As Pride month wraps up in a big old rainbow and several hangovers to boot, we at UKF wanted to hone in on the brand which champions LGBTQ+ artists and queer spaces. Some may ask why we still need to have Pride; astonishingly, it is still illegal to be gay in 70 countries. Pride is a protest, and one hell of a party, so we caught up with Unorthodox, the ones making the loudest noise right now, to gain insight into the celebrations and tribulations currently in the drum and bass scene for queer artists and ravers.
LGBTQ+ identity is stamped all over the very roots of dance music since its 80s awakening. Dance music itself evolved as a subculture almost exclusively made up of minorities, from queer, Black, and Latino communities, notoriously those in Chicago and Detroit. Counter culture, rebellion, and freedom have long been synonymous with both queer rights and raves; mutual places of peace, love, unity, and respect. So where the hell is the d&b at? Drum & Bass heads and junglists pride ourselves on being sound people with an even better sound, not standing for injustice in our backyard. Yet d&b has been called out royally over the last few years for it’s apparent burial of it’s very foundations such as the Black and queer cultures so integral to the core of the music.
The d&b communities’ attitude towards the queer community goes beyond rife homophobia in forums and comment sections. As a gay womxn, I’ve experienced first hand the objectifcation that can linger over drum & bass nights like a bad odour. When a section of the party stops to stare and heckle something so tame as a same sex kiss over watching some killer drops, one does wonder what’s truly so enthralling? Being gawked at for kissing my girlfriend in a rave that boasts one love, on top of some sickening comments is not what you pay £30 for. There’s a lack of respect, perhaps due to a lack of exposure that forces these reactions. These stares and comments can ultimately lead to far sinister consequences and experiences for other LGBTQ+ people, hence the lack of us at d&b parties.
It seems there is little crossover between one of dance music’s most popular, enduring scenes, and the queer community. Whereas house music, disco & techno, have a whole host of nights, collectives, and brands; such as Glitterbox takeovers every Summer in Ibiza, to the infamous Block9 at Glastonbury, d&b remains rather humdrum with representation once again. From unfriendly dancefloors, to a complete lack of queer representation on roster’s and lineups, it’s beyond any doubt it’s time for change. Change which Unorthodox is affecting one fabulous action at a time. From finding queer artists and DJs, to making hilarious vlogs, to throwing their own drag themed rave spectacle, I sat down with Nathan X with a virtual pint on Zoom to discuss the need for queer spaces, the inclusivity queer drum and bass does actually desire, and how queers are here for life, not just for pride.
Happy Pride 2021! Any plans? We’ve heard Motion Bristol is gonna get the Unorthodox treatment…
Hey thanks! So, we’re waiting for the lockdown restrictions to lift, which is really annoying as we had this amazing show planned for the Bristol Pride after party. We’re just trying to move the lineup, so it should be later this year around September.
Drum & Bass at Pride sounds like a complete recipe for delight and debauchery…
Yeah I think so, for me anyway, I was really into the idea as I’ve been to however many Prides and they never really have any substantial DnB events… I’ve seen House, Disco, bits of Garage and Hip-hop but you never see any Drum & Bass which always really confused me – it’s just like why?
Strange, as we know D&B is the king of the after party vibes…
Yeah! When I was in Brighton there might be a few Drum and Bass events but it’s never been at the events or after parties that dominate the Pride’s in the big cities, they never have Drum and Bass, so that’s something I really want to change, as time progresses hopefully we can get to the point where we fill out the big capacity venues for after parties.
So when we got asked to do room 2 at Motion, I was like yes, this is a stepping stone and a step in the right direction! It’s nice that a house/disco promoter can recognise that there is the market for Drum and Bass in the queer community!
A market Unorthodox is unveiling one fabulous step at a time…
Yeah 100%. I think DnB just has a bit of a negative stigma attached to it for outsiders of the scene and the wider queer community, a lot of my queer friends who go to the more standard queer events, such as Heaven, will say “well it’s a bit rough, I don’t think it’s quite my scene it feels a bit macho” and that’s the stigma attached to it. That’s the reason why it’s not so integrated and there’s not such a cross over between DnB and the queer scene.
The scene needs to take a good look at itself when it preaches peace, love, unity and respect…
Yeah, it’s mental, it’s so strange how DnB has taken a completely separate path; all rave culture comes from queer groups and people of colour as these were the communities who were shunned from society and had nowhere else to go, so they created illegal parties… raving… basically all rave culture today stems from that past, including dnb and whilst the music might have some other influences from different places, at the end of the day it does come from hardcore, acid, and house roots…
People seem to forget that the most infamous drum & bass night was held in Heaven…
Yeah Heaven, one of the most famous queer dance venues. Again, when raving blew up here in the late 80s it was mostly for queer people and thats why Heaven has been established since then and other famous queer rave venues such as Fire & Lightbox have also been established for a long time.
Sounds awesome, we should get in a time machine.
What can I say, the gays know how to party! We are the party starters and that’s why the vibe at a queer event is so interesting, there’s so much fun and happiness, positivity, and everyone’s a sl*t! and you don’t get shamed for it…ostracisation doesn’t happen, it’s just more fabulous and more fun to be at a queer party and I find it very confusing that DnB has gone in such a different way.
I’m kinda tackling it from two angles – trying to get the people within DnB who are queer to get invovled in the movement and I’m also trying bring people from outside of drum and bass into DnB.
Obviously we really needed to chat with you as the main brand or dare I say, only brand championing the queer scene, queer artists and indentity, within d&b.
There are a few brands who are great allies such as Not Bad for a Girl, EQ50, Dynamics, but yeah we are focused JUST on queer music and drum and bass. At the same time we actively engage in seeking change for other groups of minorities.
We get a lot of support from womxn as well who aren’t even necessarily queer but I think there is a strong connection there, as even straight womxn have an attraction to drag queens and queer culture… so that also helps with our movement, and then they bring their boyfriends, and I’m very grateful for how having that sort of crossover brings people together.
So you say on your mission statement that you offer a new experience and bring different cultures together at the same time.
Yeah so it’s sort of the familiar and unfamiliar merged together. Queer people may understand what we do at our events, music aside, but to then merge that with Drum and Bass, creates an unfamiliar relationship which is actually familiar to everyone. The idea is to create an enjoyable experience for anyone who is either queer or likes DnB.
So how did the initial idea for Unorthodox come about…
Basically I was working down in Brighton in the dnb scene for around 2-3 years I was working as a promoter with a few venues, I was doing radio, DJing and all sorts, I was very ingrained in the scene, but at that time, I was very much just trying to fit into what I call ‘the dnb mould’, so I looked very much ‘male dnb dj’ which is very minimal black clothing, possibly a snapback, just that same regimented look you see throughout the scene.
I never had acrylics, I never had make up or crop tops, I just looked like a normal Drum and Bass boy, tryna’ fit in… I knew I was gay but I never really took an interest in exploring queer culture or expresing myself, I was just another DnB clone.
So you felt like there was more for you outside of the drum and bass world?
Eventually yes, I felt like I could express myself more away from DnB, but as time progressed I realised, Oh f*ck you know what, I really miss drum and bass! I went to a couple of raves even on my own in London and it was just a completely different experience going as my ‘new self’ I was suddenly a lot more obviously camp or gay.
Did you feel targeted and unwelcome?
Yeah it certainly didn’t feel the same as when I was that drum and bass boy at the clubs in Brighton, I went to a couple of raves and the sort of looks and comments about my appearance like “why are you wearing that” were apparent, and I just noticed a lot more geezers, a load less womxn for a start. A lot of the ‘dnb mould’ lot and the snapback crew.
It’s not the most welcoming environment for a queer person then…
I’ve not had the worst experiences of it, little microaggressions, but you could say I’m one of the lucky ones, as I’ve heard sickening stories… but yeah, these were quite intimidating experiences and everyone has the right to feel safe at a rave or on a night out.
I think this was a bit of a turning point because then I was like “Why is it like this? There must be more queer people like me in the scene? Why do I feel so ostracised? Why am I not accepted within a music genre that I thought was my favorite thing in the world?” The next step was influenced by my brother, who is also a drag queen…
Oh so it runs in the family!
Yeah, we’re a real drag family! He suggested DJing drum and bass in drag. Me at the time thought that would never work, that would never be accepted, no one would be interested in that.
As time passed I thought hmm, I would like to try it but I couldn’t just rock up to any rave in drag, I think I’d fear for my life if I rocked up to one of the more macho big ass London raves, that could be a very bad idea.
Questions started to arise… there must be more people like me? So I thought “do you know what why don’t I just put on my own queer drum and bass event and I’ll DJ in drag and see what happens!”
Woah, Unorthodox has definitely come far since then.
Yeah it was just a small idea at the time, and this is when I did a post in a big DnB forum to gage interest.
At the time I didn’t think it would be so political but I think it’s the most commented post in that group in all of history! It was mental what happened! So the comments I went through in the since well viewed video weren’t even the worst, a few people got blocked from the group for using slurs and such, there were some really bad homophobic comments.
Homophobia is still rife in the drum and bass scene then, especially when there’s a screen to hide behind…
I just realised f*ck, this is a thing, a fire has been lit and the last thing I can do is let it die out. We can’t sit around waiting for change, it’s started. This event has to happen! And it all went from there, coming up with the brand… Unorthodox!
People also need to understand WHY we need queer spaces off the back of those homophobic comments, it’s pretty evident…
We need spaces to hear our favourite music and you’re allowed to come if you’re an ally! Even from that first post I ever did on the dnb forum I said “great music, slightly more queer vibes, everyone is welcome”. Even from the conception of Unorthodox it was very fundamental to us that everyone would be welcome.
Some say it’s segregation throwing a queer DnB night but it’s totally NOT exclusive…
Yeah, it’s totally not an exclusive thing. I see Unorthodox hopefully becoming a big rave that everyone comes to, but has a very much queer foundation, it doesnt matter who you are, what background you’re from, whether you’re straight or whatever, you come to this event because it’s a good event!
It’s initially there as a queer space for people but I want everyone to come because that’s how the scene is going to grow. If we compartmentalise over here, it will become our own thing or own subgenre or whatever and that’s not gonna help change the scene or help it grow.
These days, Drum and Bass is huge, it’s gotten so big, but like with dance genres they come and go, a bit like with Garage, DnB has stuck it out for a long time, but the way I view it, if it doesn’t move with the times and become more socially accepting, where’s it gonna go?
It would be a bleak future indeed if the scene doesn’t evolve and become more equal for all…
Yeah the younger kids are more switched on, I’m more switched on than the generation before me and that’s the way it seems to be going. What if these kids grow up, go to a rave and think this isn’t accepting, I’m not gonna come here! Drum and Bass will die a sad, slow and painful death! Very dramatic, I know, but that’s what I truly think.
For real, it’s kinda hand in hand with growing diversity all over the scene where black DJs and female producers are all involved, ridding misogyny, racism and homophobia from dance music forever.
Yeah, and I’m often asked ‘how can promoters and venues be better as allies?’ Put little clauses on your events like “this is an accepting place for anyone, whoever you are, any discriminatory behaviour will not be tolerated”. It’s imperative to give minorities that knowledge that they are safe there, if something does happen they know they can go to the security or the bar staff to resolve conflicts or threatening behaviour.
Shout out to all the groups and allies recognising this. This post on Facebook the other day by Benny V of Souped up caught our eye:
“I still think Jungle/Drum & Bass, for all its great work since its inception in tackling racism, is way behind other Dance genres when it comes to homophobia. Lyrics with undertones. Things I see in my timeline from time to time. A comment this week on a youtube video featuring a Hardcore MC and calling him out for being gay along with the comment ‘I dont like em’”
This calling out, coming from a cis straight dude is EXACTLY what we need!
I know! Another one was A.M.C very recently. He was on DnB Radio and he kinda said out of the blue “you know who doesn’t get any representation at all? The queer community” (paraphrased)
So Laurie who hosts the show sign-posted him to Unorthodox and since then we’ve spoken and he’s honestly the nicest guy! He said if there’s anything he can do to help such as promoting our events etc. he’d be more keen to help out; and when it came to Pride, he shared a couple of screenshots from our website which we didn’t ask him to do, he just decided to do it.
That’s wonderful – great account of allyship.
One difference I did notice too since I did that initial post last January, was although there was some backlash on A.M.C’s post, a few nasty comments here and there, there was not nearly as much as when I did the original post. So I think opinions are changing.
So things are slowly moving in the right direction…
Just from me doing that and the people who are close to the community spreading a similar positive vibe has really helped change opinions in just a year and a half! It’s just amazing that A.M.C can do a queer awareness post and he probably has a lot of the typical dnb crowd following him and there was little backlash, even most of the comments were positive like “this is amazing!”
It’s easy to slap rainbow flags all over insta but actively making pushes for diversity on a lineup or roster is even more proactive…
Yeah there’s a lot of that being pushed when we talk about inclusivity and inclusivity riders for womxn or people of colour, but I never hear it for queer people. Obviously it’s something that we’ll try to push but it’s one step at a time. We’re also trying to find those artists and bring them out, show them that you are allowed to be queer within drum and bass. Once it’s grown a bit we can start to come..