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.
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