07 Mar Fuel for Social Change – Gaytimes Festival 2018
Now in its third year of running, Gaytimes has been laying down some roots in the landscape of boutique Australian music festivals and seems to be setting itself up for further growth. This year continued to deliver a variety of artists consistent in energy, creativity and innovation. With headliners Le1f and Miss Blanks, local cool-aunties of queer-punk Wetlips, the on-the-rise and ever-talented groups HEXDEBT and SAATSUMA, techno goddess Simona, our fav club angel Brooke Powers and many, many more, this year was pretty damn huge!
Before we jump into some delicious discussions of the performances, let’s take a mo to think about Gaytimes — the concept, the intentions, the festival. In many ways, it’s an exciting, fresh and progressive event — it celebrates sex positivity, body positivity and (of course) gayness. Mainstream camping festivals can, quite frankly, be aggressive and unsafe for femmes and queers. A space that focuses on safety and sexual freedom comes as a breath of fresh air.
The tricky thing with smaller festivals that aim to offer support to a particular community, is that in doing so they run the risk of alienating other intersections of the community that can be (and often are) moreso marginalised than the dominant group being catered for. For some, the festival may have arrived on a silver platter, ready for enthusiastic consumption. For others, it may have felt like they still had to scrape tooth and nail to be heard and valued, much like they do in mainstream spaces.
This issue reared its head at last year’s Gaytimes, with artists of colour feeling tokenized and the dominant language around gender and sexuality very steeped in binary. This year, Gaytimes did make effort to cater towards the T of LGBT with a safe-space gorgeously named Transgentle, but it still carried the feeling of a band-aid to a larger issue that wasn’t being overtly addressed.
While this kind of stuff happens literally all the time across the music industry, it feels more insidious when it plays out in spaces so close to home.
It’s clear that larger festivals get away with more. There isn’t necessarily outrage at Laneway not having a trans safe-space, for example (although I would definitely get behind one happening!) – nor are shockwaves sent when jocky dude-bros take up space running round in blackmilk leggings at Meredith. We’ve not had much choice but to accept that mainstream events are too often polluted with the manifestations of Australia’s colonial roots. But when alienating behaviour happens at small, community-oriented festivals, and particularly when it manifests at both a punter level and an organisational one, it cuts a little deeper and pushes further on the wedge that already exists between marginalised communities and the dominant cis/white/gay scene.
Something I would love to see happening in the future of Gaytimes would be for the festival to invite more people of colour, trans people, people with different levels of ability and queer people to help shape the festival at an organisational level. The potential for this event to support and nurture bonds between communities is huge and inspiring, but voices from different communities need to be heard and raised up for that potential to be realised. If Gaytimes can centralise intersectionality as a principal value, that’s something I can definitely get behind and I will be very excited about its future.
All of that aside, the talent on-stage was in absolute abundance. While the sun lit up the grassy hill, things really got rolling in the mid-afternoon with LALIC X SLIPPY MANE. Slippy’s low-fi rap rolled smooth as butter over Lalic’s full-bodied synths and vocoder backing vox, and the two worked the stage with effortless cool and charisma. It was a treat to kick off the sonic tastes of the day.
Next up in the festivities, Callan took to the stage with Slam Ross on the drums. These two have been making some incredible waves, Slam a new addition to what was originally Callan’s solo act. Slam’s additional dynamic fuels the fire tenfold and the two of them offer a musical presence that catapults Callan’s masterful lyricism and looping melodies into something beyond cosmic. If you haven’t seen them live yet, please get on it. Oh, and they call themselves BABY, now.
Synth-pop duo Pillow Pro breezed onto the stage with their special brand of energy that has been turning heads for the last couple of years. With their lounge-RnB instrumentals unfolding as they interlaced their sensual vocals, Sophie and Christobel cultivated a dance floor dreamscape that got the crowd on their feet and moving.
Established legends Wet Lips consistently deliver a cocktail of menacing femme power, devil-may-care punk assertion and brazen garage rock, and this gig was no different. With their performance at Gaytimes marking their fourth last before a hiatus, the atmosphere was charged with a mix of nostalgia and excitement unique to a longstanding relationship between band and audience. It was powerful, gritty and, at times, hilarious (Grace’s stage banter gets me in stitches) — they’ve been a big deal for a while and they once again proved why.
SAATSUMA saw us into the sunset with their masterful cascading rhythm and deeply human lyrics. Memphis Kelly’s vocals drip and hum over the band’s signature building synths, creating an atmosphere of vulnerable sincerity.
Later into the night, the phenomenal Le1f burst onto the stage with the explosive track ‘Koi,’ channelling adrenalin and empowerment that reverberated through the crowd. The 28-year-old N.Y.C based rapper, dancer and performer Khalif Diouf has been honing his flirty, provocative and addictive hip-pop sound for several years, and is now buoyant on the wave of well-deserved success. Le1f served an energetic set loaded with a mix of horny trap, futuristic rap and an undercurrent of PC music production, all the while challenging outdated ideas around race, gender, sexuality and social justice.
After a night of periodically sweating it out on the d-floor of Gaytimes’ after-hours upstairs club and freezing one’s fingers off in the cold outside, Spike Fuck warmed things up in the arvo on Saturday. Absolutely captivating, endearing and piercingly genuine, Spike’s post-punk, new-wave and sometimes-almost-country sound holds the listener in tender arms. To see her live is to be transported.
Shaken out of our indulgently melancholic lulls, next on was HEXDEBT. This cataclysmic four-piece released their first single ‘Bitch Rising’ last year in October, and have been playing a string of electrifying shows around Melbourne since. Before launching into their set, bassist Isobel D’Cruz Barnes said a few powerful words on the matter of centralising POC voices in queer spaces that have historically been white-dominated, especially in Australia, where our events are already on stolen land. It set the scene for the band’s stance towards social change that circulates through their lyrics and stage presence like a heartbeat. The final renditions of the line ‘my boyfriend’s friends never liked me’ in ‘Bitch Rising’ were alive with the audacity of HEXDEBT’S signature uniting power.
A little different from her set-up at Meredith and Laneway, Miss Blanks took to the stage without her dancers and this time with Simona on the decks (what a treat!). The energy she brought was no less and no different, however, and she rallied the crowd into a passionate exchange of drive and sensory power. The Brisbane artist offers her music like an extension of her personality — there’s humour, anger, vivaciousness, with an ever-present undercurrent of empowerment. It punches up in all the right ways and extends a hand for listeners to join her in doing so.
Later, with the sun deeply set and those ethereal Lake Mountain trees glowing in the stage light, it was with much excitement that the crowd awaited Simona’s performance. It was a special moment seeing Kristina Miltiadou join the stage for backing vocals — a joining of musical forces too good to be true, and a while in the making. I’m excited for whatever these two have in store for us. Simona was joined for further tracks by dancers Lyu and Mel, who brought an additional charge to the turbo-techno queen’s set. To finish her performance and close off Gaytimes’ mainstage came Simona’s textured, structured and transformative track ‘Season 4 / Episode 6’.
It wasn’t long before daylight filtered through the windows of the upstairs club and the last stragglers of the dance floor powered on with the inexplicable dedication of those acclimatised to kicking on. There was a good reason to stick it out, though, and that reason was Brooke Powers, whose 5 am vinyl house set was a testament to her ever-growing talent as an innovative DJ. Peppered with nods to New York house, avant-garde techno and disco/house, Brooke’s set was an uplifting journey that marked the festival’s end. It was definitely a special note on which to finish.