult each year”
Against all odds
“Turkey is a place where two times two doesn’t make four,” says queer senior talent buyer Bura Davaslıgil of Istanbul-based booking agency/promoter Charmenko. “On paper, it hasn’t been illegal to be homosexual since 1858, the Ottoman Empire, but it’s still a taboo.”
Taboo is a light way of putting it. Hate speech, violence, and discrimination have already put Turkey second to last on the advocacy group ILGA-Europe’s ranking of LGBTQ equality – no surprise considering that there is no solid law against discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. Gay Pride has been banned in Istanbul for several years, on pretexts of public order. “Even if a municipality is pro-LGBTQ rights and they want to, say, put on a festival, they wouldn’t dare to do it because of the current political climate,” says Davaslıgil.
According to Davaslıgil, the conservative party, which has been in power for the last two decades, tends to “look the other way” about queer culture, as long as it’s kept relatively quiet. “The discrimination against queer people is not systematic. If Morrissey, Pet Shop Boys or Elton John performed, it wouldn’t be a problem; if an artist’s queerness is not too overt then it’s fine.”
The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus (BGMC), however, was one artist the government could not ignore. In 2015, the Chorus found themselves at the centre of a political storm ahead of their concert at Zorlu Performing Arts Center in Istanbul. Conservative Islamist papers described the group as “perverts” and thousands of people signed a Change.org petition calling on Zorlu’s owners to cancel the show because it would take place on the tenth day of Ramadan. The venue, reportedly owned by a close confidant to Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who, at the time, was running for re-election and campaigning to get the conservative vote, had reportedly asked the chorus to take the “Gay” out of their name but the group refused. “We weren’t going to let prejudice win… visibility saves lives,” says Craig Coogan, executive director of the BGMC, adding that the group has had the same name since 1982.
The government withdrew their previously issued permit allowing BGMC to perform at Zorlu and no other government agency would issue one. In an admirable display of allyship, the LGBTQ student group at Bosphorus University – a privately held institution, which didn’t need a permit for performances – stepped in and offered the Chorus their outdoor space. In order to keep the group safe, the buses were unidentifiable and the routes that each bus took to the same destinations were varied. Members were encouraged to be cautious on social media, not posting location information in real-time. According to Coogan, the group even collaborated with the US secret service on security issues, and a diplomatic note was sent to the government underlining the importance of the group’s safety to US relations. On the day of the concert, sharp-shooters were stationed around the area, drones surveyed the crowd, and audience members had to go through airport-style security to get into the concert.
The media frenzy, the political tension, and the logistical rigmarole would’ve been enough to discourage any artist from going ahead with the concert but the group found allies in the most unexpected of places. According to Coogan, The Nederlander Organization, which manages Zorlu, were “mortified” that political considerations forced them to cancel their contract. “In fact, to prevent an expensive lawsuit, they paid for the production costs at Bosphorus,” says Coogan. It was not difficult to find supportive professionals to work with. The issues we ran into were political, not with the professionals.”
BGMC hasn’t returned to Turkey since 2015 – the group has been busy touring elsewhere, including other anti-gay territories such as Poland, the Middle East and South Africa. But IQ wonders: could an incident like the one with the Chorus happen in 2021? “As long as this government stays in power, yes,” says Davaslıgil. And would Charmenko ever book BGMC, in spite of all the political and logistical issues? “I wouldn’t think twice,” he answers, underscoring the importance of allyship in the industry.
“Everywhere that we perform is an opportunity to dismantle prejudice and preconceptions about LGBTQ people”
Music as an act of resistance
Queer artists like Murad, Łukomski and the BGMC put their safety on the line again and again to perform in anti-gay countries, but what’s the pay-off?
“Everywhere that we perform is an opportunity to dismantle prejudice and preconceptions about LGBTQ people,” says BGMC’s Coogan. “Live music as a social activism tool works. It did in Istanbul, as it did in so many other cities around the world. I saw the joy and transformation on the faces of thousands of locals. “Music builds bridges, enhances communication, breaks down stereotypes and humanises the ‘other’ in powerful ways. It has the power to transcend boundaries and create connections among people from different backgrounds, languages, and beliefs, and has long been a central part of social justice movements.”
In all three stories, the live music industry has proved itself to be the antithesis of the political wars waging outside of it, thanks to real allyship from promoters and festivals like PMX, Follow the Step, Pol’and’Rock and Charmenko. But what they want, quite simply, is for their respective countries to be recognised for the budding talent, not the conflict. “I want people to know that Palestine isn’t just war, apartheid, and occupation; it’s also music, cinema, art; it’s life,” says PMX co-founder Younis. “There are actual people living here with hopes, dreams, and culture. There’s talent in Palestine and it is just waiting to be discovered. We don’t want to be seen as victims but as equal people who deserve to have their culture and music represented everywhere.”
Pol’and’Rock’s Zawada has a similar message for the international live music industry: “Poland is more than politics and oppression.
It’s important for us to say: ‘You know what? There is this community of people that has a different opinion. There are people who are tolerant and welcoming and accepting, and they would have your back, and everyone else’s.”
Read this article in its original format in the digital edition of IQ 101:
MJR’s Nathan Stone launches Gallos Talent
Nathan Stone, the former creative director of the TEG MJR and the creator of DragWorld, has launched Gallos Talent, a new UK-based LGBTQ+ talent management company.
In his six years at TEG MJR (formerly the MJR Group), Stone promoted shows including Hans Zimmer, Bianca Del Rio, Harry Potter in Concert, Final Fantasy’s Distant Worlds, Courtney Act and Sasha Velour, as well as leading on the company’s licensed exhibitions, such as Marvel’s Avengers Station and Lego expo Brickman. He also helped create MJR’s popular drag convention, DragWorld.
Gallos Talent is working with acts including drag queens Juno Birch and Joe Black (as seen on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK), and also offering its services as a partner to events such as Trans Festival London and Cornwall Pride.
“In a period which has been so brutal to our industry, I, like many, have had to realign, regroup and reenter the workplace,” says Stone.
“We are excited to welcome Nathan to the company and begin managing our expansion in to Europe”
“I am very excited to be furthering my specialisation in the LGBTQ+ events industry with both Five Senses Reeling and the launch of Gallos Talent.”
The official launch of Gallos Talent comes as Stone is appointed head of touring for Seattle-based promoter Five Senses Reeling, whose expansion into Europe he will lead.
Specialising in the LGBTQ+ market, Five Senses Reeling has promoted North American shows by drag icons including Bianca Del Rio, Katya Zamolodchikova, Miz Cracker, Bob the Drag Queen and Fortune Feimster.
“We are excited to welcome Nathan to the company and begin managing our expansion in to Europe,” says the company’s owner, Jason Brotman, “as well as working with the existing team on the North American touring.”
Live and Proud: The vibrant LGBTQ+ music scene
Live music has long served as a platform for those of non-normative sexual identities to make their voices heard, spread values of love and tolerance, and express themselves to the full.
Many music festivals now come with clear messages of respect, inclusivity and love for all, club nights specifically serve the LGBTQ+ community, Pride events host some of the biggest names in live music today and, now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Digital Drag Fest, the “biggest drag festival in history” is among those embracing a new, virtual festival format.
However, as heteronormative songs, artists and practices continue to dominate the live scene, IQ asks how many live music events are all-inclusive, all-welcoming, safe spaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community, and questions what the industry is doing as a whole to ensure everyone within it feels as comfortable as possible.
A legacy fit for a Queen
“The live music world wouldn’t exist without the LGBTQ+ community,” states Maz Weston, a programmer at Dutch nightclub Paradiso and part of the team organising Amsterdam’s Milkshake festival.
Weston cites Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, David Bowie’s “androgynous glory,” Elton John, Freddie Mercury and Divine as having paved the way for later acts such as Marc Almond, Boy George, and later still Scissor Sisters – the queer icons consituting the cream of live entertainment’s crop.
Despite this great musical legacy and improvements to equality and representation across the industry, it remains itally important to have spaces dedicated to LGBTQ+ people within live, says Weston.
“The live music world wouldn’t exist without the LGBTQ+ community”
“The community needs spaces where people can meet, socialise, explore their own identity and feel safe enough to express themselves.”
In order for live events themselves to provide safe and dedicated spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, it is becoming apparent that an inclusive environment must first be fostered within the industry itself.
Cross-industry body Pride In Music aims to provide such a space, creating a community of LGBTQ+ people and giving them a voice within the music business. Groups dedicated to LGBTQ+ issues have also formed within some of the industry’s leading companies.
Sean Hill, a member of the Proud Leadership Team at UTA, speaks of the importance of having such teams within institutions to “provide a support network, breakdown stereotypes, offer mentoring and raise issues affecting those who identify as LGBTQIA+.” For those unaware of the acronym, LGBTQIA+ is an abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Transgender, Genderqueer, Queer, Intersexed, Agender, Asexual, and Ally community.
UTA’s Proud Leadership Team organises events “from networking opportunities to informative talks and charity fundraisers” to drive openness and promote a culture of inclusivity, also working with the agency’s offices in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville.
A recent industry event in London saw some of UTA’s LGBTQ+ clients performing in front of record label executives, promoters, managers and agency representatives.
“We all try and support one another’s events when we can,” says Hill.
“The community needs spaces where people can meet, socialise, explore their own identity and feel safe enough to express themselves”
Pride of place
The role that live music can play in providing a safe, joyful and inclusive space is a common thread throughout the conversations IQ has with event organisers and promoters.
Bringing people together is the main aim of Ireland’s The Outing Festival. An LGBTQ+ music and matchmaking festival, the Outing hopes it can help people together form lasting friendships, as well as initiating romantic unions.
Festival founder Eddie McGuinness tells IQ that the event aims to unite different kinds of people and fuse different genres of music and art forms. “There’s a lot of heteronormative music out there,” says McGuinness. “Here, people can express themselves properly and freely.”
Jamie Tagg, the co-founder of East Creative, which puts on the 25,000-capacity Mighty Hoopla pop festival in London, and runs the LGBTQ+ collective Sink The Pink, explains that “inclusivity, creativity and positivity” are the driving forces behind his events.
The same core ethos goes for one of the most famous gatherings for the LGBTQ+ community – Pride.
Taking place in multiple cities and countries around the world each year, Pride has evolved and grown over the years to host some of the biggest names in live music today.
Criticism has been levelled at some event organisers for losing sight of Pride’s essence, especially when non-LGBTQ+ artists top the bill for the community’s largest celebrations
Criticism has been levelled at some event organisers for losing sight of Pride’s essence, especially when non-LGBTQ+ artists top the bill for the community’s largest celebrations.
However, as Paul Kemp, director of Brighton Pride, points out, popular music has been a feature of Pride since the 90s, with acts including Pet Shop Boys, Kylie Minogue, Madonna and Jake Shears performing at events over the years.
The important thing, says Kemp, is that “in amongst the music and dancing we always make sure the campaign messages are front and centre.”
As the Covid-19 pandemic causes the cancellations of Pride events in London, Toronto and Chicago, among others, and postponements in cities including Dublin, Madrid and Buacharest, Brighton organisers say that “multiple contingency plans” are being put in place to ensure the “safe and successful” delivery of the 2020 edition of Brighton Pride, currently scheduled for 1 and 2 August, given
Dan Brown of Birmingham Pride, which will now take place from 5 to 6 September due to the coronavirus outbreak, admits “there is a danger” of live music detracting from Pride’s main message, but affirms that the evolution of the event indicates “progression.”
“People don’t like change,” says Brown. “The problem is, people don’t shout enough about the good these events do.”
“[Pride] events are becoming more like music festivals in a way – but they’re still so much more than that”
When Britney Spears played Brighton Pride in 2018, for example, the organisers raised £250,000 – “a life-changing amount of money.” Brown also references the controversy surrounding Ariana Grande’s performance at Manchester Pride this year, and a perceived hike in ticket prices for the headline show.
“That one weekend funds everything else,” says Brown. “The Manchester team are putting on free, locally focused events through the year – and I don’t think people realise that.” The same goes for Birmingham, with free-to-enter venues in the gay village depending on the income from Pride and the support of its organisers.
“It’s a massive transition phase for Pride right now,” explains Brown. “The events are becoming more like music festivals in a way – but they’re still so much more than that.”
Pride & joy
LGBTQ+ artists have enjoyed a greater representation in recent years. The 1975’s Matt Healy and Years & Years’ Olly Alexander are just two examples of mainstream, high-profile artists using their platform to talk openly about their sexuality.
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 88, or subscribe to the magazine here
PEG presents month-long Digital Drag Fest
Over 60 artists including stars from reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race and other LGBTQ+ acts have been announced for the line-up of Digital Drag Fest 2020, a month-long virtual drag festival.
The event kicked off on 27 March and will go on until the end of April, featuring 30-minute shows from acts including Alaska, Jackie Beat, Kimora Blac, Manila Luzon, Nicky, Peppermint, Trinity the Tuck, John Carmeron Mitchell, Rayvon Owen and Justin Vivian Bond.
The festival is promoted by Producer Entertainment Group (PEG), which manages top drag queen artists, LGBTQ+ talent and influencers.
Tickets for each show start at $10 and are kept to “extremely limited” numbers, with some shows selling out days in advance. Viewers will have the chance to interact with artists, tip them and receive prizes and giveaways. Performances will not be recorded or re-released.
“Drag is about resilience, and this festival is meant to share that message during a challenging time in our world”
A portion of all proceeds will be donated to the festival’s charitable partner, Glaad, an LGBTQ+ media advocacy organisation.
“Drag is about resilience, and this festival is meant to share that message during a challenging time in our world,” says PEG founder and president, David Charpentier. “We want to give fans an opportunity to continue supporting their favorite queens and provide a welcome distraction for drag lovers around the globe.”
More information on show times and the number of tickets remaining for each performance, are available on the Digital Drag Fest website, along with artist merchandise.
Read more about how the monetise virtual events here.
Biggest music line-up ever for Pride events
As London gears up for its Pride parade this Saturday (6 July), live music is playing an increasingly important part in Pride events across the globe, with artists are doing their bit to further equality.
The London event, featuring performances from Billy Porter and X Factor star Saara Aalto, marks the end of Pride month, a worldwide celebration of the LGBT+ community and of that community’s movement for equality.
In June, Pride parades and festivals took place in cities including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Sao Paulo and Sydney, with more scheduled throughout the UK and Europe over the coming months.
Pride events in New York saw performances from Madonna, Lady Gaga, Lizzo and Alicia Keys. In Los Angeles Meghan Trainor, Years and Years, Cristian Castro and the Veronicas featured on the Pride festival line-up.
Across the Atlantic, “LGBT+ icon” Kylie Minogue will headline Brighton’s Pride in the Park on Saturday 3 August, fresh from her appearance at Glastonbury Festival. Joining Kylie at the event will be Grace Jones, Jessie J and Clean Bandit.
Manchester is putting on arguably one of the biggest live music events of the Pride calendar, taking over Broadwick Venue’s Mayfield Depot (10,000-cap.) for a ticketed, two-day music event, Manchester Pride Live.
Organisers “expect to see record attendance” as acts such as Ariana Grande, Cheryl and Basement Jaxx prepare to grace the stage.
“Celebrating LGBT+ life means a great deal to each of the artists performing at the festival this year,” Manchester Pride chief executive Mark Fletcher tells IQ.
“Celebrating LGBT+ life means a great deal to each of the artists performing at the festival this year”
“We work closely with agents and management to ensure that all artists are clear on the importance of Pride celebrations and this year we’ve actually received more requests than ever from artists who want to come along to perform at the festival to show their support for the campaign for greater LGBT+ equality.”
The choice of heterosexual Grande as the Manchester Pride Live headliner sparked complaints from some members of the LGBT+ community, according to Variety, as did the selection of non-LGTB+ artists at other Pride events.
However, the Manchester Pride boss states the event always aims “to ensure there is clear representation from LGBT+ artists on the line-up” and stresses that the appearance of any high-profile artists “is very important to our audience”.
“Whether they are LGBT+ or allies, the message that is displayed through the appearance of high-profile artists is clear for the world to see: We stand as one to tackle the inequalities and discrimination that is still faced by LGBT+ people today,” comments Fletcher.
“Music and performance represent freedom and happiness which both play a huge part in what we stand for,” adds Fletcher. “Music is at the heart of our Pride celebrations in Manchester and the music we showcase helps to create a vibrant atmosphere of unity.”
Manchester Pride Live weekend tickets are priced at £64.50 plus booking fees and are available here.
LN named top workplace for LGBTQ equality
Live Nation Entertainment has been recognised as a top workplace for LGBTQ equality by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) foundation, the educational arm of the United States’ largest civil rights organisation.
HRC works to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. For the second year running, Live Nation has earned the top score of 100 on the organisation’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI).
HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are accepted as full members of society at home, at work and in every community. Its equality index is the premier benchmarking tool for recognising companies that practise LGBTQ equality in the United States.
The CEI assesses equality across transgender benefits and wellness, domestic partner benefits, culture and engagement, corporate and employee policies, learning and development and public engagement with the LGBTQ community.
“Live music has a unique ability to connect and unite people from all different backgrounds, and we promote that same sense of community and belonging for our employees at Live Nation”
“Live music has a unique ability to connect and unite people from all different backgrounds, and we promote that same sense of community and belonging for our employees at Live Nation,” says Michael Rapino, president and chief executive of Live Nation Entertainment.
“We’re always striving to create a more inclusive and equitable culture, and are proud to be recognised by the Human Rights Campaign once again,” adds Rapino.
According to HRC president Chad Griffin, the companies that score best on the CEI are “not only establishing policies that affirm and include employees here in the Unites States, they are applying these policies to their global operations.”
This has an impact on “millions of people beyond our shores,” states Griffin.
This recognition follows several third-party acknowledgments for Live Nation’s industry practices and workplace culture, from LinkedIn, Fast Company and Fortune.
Live Nation joins over 560 major US businesses to earn top marks on the equality index.
More information on the 2019 Corporate Equality Index and a free copy of the report can be found here.
Terrorists looked to attack festivals in Barcelona and Benicassim
The group responsible for the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils on 17 August 2017 had also researched music clubs and festivals in Barcelona and Benicassim as potential next targets, police information acquired by Spanish news agency EFE has revealed.
According to the report, the men searched the internet extensively for information on the Rototom Sunsplash Festival in Benicassim, The Razzmatazz concert venue in Barcelona and various LGBT clubs in Sitges, Barcelona. It is thought by police that the group were taking inspiration from the 2015 attack on the Bataclan in Paris and the 2016 attack at Pulse nightclub in Florida.
The information released by police is largely the result of the mobile phone records accessed from a phone belonging to one of the members of the terrorist groups, found in the chalet in which they planned the 17 August attacks. Also on the phone were searches looking for the capacity of the Colossos club in Barcelona.
Other web searches included “Barcelona concerts calendar,” “all festivals 19.08.2017 in the Valencian community,” “major festivals in Sitges 2017” and “major festivals Sitges Les Barrancas”.
The Mossos d’Esquarda, the Catalonian police force, said an attack on any of the places researched in Barcelona and Benicassim would have been a “valid target” for a terrorist attack, since they represent, “by way of music and shows”, the Western way of life that runs against jihadist ideology.
Other web searches included “Barcelona concerts calendar,” “all festivals 19.08.2017 in the Valencian community,” “major festivals in Sitges 2017” and “major festivals Sitges Les Barrancas” (a rural area of Catalonia). The searches were conducted in the period from 13 August to 17 August, the days leading up to the attacks.
In the two attacks actually carried out by the terrorist group, some 15 people were killed. In the most violent attack, the one on La Rambla, a popular tourist destination in Barcelona, a further 130 people were injured. Six attackers were killed by police.
The news that terrorists sought to attack popular music events in Spain comes as similar attacks have risen in frequency in recent years. Alongside the Pulse nightclub shooting and the Bataclan attack, other attacks in just last year involving live music have included the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017 which killed 22 people, the shooting at BPM festival in Mexico in January 2017 where five people were killed and the shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music festival in Las Vegas in October 2017, which left 58 people dead.