Queer music is an emerging kind of music. Taking inspiration from more mainstream LGBTQ artists, whose work is generally welcome on the radio, queer artists combine elements of rock, pop, punk and indie music to explore lesser-known themes, catering mainly to an LGBTQ audience. Though queer music itself is not a fully-fledged genre of music just yet, queer musicians are active in the music scene, attending festivals dedicated to queer themes and bringing relatively unknown ideas into the spotlight.
Last month I went to Dusk to get a sample of queer music for myself. Kicking off proceedings was the fabulous Naomi Stephens, singing songs about “love and stuff” and occasionally “some not-very-nice people.” Stephens performed a mixture of original songs and covers, joined once or twice by performers from bands playing later in the night. Stephens didn’t have a high opinion of her own abilities. Testing the mic, she admitted “I don’t wanna hear me sing” – but we did, and for good reason. She describes herself as “queer and sober and awkward and anxious,” but I say Stephens is a talented musician and it’s certainly worth buying a ticket to hear her great music.
Prior to this gig, I’d never heard queer music before. It’s “loud, angry and shouty,” the man on the door told me. The night’s second band lived up this to description by a mile. Power was the first word that came to mind, and Kinky was bursting with it. The group sang fiery songs mostly about people they dislike, from “people who make rape jokes” who “should be punched in the face… or at the very least, challenged,” to fascists and trans-exclusionary radical feminists. A short song about straight men was dedicated to Donald Trump, the “straightest boy around.”
Most of Kinky’s lyrics can’t be reproduced here, but behind the rage is a feeling of rejection from wider society. One song was dedicated to anyone who is non-binary, queer, transgender or who feels “different to what society says you’re meant to be.” Kinky’s music was raw, blunt and emotional, but it has a point to make about how individuals at the edges of the LGBTQ community feel.
Next came OPS, the Okinawa Picture Show, an extraordinary indie pop punk band from deepest, darkest Birmingham. OPS played a variety of songs about relationships, insecurity, veganism, cats and one about fellow performer Naomi Stephens. Bringing great vocal harmonies, clever lyrics, a fine lead vocalist and a dash of geekiness to the mix, OPS were a bright, expressive group with variation and colour in their music.
The crowd had swelled to hear Jesus & His Judgemental Father. They were expecting something remarkable from the final act, billed as the best queer pop punk band in the world; something remarkable is what we got. Jesus & His Judgemental Father made diverse and exciting music. Singing about sex, feminism, mental health and queer issues with flair and distinction, the band had the audience swaying and dancing.
Queer music is an acquired taste. The noise and destructive feelings can remind you of classic punk, railing against the system and wagging two fingers to the establishment. But these bands weren’t there to attack anyone but support people like them. Though relatively quiet in the grand scheme of music today, queer music is loud, furious and determined to give a musical voice to people who feel they’ve been denied it, celebrating difference and smashing stereotypes along the way. As OPS’s lead vocalist said, “Don’t worry: you’re weird, but it’s fine.”
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