‘I could have both pinches and it would be fine’: Flesh, the UK’s first queer camping music festival | Music
For all the promise of gender equality on the queues, UK music festivals are still dominated by male artists – a BBC study last week found that only 13% of headliners at the top festivals this year are all women — and many of them are white, straight, and cisgender. But down a gravel road in St Albans is an alternative.
Hosting house and techno artists, the Flesh festival – held over the weekend – bills itself as the UK’s first queer camping music festival, with a lineup where women, trans and non- binaries represent over 90% of talent. House and techno names range from big names such as Ellen Allien and Rebekah to artists who have never played a festival before, while an all-female security team monitors festival-goers, flags rainbows decorate the stages and the mullet-to-ticket ratio must be the highest of any event in the UK.
Organizer Sam Togni, founder of London label Boudica, explains that one of the main intentions of the festival is “to celebrate our community, especially after being separated from it for so long and seeing so many parties, clubs and events around the world forced to close”. In addition to inclusive programming, they wanted to give “newcomers to the industry a way to thrive”: Flesh held a contest for queer, trans and intersex people of color where two winners got scholarships from studied at the London Sound Academy (LSA) to improve. their skills and a slot machine to play Flesh. “It takes effort, but it is possible to create meaningful opportunities,” says Togni. “You can change people’s future.”
Flesh’s first outing isn’t without its difficulties: the sound systems have technical issues early on, the bar runs out of cold drinks at 8 p.m., and at 11 p.m. sharp the music stops – which has been reported by the organizers the day before the festival, but still surprises many people.
On Sunday morning, punters line up for the only coffee vendor in the event. The food trucks did not open and the music did not restart. “It’s been really fun,” says Jenny, who was in Flesh to celebrate their friend’s birthday. “When you’re with a lot of queer people, it’s usually only at a queer party. Camping, hanging out and seeing queer people dancing in nature was really special.
“In all the festivals I’ve been to, like Stray and Homobloc, I’ve worn different levels of clothing,” they continue. “I was wearing a really skimpy outfit for Homobloc and I kept getting touched by cis gay men and it was really uncomfortable, whereas here I feel like I could get both pinches, the front buttocks and rear buttocks [all out], and that would be totally fine, which is awesome. That’s how it should be.
Like the inclusive queer club nights Pxssy Palace, Crossbreed and Body Movements, Flesh centers queer and trans people; members of these collectives play Flesh, joined by resident DJs from London parties Inferno and Big Dyke Energy. A newcomer is Misfya, playing their first festival after winning one of Flesh’s LSA scholarships. “If I had thought a year ago that I was going to play a festival this year, I don’t think I would have believed that,” Misfya says after her peppy and energizing DJ set. “It’s unreal. I only started playing properly in September last year, so I’m very happy and proud to have come to this.
Queer and trans joy like this can be felt throughout the site. Marie-Maxime, at her first English festival, attributes this to the “very welcoming and reassuring” atmosphere in which “everyone is friendly. I didn’t expect so many good vibes, such a safe environment. It’s super colorful too – we all wear black in Paris. It’s relative: the crowd is still flocking to leather harnesses, facial piercings, leather jackets and platform boots. But unlike other queer spaces and events, cis gay men aren’t the biggest constituency — and there are no straight women or girls’ nights out to see the show. Flesh shows that when queer women and trans people organize events, they can meet the needs of this underserved segment of the UK’s queer population: girls, gays and their own.
Sharan Dhaliwal, author of Burning My Roti: Breaking Barriers as a Queer Indian Woman, stands in line with Marie-Maxime for coffee. “It’s been a great queer family vibe,” Dhaliwal acknowledges. “Really healthy and also really unhealthy in equal measure. It’s beautiful.” Both women noted that Flesh felt safe, with Dhaliwal explaining, “We’re surrounded by homosexuality, and that’s where safety comes from.”