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Breaking Barriers: Queer Voices in Bass Music

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Breaking Barriers: Queer Voices in Bass Music

Drum and bass has been long associated with peace, love and unity, however for many minority groups this ethos doesn’t always ring true. In recent years, however, in a bid to get back to the equality that the scene is founded on, a powerful movement has emerged within the genre, championing queer representation and diversity. 

While the genre still has a long journey ahead in terms of equality, the rise of queer representation in drum and bass marks an exciting chapter in the genre’s evolution. Through the dedication and talent of queer artists, collectives, and initiatives, drum and bass is becoming a more inclusive and diverse community. By breaking barriers and challenging societal norms, these pioneers are reshaping the landscape of bass music and inspiring others to embrace their true selves. Beginning to shatter long-standing barriers and pave the way for a new era of inclusivity, artists who identify as LGBTQ+ are no longer confined to the periphery but have risen to prominence, showcasing their talent and unique perspectives. 

The impact of queer representation in drum and bass extends far beyond the confines of the genre. By challenging stereotypes and offering alternative narratives, queer artists are fostering a more inclusive music industry as a whole, their visibility serves as an inspiration to aspiring artists, demonstrating that talent and identity are not mutually exclusive. The increased representation also translates into more diverse experiences and stories being told through the music. Queer artists infuse their work with personal narratives, addressing themes of self-discovery, empowerment, and the queer experience. This broader range of perspectives enriches the genre, creating a sonic tapestry that resonates with audiences across the spectrum.

In this article we talk to artists about the rise and importance of queer representation in drum and bass, highlighting the artists and initiatives leading the charge. We look to the future, let us celebrate the power of queer representation in drum and bass, and continue to support and uplift the voices that are shaping the sound of tomorrow.

Can you share your drum and bass journey and how your queer identity may have influenced this, if at all?

Mandidextrous: For me when I was in my early years of raving, circa 1998-2006, I was involved in some illegal rave sound systems in the south and was playing regular Drum & Bass sets. Back then I was still living in a male gender role and was deep into the rave, Drum & Bass was my everything back then I was so obsessed, Collecting vinyl from many of the London shops , Blackmarket records , Sister Ray , Kinetik Records etc as well as my local store in my hometown Track Records Chesham and smashing sets every weekend. Eventually when I stopped being out at the rave’s all the time with various sound systems around 2007, I felt the need to address my feelings of Gender Dysphoria and started to get help with my transition and it was at this point I wanted to stay at home and focus on learning to write music. I was inspired by the Techno I’d gotten into and started to mix at raves but I still was so passionate about d&b so I thought about making music that combined my favourite d&b sounds but with Techno. This really was a special time for me as writing music in this way really inspired me and helped me through my transition. Years down the line after immersing myself in the European techno scene I have now come full circle and ended up rekindling my passion for d&b and have started working with some labels I could only have ever dreamed of and I have managed to keep my sound of merging Techno with d&b.  It’s also allowed me to become a bigger advocate to other trans and Queer people to act as a sort of sign that it’s okay to be who you are in the d&b scene. Its super special 

Bugwell: Drum and bass started for me at the age of sixteen, listening to mixes from rave tape packs given to me by my brother. I fell in love with it pretty quickly and it’s been a part of my life ever since, in various forms. I would say that queerness and drum and bass, in my mind, didn’t mix back then. I kept those parts of my life very separate, for a very long time. Only in the last couple of years have I really felt comfortable in allowing the two to mix, both from a creative standpoint and also as parts of my life. I would say that more openness towards queer people and queer representation in drum and bass has allowed me to feel more free, both in my creative output and as a person, fan and a raver.

Claude Knight: My queerness has affected my d&b journey in mostly positive ways. Because of the circles I’m in and the artists I follow, I’ve been exposed to an amazing array of queer-influenced d&b tunes, which shape the sets I play. I also try to bring my whole self to my shows, which means standing in my power as a queer, mixed-race woman. I feel unstoppable behind the decks when I honour every part of me.

https://soundcloud.com/unorthodoxevent/unlocked-20-claude-knight?si=4337005aef84479b98d5eb2079117a65&utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing

Pinks: My journey started as a teenage raver who’d sneak off to free parties in London to get my DnB fix as at that time there weren’t any under 18 raves (that we were at least aware of). Fast forward to 2020 and two weeks before lockdown I had my first gig. Then everything shut and I got on the streams, making connections with people online, this was how I became a resident for gender minority focussed label Just Be. Inclusivity and Community are at the forefront of the label, and the founder Solstice is gender fluid so I knew I’d be joining a label which would provide a safe space for me as a queer female artist. Since then we’ve had a new label manager and resident, Curse, join us who is also non-binary so the senior team are all part of the LGBTQIA+ community. 

I’d also connected with non-binary and queer artist Dysfunction through doing streams for Rinse Oxford. They asked me if I’d like to be added to the group chat for Unorthodox, I’d been wanting to get involved with Unorthodox since I’d seen Nathan X’s posts online. A queer DNB event was something I’d fantasised about with friends in the past, so I was thrilled to see Unorthodox bringing this to fruition! I was added to the group chat, me and Nathan X came to realise we live 10 minutes away from each other and the rest is history.

No Nation: My journey into DnB and the wider rave scene started late 2019 with a visit to, what is now one of my favourite club nights and crowds, Distant Planet at Venue MOT. I’d never before been to anything like it, in that, the music was really like nothing I’d heard before, but also the crowd was so mixed with different people. At the time I was quite uncertain and uncomfortable in the expression of my sexuality. I think like many I struggled to find words to describe my feelings and desires and having grown up in East London where my friendship circles were mainly quite masculine and all the company I kept was very heteronormative. In that bubble there wasn’t much room or understanding for queer expression so I was quite resistant to the idea of “coming out”. 

Are there any events, organisations, individuals, or initiatives who you feel are particularly of the LGBTQ+ bass music community?  

Mandidextrous: Yes most definitely, After working with EQ50 which is a very queer friendly organisation and initiative who helped me immensely with my career I also found Unorthodox. Spearheaded by the one and only Nathan X Unorthodox are actively providing a safe space for queer communities within Drum & Bass as event providers and a collective featuring some amazing artists such as Pinks , Rani , Clarkus and Bugwell to name a few. Unorthodox are literally pushing the envelope right now and I am so here for it. Also after 6 years or so now I also work for Boomtown managing and running stages and they have always supported me, from playing main stages to writing their closing ceremony tracks to me running stages and now I work closely with them to make Boomtown more inclusive and a safe space for our Queer community. Also big up He She They, Saffron Music, Little Gay Brother and all of the other Queer artists that push the envelope and are bold and brave, Sherelle, I. Jordan , LCY , Grove , B-Complex , Gyrofield and all the rest.

Bugwell: Unorthodox has been a big part of my life for the past few months. Working with them has shaped me as a person and an artist and has given me so much. They all really welcomed me into the fold and have become close friends over the past few months. I have so much respect for what Nathan X and Unorthodox have been doing for the queer dnb scene.

Claude Knight: One of my favourite initiatives is EQ50. They offer a safe, welcoming space for women and NB people to find their feet in the d&b scene. This is so important because it can often feel like a boy’s club where they’re reluctant – or just straight up against – inviting new talent in, especially if you’re queer. The level of skill and knowledge shared by the producers and DJs who started EQ50 is priceless. I’m so grateful for them and the community they’ve created.  Fast & Bi-furious is an awesome event which jumps around south and east London. Their events are queer, inclusive and so much fun! Their line-ups are always incredible – I’d highly recommend them to anyone from the community. Unorthodox is another outstanding event. I played for them recently at Peckham Audio and the energy from the crowd was incredible! It’s such a fun, high-energy queer d&b event – you really can’t compare it to anything else. 

Pinks: Unorthodox of course, we run an open deck night for up and coming queer artists. The sign up is in our Instagram bio link. Queer Rave is a wonderful event/sound system that focuses on Black & POC queer artists. EQ50 are an incredible collective who focus on fairer representation within DnB. Just Be are a fantastic gender minority event brand and music label.  Sexy Lady Massive is a great women’s only rave, while not being specifically queer it’s important that there’s a safe space like this for women, especially for queer women! Fast & Bi- furious are a wicked event brand who throw bisexual raves. This is one of the few bisexual spaces that I’m aware of. 

No Nation: There were certain parties: Distant Planet and Rupture among others, that aren’t billed as queer parties but acceptance is kinda built into their ethos from the top down, through the way the promoters interact with the crowd and the artists represented on line ups. These communities were the first to not just inspire me to produce music but also start expressing myself in a way that was more truthful to what I felt on the inside. After having moved to Bristol I was surprised to learn how spoiled I was for the choice of parties I might be able to go to and feel totally comfortable in whatever way I presented in London. Bristol is probably years behind when it comes to representation within the scene. I think mainly because of the focus on student money. The younger ravers are more likely to be insecure so aren’t always the most accepting or empathetic. Whereas in London I think the mixture of ages you’re more likely to find at certain parties creates a dynamic within which younger ravers can relax a little more. That being said though I do have to give a shout out to Strange Brew, a venue in Bristol that has created a really welcoming space for people in the queer community, and promoters such as Sozlad, Halftime Slowfast and Dissonance that also fostered very inclusive spaces.

How do you feel about the representation of the LGBTQ+ bass music community within bass music? 

Mandidextrous: It’s starting to get better for sure and the more we can keep this conversation going the better. For sure we still face a huge battle and I will say MORE so for the Trans community. Trans people such as myself often face ridicule and degradation from the ravers within the community and this is why I stay as strong as I can in the face of it. The Gay community in general although still not fully safe from prejudice are way more accepted in many communities and within our Bass music scene but Trans people still have a huge battle ahead. Just look at some of the comments on my Let It Roll 2022 show on Youtube there are always negative comments on what I do from people that just cannot accept who I am even though what I do makes so many people happy. I will say for the most part though networking within the industry as a Trans Non Binary person I feel very much safe and at home everyone is very accepting even though for some unable to understand why I am the way I am people are amazing from other artists I meet and travel with on road to the promoters I play for, I am truly blessed. 

Bugwell: I think things are improving, though still there is work to do. I think LGBTQ+ representation is more visible but there are still a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable expressing themselves as they perhaps could. This is a work in progress and takes time so I am hopeful that things will continue to improve in the scene over the next few years.

Claude Knight: I think the community is becoming more visible, but the resistance towards LGBTQ+ artists doesn’t go unnoticed. We’ve got a long way to go – so many promoters and artists are still going out of their way to ignore queer talent, booking all-male line-ups, which is beyond boring.  Our voices are being heard though and, collectively, we’re paving our own path in the bass music scene. We’re breathing new life into something archaic and outdated, and reminding people that queer people have always been – and will continue to be – a crucial part of the scene. 

Pinks: The representation of LGBTQIA+ people in bass music needs a hell of a lot of work. In DnB we are making movements with labels and brands such as Unorthodox who are really pushing for the change we want to see, on the dance floor AND behind the scenes. Since working with Unorthodox I have noticed an increase in openly queer people at raves. I also think that Mandidextrous has been a huge pioneer for LGBTQIA+ representation in DnB. I recently played at their Weird Science event at XOYO with Unorthodox and noticed that the crowd was more visibly queer than the crowd at the rave I’d attended the week before. 

How can the bass music industry better support and uplift DJ, creatives and ravers within LGBTQ+ community.

Mandidextrous: We need opportunities to show who we are and what we can do , we need more coverage and exposure as well as some safeguarding from bigger social networks that work within the Bass community. Some coverage from actual artists within the queer communities on bigger platforms would have so much more impact and so many people do want to see it and hear about our journeys. It’s educational and inspirational. Having this opportunity available for many of us will help people understand so many aspects of why Queer cultures exist in the first place and our need’s within the community which should be a safe space for us all. A lot of our dance music history comes from queer spaces and has been blown up over the years by heteronormative ideologies and our queer communities pushed out or to one side or forgotten about. It is about time, (if not a bit late already, I mean c’mon it’s 2023) to take our power back and stand side by side equally with heterosexual and cis gendered people within the community.  Let’s keep the conversation alive. 

Bugwell: I think just by creating more queer safe spaces, allowing queer people to feel comfortable expressing themselves, both artists and ravers alike.

Claude Knight: Promoters need to actually give a damn and do their research properly. I’m tired of hearing they ‘couldn’t find any LGBTQ+ acts’ for their shows. It’s a lie. And it’s a lazy one, at that. There’s so much new and existing talent in the LGBTQ+ community, so they really are spoilt for choice. Clubs need to focus on creating safer and more inclusive spaces for ravers, too. We need to know that our bodies, identities and boundaries are going to be respected when we step on a dancefloor. There needs to be a genuine zero-tolerance policy for any kind of abuse or hatred. Actions speak louder than words. 

Pinks: Having more queer people behind the scenes would and does make a huge difference. The lineups are more diverse because as a minority you are going to always notice the lack of diversity in a space.  Also just book more queer artists. With good slots! Not only as openers to hit a diversity mark. Collaborate with queer brands, get them on your room takeovers. Give them takeover slots in your lineups! 

In addition to this I recommend considering the safety of LGBTQIA+ in your venues. Make sure your security is trained to consider this when searching people and that they know not to ask intrusive questions. Have gender neutral bathrooms available. Publicly state and make it clear that your event has a zero tolerance to homophobia, transphobia etc. and anyone who exhibits this kind of behaviour will be thrown out. We also have safety officers at Unorthodox who ravers can go to if they were to have any issues on the dance floor – I recommend this in general to be honest. 

No Nation: I think going forward I’d like to see more being done in spaces that aren’t billed as queer only parties. Queer people have the right to the same protections as everyone, everywhere. So I’d love to see more promoters build that into their ethos and try to spread that through their communities. Like all issues of diversity I think it all starts with diversifying your crowd. When you have a crowd of more diverse experiences I think the community tends towards something that is more inclusive for all people and that needs to be implemented in more ways than just booking a queer DJ, which is important, but without other considerations can come across as tokenistic. 

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