- Words Notion Staff
Sam, the founder of the LGBTQIA+ event Flesh Queer Festival, talks about the event's proactive and inclusive intent.
Flesh Queer Festival is a brand new festival taking place this May near St Albans – conveniently placed within the M25 and accessible via train from King’s Cross by using your Travelcard – that aims to shine a light on the vibrancy of the LGBTQIA+ scene in the UK. In fact, it’s the first LGBTQIA festival to take place in the country, paving a way for more inclusive events to come.
The two-day event on the 28th and 29th of May 2022 will feature three stages showcasing headline DJs including Ellen Allien, VTSS, LSDXOXO, Rebekah, object blue, Jaguar, Syreeta, Hyperaktivist and Juliana Huxtable alongside queer London artists such as Wax Wings, allyXPRESS, Hannah Holland, Nadine Noor, Samantha Togni, Angel D’Lite, S/HE, Ifeoluwa, Aisha Mirza, J.Aria and queer collectives such as he.she.they, Boudica, Pxssy Palace, Big Dyke Energy, Inferno, misery and intervention.
Flesh Queer will also include a huge variety of activities beyond the music, such as an activity tent hosted by Riposte, an inclusive play area surrounded by nature, an array of pop-up shops and a slate of diverse panels fostering meaningful discussion on LGBTQ+ issues.
It’s set to be a blockbuster event for the queer scene in the UK, and we sat down with its founder to chat about what it means to put on a truly inclusive festival, and how she hopes it might change the industry.
How did you first come to the idea of the queer camping festival?
Coming from clubs, I’ve always wanted to jump into a bigger project. I feel like the festival area, especially for club promoters, is kind of the untouchable side of the music industry because there’s so much production behind it. It’s kind of a scary field. I just wanted to find a way in which the underground and diversity and inclusion could thrive within festival programming. The main reason behind Flesh was to create a space in which the LGBTQ+ community can connect. In the spirit of queerness, I wanted to make a statement with it. I wanted to prove that it is possible to create a line-up that is diverse, inclusive and shows how awesome our industry is. It’s possible to create a big scale event doing so.
The last thing we wanted is for people to feel tokenised . I’ve seen it happening, it happened to me as well and it doesn’t feel great. Flesh is the outcome of one year of digging deeper, and finding the right artists. We wanted the music to be the priority, of course, but at the same time, we wanted everyone to come to our event and feel represented. I feel like as festival owners, we have a responsibility towards new generations and we have a duty to inspire others. Visibility is paramount for inspiring new generations.
Talk us through some of the line-up of the festival!
Everyone is always complaining that there’s not enough diverse headliners, as programmers, we need to nurture those talents from the start, otherwise they will never become the headliners of tomorrow. I do believe that in forward-thinking cities like London, for example, we are all aware of the dispairty and imbalance throughout the music industry. I think that now we are all concious about this, we need to take the next step, by creating meaningful opportunities for these talents.
We have decided to book international names on the line-up like VTSS, LSDXOXO, Ellen Allien, we consider them a massive inspiration for what they do. 50% of the line-up is local queer artists. We selected artists that we like musically but also that within the community are doing very inspiring work, like he.she.they, Inferno, Boudica, Big Dyke Energy. It’s a way for us to give back and to say thank you for the spaces they are creating for this community.
It is so important to have such spaces that exist for the LGBTQ+ community. As well as in nightlife, we thought it was important creating digital spaces alongside queer-owned platforms to stay connected to our community. Alongside other London-based queer collectives, we are launching a new group on the app Spaces that will allow us to stay up to date with the London Queer community and keep our network of amazing creatures connected.
Why was it important for you to expand beyond music for this festival?
We wanted to show how diverse and creative the LGBTQ+ scene is. We wanted everyone to enjoy and have a fantastical musical experience, but also show that there is so much more to it. We wanted to put together panels and create educational activities as well.
We are building an activity tent, which will be hosted by Riposte and curated by its founder Eden Topall-Rabanes.
We will have workshops and panels throughout the day, guest panels by Rainbow Mind, an organisation that supports mental health throughout the LGBTQ+ community. They will be holding a workshop on radical self-care. We will also have a wellness space, which is managed by PsyCare – they do a similar work at other festivals, like Boomtown for example.
On the day, we will also have pop up shops, food stores and we will also have a inclusive play area hosted by Howl.
We want the festival to be authentic and for everyone to feel comfortable, we actively sourced LGBTQ+ security and paramedics, we thought this was really important to achieve the experience we wanted.
It sounds like you’re trying to create more peaceful spaces than what a traditional festival offers. Why did that feel right?
After being separated for so long from these spaces, we wanted to celebrate the importance of LGBTQ+ events. They are sanctuaries in which people can really feel represented, be connected and be themselves.
We wanted to create a space in which people could connect and could be with their chosen family, a chosen queer family.
You’ve diagnosed inclusivity problems within the current festival industry. What damage do you think that does?
First of all, it doesn’t create an authentic ecosystem on a local base. If we always count on the same headliners, we forget about the local talents, which is not sustainable from many points of view. We really have to invest in local talents and look around and look who’s there to represent us.
As promoters, we really need to do the work and not always having to rely on the same usual names. It’s damaging when people are not given equal opportunities or enough visibility. If you don’t feel represented, how can you picture yourself doing something? It becomes hard, unachievable sometimes.
I do understand, that people have to sell tickets and many organisers rely on big names. That’s just how things go. But perhaps we have to way we do it.
I’m like, okay, I have the bigger names involved, but I can also support local talents by mixing the two on the same line-up. There needs to be a balance, especially after these two years.
- Pictured: LSDXOXO
- Pictured: VTSS
What do you think equality and inclusivity mean in the electronic genre/industry specifically?
With Flesh, we are addressing festival line-ups but I think that overall, there needs to be more diverse people in positions of decision, CEOs etc. it doesn’t just apply to headliners. There needs to be a shift within the whole industry. If we want to have a diverse and sustainable future, we have to start opening up to and giving other opportunities to everyone. It can’t just always be the same demographic of people taking decisions.
You’ve put a special emphasis on trans* and non-binary talent at the festival. Especially given where the climate is in the UK at the moment, why did that feel so right?
We wanted a line-up that was authentically diverse and giving equal opportunities to everyone. Looking at statistics of festival line-ups, Trans* and non-binary artists play such a tiny fraction of the festival bookings. We wanted to raise a point and show that it is possible to have a kickass line-up, with equal representation of everyone. It’s not about excluding anyone, this is about including everyone. It’s about creating opportunities for underrepresented artists to become the headliners of tomorrow. It baffles me to think that people don’t understand how vital and important these spaces are, when the LGBTQ+ and especially the Trans* community is constantly under attack. It was so important to create a space in which the Trans*, Non-binary and Queer community can thrive, feel comfortable and feels like it’s part of authentic and loving project.
Your intentions for the performers at the festival are clear, but what do you hope attendees take away from it?
From an industry point of view, I do hope that people working within the industry will see that to creating meaningful opportunities is very achievable. We thought, what could be a way for us to give back to the community in a meaningful and direct way? We gave away two free scholarships at London Sound Academy for two QTIPOC artists.
They could have entered the competition by applying with a mix or with a Spotify playlist in case they didn’t have any DJing experience before.
We received so many applications. It was overwhelming and so tough for us to decide. We picked two artists, they’re absolutely amazing! They’re completing the scholarship at the Academy that will culminate with them performing at the festival.
We’re really hoping that the bigger organisations and festivals would perhaps look at this initiative and create more meaningful opportunities like this one.
From an attendees point of view, we really want people to connect in a kind and meaningful way. We really hope that Queer people will come to our events and create a new second family or amplify the one that they already have.