This week, we're shining the spotlight on Akeil Onwukwe-Adamson, the founder of Queer Bruk: a collective that provides a safe space for queer Black club-goers.
For many Londoners, clubbing is a slice of escapism. It’s a temporary ticket to letting your hair down, and feeling free – even if that is only for one night. For others, though, the freedom of clubbing is made impossible by the feeling of not being safe. That’s why Akeil Onwukwe-Adamson set about creating somewhere for queer Black men to find solace and enjoy clubbing as it was intended. He founded Queer Bruk back in 2018, both a safe space and a place to celebrate Afro-Caribbean music.
Five years on, it’s still going strong. This April, Queer Bruk is set to take over Southbank Centre for a club night in celebration of their Aladdin Sane: 50 Years Weekend. In anticipation for the weekend, we speak to Akeil to find out more about how Queer Bruk has evolved over the past few years, their upcoming event, and what you can do to support the collective.
Let’s start at the beginning – so Queer Bruk was set up in 2018 to create a safe space in London – what were some of the issues you had noticed within the scene in London and how did you hope to tackle these?
I felt that there weren’t enough events that catered towards a specific audience, and there definitely weren’t enough that were built by people of colour and/or queer people at that. There were, and are, amazing nights that have inspired us and we just want to contribute to the space and add MORE inclusive and safe spaces to the London calendar. I also noticed such a divide between the ‘inclusivity’ of LGBTQ+ nightlife and the way queer people of colour were represented or treated. So, I wanted to build something that could act as a safe space for all people of colour.
How has Queer Bruk grown and developed over the almost five years that it’s been running? What impact has the collective had on you personally?
It’s grown so much – it started off as a small night that I did as a one-off to now working with the likes of the Southbank Centre. I never saw it coming that, after five years, I would be able to make this a full-time career. I’ve met amazing people through Queer Bruk who have led me to many amazing opportunities and places. I want to continue to work with amazing people and build my network.
You’ve got an event coming up celebrating the 50th anniversary of David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. What is the legacy of these early queer artists and how can events help to commemorate this legacy?
Artists like Bowie and Prince, although not specifically queer, represented a movement that calls for freedom of expression and the direct rejection of gender norms. It truly is amazing to look back to times when gender really was played with and was part of the pop culture ’norm’, where now it’s really risqué to do anything that goes against a binary. Their legacy is about freedom and about doing whatever the f*ck you want. These events are key in celebrating legacies because it gives the reigns to the next generation of change-makers, creatives, and artists to express themselves and show how they view the world creatively.
For those not familiar with the events, how would you describe a normal Queer Bruk party?
I say, in basic terms, that it is the bridge between Pride and Notting Hill Carnival. It is the blend of black cultural elements, that we, as lil’ brown kids, grew up on and came to love, and expressions of queerness. Queer Bruk is a club night and platform that is all about inclusivity, safety and complete freedom in both our sexuality and our ethnicity(/ies).
Your work involves a lot of important activist campaigning – how do you ensure that you don’t get “activist burnout” and what would you advise for people hoping to get involved with some of the campaigns?
Activist burnout is a real thing! I think it’s important to ‘pass the torch’ so to speak, by giving a voice to the people that need it, rather than constantly speaking for them. It’s so easy to use our platforms to say what we think and how we view something but it’s just as important to give the opportunity to allow people to speak on what affects them themselves.
A lot of your campaigning also involves global issues, such as the recent Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill. How important is it for your activism to extend not just to the UK but globally?
Of course – the saying goes that none of us is free until we are all free. The music that we play and the cultural elements that we include are born from the countries our family come from, and they are our people – borders mean nothing when it comes to solidarity for how a group of people are treated. It is so important for us to fight for all of us, and the pain of that tie to our countries/continents is something truly intense and significant.
How have issues like Covid and the cost of living crisis impacted the club scene and particularly marginalised communities?
This is a hard question to answer because I’m sure the impact was, and is, immeasurable. What I will say, though, is that for a lot of marginalised people, nightlife and social gatherings are sometimes the only way to meet people like you. Taking these away creates isolation, loneliness and sometimes a deep depression. A lot of people are also stuck with families that don’t accept them – that’s why nights like ours and nights that we love and support are so important.
What can fans of Queer Bruk and the club scene do to protect and support their favourite venues and help keep them open despite the challenges they’re facing?
Attend! Show up and show out! Supporting us on social media is amazing and important and it gets us follows and therefore more opportunities – but this is all meaningless if people don’t show up and party with us!
What’s next for Queer Bruk and where do you hope to take it in the next year?
We want to do more partnerships, more events, have big acts perform for us – we want to do it all!