Something’s Gotta Give: Spotlighting Glasgow’s Queer Community at Riverside Festival
In conversation with Bonzai Bonner and Taahliah.
Dance Music is gay. Dance Music is trans. Dance music is queer. This isn’t up for debate and yet often needs to be reasserted.
From time to time the roots of this culture can become clouded by the circus of corporate sponsorship, high price tickets, social media DJ’s, influencers and the masquerade of what has become a fanatical industry.
This thing we love simply wouldn’t exist without the rebellion and struggle of the LGBTQIA+ community who were forced to create safe and equal spaces in order to express themselves.
From the ballrooms of New York to the hot and heavy European discotheques of the 80’s – this culture has evolved from the experiences and creative freedom afforded to dancers, musicians, artists and DJ’s who were raised and blossomed in an environment they could call home.
Next month will see Riverside Festival take place in Glasgow, a city which has played its own evolutionary role in the growth and progression of dance music. However, despite being deemed as a key hub for electronic music the city lacks progression in respect of safe spaces, open mindedness and initiative in the support of the queer community.
Last year renowned DJ, curator and founder of Glasgow’s number one inclusive and alternative queer party Shoot Your Shot, Bonzai Bonner (they / them) started working with RF, and building on that for this year has been working closely with them to curate the Saturday line-up which will be an alliance with the festival and the LGBTQ+ community in Scotland.
Bonner has lead the curation of stages on the Saturday, having invited friends, allies and international guests to solidify and cement the community’s presence at the heart of the festival. Guests set to perform include Haai, India Jordan, Junglehussi, Big Freedia, Romy, Derrick Carter, Optimo and many more. The programme is musically aligned to that of the overarching festival but with a distinct emphasis placed on broadening the narrative beyond an event, which in the past has been susceptible to attracting an audience perhaps less aware of these cultural roots.
Bonner see’s their role as essential in a city which still has a long way to go, reflecting on their alienation and disconnection with nightlife, especially after the likes of Optimo’s weekly Sunday party at Sub Club shut up shop.
“For a very long time, when going out in Glasgow, I didn’t feel that connection with any event for a good few years. Occasionally you might go to something but there wasn’t that spirit of community essentially.”
“What’s my point caller? What am I doing here?”
In the wake of the recession many parties in Glasgow were forced to fold due to unsustainable costs, with punters out of pocket and promoters not prepared to take the risk. From this, the result became that big, large scale weekend events continued as standard but midweek clubbing and that which might have been more off piste fell away. It was around this time that Bonner was working the doors of various clubs across the city and was approached about the possibility of running a party, a night which would later become Shoot Your Shot.
“I am a queer person and at that time I found it actually quite tough to say that aloud, where I was identifying and who was my calling. I felt restricted because I know how dominant the straight, white crowd is and has been in Glasgow for a very long time. It still is but there are improvements being made. I felt like I couldn’t be so vocal about it, even though it was absolutely expressed on the dance floor. Eventually I had to reach out to my own calling and actually reassess:
‘What’s my point caller? What am I doing here?’
Once I did that and had the chance to reassess that’s when everything became what it is.”
Shoot Your Shot emphasises the importance of what an inclusive, queer club night can do in the respect of uplifting the identities of the LGBTQIA+ community. Bonner reflects that there’s been “a growth in themselves and in their own identity” – finding comfort and solace in the fact that people who come along and attend the party have found it to be a space in which they can be free and discover who they are.
The music and guests who soundtrack these spaces are just as important. This is something Bonner has realised intuitively having programmed parties for several years and having recently taken up a role as the lead booker at The Berkeley Suite.
When curating the music at this year’s Riverside Festival, they felt it was essential to ensure that both equal representation and queer identities were celebrated and that it reflected the community. The line up on the Saturday is as versatile as it comes, featuring futuristic abstract club music, house, techno, disco and everything in between. Bonner has made sure to book a programme which will soundtrack not only discerning dancers but emphasise a presence of the LGBTQIA+ community at the event.
“The people who are the most successful here in Glasgow are the ones that continue with a community ethos. The queers are smashing it. I think it’s a really interesting time in Glasgow, the work has been put in to make the Saturday event special. It’s easily the most diverse electronic line up that Scotland has seen yet. It’s a big one having someone like Big Freedia playing too, that’s a Scottish debut.
There was no sense of community for me as a queer person in these spaces so simply by proaction you cultivate and nurture what you want to see more of – a chance for a more diverse range of sounds which will naturally draw in a more diverse range of artists and people. This makes for a better party in the long run.
It’s really beautiful to finally see more LGBTQIA+ & POC artists paving the way. I’m glad that locally based artists are dismantling the headline culture which has ruined a lot of club spaces in the UK.”
Bonner’s right. As a city which has at times been deemed a city of ‘blokes, white techno’ it is exciting and refreshing to see such a diverse array of musicians and artists on the line up at Riverside Festival this year, that in part is due to the notorious work effort of Bonner themselves.
One artist who is set to appear on the Saturday as part of the festival programme is Taahliah – a performer and DJ from the Scottish city. She’s been channeling futuristic club music blurring the lines between pop and dance weaving elements of Trap, Juke, RnB, PC Music and anything in between throughout. Her no holds barred approach as a DJ has made her one of the most riveting and exciting in Scotland at the moment, following in the footsteps if innovators such as Sophie who have come before.
She reflects on the essentiality of a Queer space in Glasgow. When asked as to how and why she broke free from the constraints of the patriarchy emphasised the importance of her escape and freedom.
“I didn’t choose to, I had to — there’s a very big difference. I find it ugly that within Glasgow (and perhaps wider culture), the word ‘techno’ has been appropriated by these identities – white cis straight bodies – who have no inclination or appreciation for the genuine history or connectivity it provides other people.”
"I think it’s important for any artist to find their own community, sound and path."
She, like Bonner, was forced to build her own vision for a creative future in the city.
“I think it’s important for any artist to find their own community, sound and path. I found that I wanted to generate my own world and share that amongst the people I love – the fact other people connect with it is beautiful. I’m not interested in duplicity.
My ethos has stayed the same, the magnitude at which I can communicate that ethos effectively is growing and developing, however. I strive to achieve something unique and memorable. Individualistic, identifiable and relatable. Something fun.”
One thing which is remarkably clear as to both of these artists is their boundless ambition and urgency towards building a better future in this city. Riverside Festival is just a small part of a much bigger picture. This isn’t simply about the equalisation of spaces, this is about reasserting the narrative. Emphasising that this music was and is a product of the LGBTQIA+ community. Without them none of this would exist. This is the very vision that parties such as Shoot Your Shot are built upon and without people like Bonner and Taahliah putting in the work then heaven knows where we’d be. This year the festival should be a celebration of individuals like them and as for the future? Well when we asked Taahliah what comes next she didn’t beat about…
“We need more. Something’s gotta give…”
Riverside Festival will take place between the 2nd and 4th of June - Tickets HERE.
Shoot Your Shot Photography courtesy of TIU MAKKONEN