Pride Is The Next Stage: Midsumma Represent
A look at the state of queer music and DJing culture in 2015.
With another fabulous Midsumma Festival showcasing the cultural cream of Queer Melbourne drawing to a close, some of us may be wondering if our wallets, phones, and minds might return at some point later this week. Other questions also arise in the wake of festivities. Why do all the bars in Smith Street close at 3AM, for instance? But more importantly, we should reflect on the musical curation of the main stages and afterparties and how they represent the state of queer music and DJing culture in 2015.
Midsumma is Melbourne's premier international queer festival yet the headlining acts and stages are often given over to cover bands, trend spotting DJs, and performers that represent a somewhat cliched and bygone era of queer musical identity. Lets face it, there's also a lot of other peoples' music. The forward-thinking spirit of originality in queer music and performance isn't always given a platform on our biggest day. This year saw a community of musicians and DJs struck with frustration at this situation, including me. What I have found puzzling at Midsumma Carnival is that the main stages and T-Dance have essentially been curated the same less-than-imaginative way every year. Researching who to contact to get a spot at Carnival day is beyond me, while the cost to register a Midsumma event during the festival duration is one person's shopping budget for two months.
Not only is original queer music being ignored, but the last few years has seen an increase in headline spots at after-parties given to bands and performers who have little relationship to, or do not identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersex, or queer. Of course these are our allies and their contribution to our events is terribly important to create interconnectedness and defy separatism. It's also important to recognise that their experiences or sexuality are not up for public dissection. However, Midsumma presents a unique opportunity to prioritise music that speak of lived experiences of being queer - it's called PRIDE. Not only does that opportunity give visibility and support to those artists, but it gives an audience inspiration they can do it too, and a chance to identify with the original spirit of queer expression and some civic pride. As a result, performers would be enabled to inspire, to contribute, to be ourselves and live our own truth.
DJs like Gavin Campbell and Sydney DJ Sveta are groundbreaking DJs and producers, superstars arising from eras of queer music that put this very idea of grassroots dance culture at front and centre. Now a younger generation are scrambling around to find visibility and access to audiences on different stages and dance floors, ones that seem to appropriate other queer cultures. They are forced to battle the immediacy of pop and the scourge of iPod request culture. Creeping into this space is so called 'homo-eroticism' and 'gender-bending' by heterosexual artists whose story it isn't theirs to tell or exploit.
I have spoken up against the smudging of queer culture before and I am a strong advocate for grassroots queer music, as both a musician and a label manager. Recently Chicago House Music legend Derrick Carter took to Facebook to highlight what he saw as the erasure of the gay roots of House Music. Carter laments; "Something that started as a gay black/Latino club music is now sold, shuffled, and packaged as having very little to do with either… It often seems to be the case that some types of people receive preferential treatment in certain matters, and it's not normally the ones with a cultural disadvantage."
We all want longevity in our love for music, both sides of the stage. I'm interested in a conversation as an LGBTI musical community of how we might achieve this. I'm interested in how the next generation of superstars might arise and be given a stage and audience like Midsumma Carnival to thrive.
Queer artists are out and proud, and part of an emerging movement of bold queer expression. We refuse to hide in the "grey areas" or in hetro-normativity for fear of persecution or being unpalatable for being "too queer". We don't hide from our stories that we feel we need to tell. We celebrate our strengths and weaknesses as queer folks, and we're not afraid to tell them to audiences outside our peer group. There are many queer musicians striving hard for their work, identities, and stories to be taken seriously, given the public space it deserves in the Australian consciousness—let alone in our own community. These artists are entitled access to a career and the opportunity to build an audience. We spend all of our limited money and mental energy as artists making sure our music, performances, and releases are available, and keeping our attitudes positive when sometimes we feel invisible or just plain shithouse about our music.
Ultimately many of us sink into an early depressive retirement, thinking we can't and won't be seen at home. Or we go elsewhere, encouraged by our peers who believe in us: "Yeah, fuck Melbs, fuck Sydney, go to Berlin or LA, you'll be understood there." But why should we have to leave our homes when Melbourne can actually foster this? And what about those who can't physically leave home to "make it"? Global citizenship is a privilege, and we are inspired by Sia's rise to global domination on her terms. But I don't think they'll be giving transgendered migrants like me affordable access to hormone replacement therapy in Los Angeles while I follow the dream Melbourne couldn't give me access to, even if I do win the US Green Card lottery. Instead, perhaps we too can find our home in Alexandra Gardens, on the banks of the Yarra River at Melbourne's Midsumma 2016, and make the world our oyster from these shores. All we need is a platform.
Simona Kapitolina is a Melbourne Singer-Songwriter and DJ. She is also manager of queer music label Girls Who Smoke Poke.