Coming to a club near you! Introducing the free-thinking and inclusive collective creating clubbing spaces without boundaries.
You buy the ticket. Shuffle up to the entrance. And just like that, your night has entered the next level. For some, club spaces have long been this place of freedom and transformation – but Steven Braines and Sophia Kearney saw an absence of nights that truly reflected the diversity and representation that were historically at the heart of the roots of house, disco and techno.
And so, He.She.They was born: “a place without prejudice for people to be people”, running nights “irrespective of age, race, sex, gender, ability, religion, background or sexual preference.”
The event series has so far held parties in London, Paris, New York, Ibiza, Berlin, Amsterdam, Newcastle and Dublin – with upcoming shows in LA, Toronto, Montreal, Barcelona, Brighton, Bristol, Sydney, Melbourne and more. And with a glittering roster of artists, from Maya Jane Coles, to Honey Dijon and George Fitzgerald…
“Watching He.She.They grow so rapidly in such a short space of time has has been amazing,” explains Maya Jane Coles. “There have been times where I’ve felt the queer scene has lacked parties that embrace the darker side of dance and electronic music, and the underground dance scene as a whole has generally lacked parties that truly embrace queer culture and provide a safe haven for like-minded people that don’t necessarily fit into the basic queer stereotypes. It really embraces peoples wilder and darker sides and also brings back something that I feel the underground rave scene maybe started to lose over recent years. Props to Steven Braines and Sophia Kearney for pushing their vision and starting something super special.”
We sat down with Steven Braines & Sophia Kearney and talked about He.She.They…
How did He.She.They start?
Braines: Originally were were going to be a gender fluid clothing brand – then someone took our name when we were going to launch, but we kept the launch party going anyway, which was an official party for London Fashion Week Festival 2018. Sophia and I run the Weird & The Wonderful – a talent management company. We’d travelled all round the world and as a queer man and a woman with a diverse roster of artist management clients and we noticed the lack of representation. Most line-ups tend to be white, straight and male. It isn’t to say that those DJs aren’t talented and don’t deserve their spot. It’s just things could be more mixed up with other talented people. Even with queer nights, it’s normally three white cis bodied male DJs on the decks, and womxn and queer people of colour can feel a marginalised and biphobia can often be present. No one was really thinking about the experience of trans and non-binary people particularly in the more mainstream clubs, even though three of the best DJs in the world, Honey Dijon, Octo Octa and Eris Drew are trans.
So we wanted to throw some boundary-less parties that were wild and encouraged different groups to mix, and we tried to mix up the line-ups so that they were diverse but still full of talent. Diversity and inclusion doesn’t need to be vanilla; it can be bold and brave.
What do you think historically club spaces and culture has been like in regards to diversity and inclusion?
Sophia: We felt nightlife needed a little worldwide shake-up and allow people to express their wild/naughty sides a bit more. The roots of house, disco and techno are predominantly from people of colour and the queer scene in places such as Chicago, Detroit and New York; where people were experimenting with music, nightlife and creating atmospheres of acceptance and fun. And in our experience, club culture seems have lost some of that core ethos over the years. Promoters are facing a lot of challenges across the board these days such as rising costs in rent, threats of venue closure, council permissions and pressure to book a small pocket of specific headliners to sell enough tickets to make those previous risks worth it. We wanted to build an adult party that was built on what you come to experience, how you wish to interact, and explore your gender, sexuality, look. We hope that people are trusting the brand to book incredible music selectors to guide you through your evening even if you didn’t know who they were beforehand. We also book a variety of visual performers who possess amazing energy and own their vibe, whatever they choose for that to be. We aim to add another voice of change to the electronic music scene with this party that we hope will continue to grow push the envelope of diversity and inclusion.
Why was it so important to create a place for diversity and inclusion?
Braines: Because it’s horrible to feel left out or be in fear of violence and no one should have to. I have been tapped on the shoulder for kissing women on two occasions in LGBTQIA nights and told that “it’s a gay club” and that I shouldn’t be doing that. I’m pansexual – I should be safe in those spaces from that panphonic/biphobic bullshit. I go to gay clubs with my boyfriend and we get told that we “don’t look gay” and have to argue ourselves in or sometimes just leave because “what the fuck does/should a queer person look like?| and why should I have to justify my queerness to someone at length.
When you’re not included in spaces supposed to be for you, it’s an even more isolated situation. It’s also important that as well as communities having safe spaces that other integrated spaces are available to them to so that safe spaces don’t just ghettoise because the others spaces aren’t inclusive or welcoming. Like if you are trans as a minority group you might want to go to a club night where it’s just for trans people to have a night where you can relax amongst people who are just like you and you aren’t in the minority. There should be spaces that are also available in LGBTQIA clubs and beyond where trans and cis bodies people can party where trans people feel safe in.
In a time of white supremacy and Brexit there’s never been a more important time to champion diversity and inclusion to be honest.
Do you think things are getting better? Whose responsibility is it to make necessary changes?
Braines: It’s everybody’s responsibility. I love that artists like Maya Jane Coles, Ellen Allien, Honey Dijon, Miss Kititn, Denis Ferrer, Louisahhh, KDA, Magda, ANNA, Heidi, Kim Ann Foxman, DJ Deeon, La Fleur, Steffi, Wax Wings, Maze & Masters, Lewis G.Burton for instance have really pushed the night forward and have taken fee reductions to make parties happen as they really believe in the concept. We try and pay the going rate wherever possible because we don’t want to be another exploiting queer peeps. Clubs like Fabric, Watergate, Ministry, Pacha, De Marktkantine have all put the money where their mouths are and given us the budgets to put on the events and have listened and have adapted policies to have things like gender neutral toilets etc. Everyone needs to play their part. Maya, in particular, has really been a bull dozer for the night as a producer/DJ who is British-Japanse, queer, and female but has smashed every glass ceiling through talent. I think she gets the importance of the change we’re trying to usher in. No one held the door open for Maya Jane Coles; Maya just kicked the door off it’s hinges.
How do you go about curating a line-up of artists?
Sophia: First and foremost we think about talent and people. We think about the flow of the evening and variety. There may be more of a techno lean to some parties, others might be house, there may also be some crossover and shades of other genres. We’re also looking to give up-and-coming artists platforms and we like to choose artists which we believe create journeys with their sets, that manage to take people somewhere outside of themselves with their music. We feel that matches the ethos of the night and encourages our audience to lose their inhibitions. Our family seems to grow with each party as so many artists have told us they really enjoyed playing and asked to come back, also many have contacted us independently and asked to be involved which is so amazing.
We’re talking about club spaces that are “safe” do you think this can mean censored, or?
Braines: We say our nights are brave spaces rather than safe because ours are a mix of people so it’s more of a melting pot where people from different backgrounds get together – we have systems in place like helpers, and speak to bar staff and security about harm reduction strategies so people can report problems and they can be dealt with swiftly. It’s censored in as much as if someone is physically violent or uses hate speech then they are going to get asked to leave because that’s not what our party is about. We’re sex positive places though as long as things are consensual; we’ll have a dungeon one of these days I imagine. You can be yourself unapologetically as long as that doesn’t involve you being nasty to others. That’s fair enough I think.
What have been the biggest challenges while doing this?
Sophia: We are a small independent business, run by a small team so for us to conceive all the creative ideas, line-ups, hosts, plus fund and incubate a global events brand from a grassroots level to where it is now in only the last eighteen months – I’d say workload has been a challenge. We have never wanted our new venture to be a detriment to any of other other artist management projects, so lots of late nights and weekends working has made this possible. There have been so much blood, sweat and tears go into this project from all of our core team and our weird and wonderful extended family. So many people have supported us to get to this point and that in itself has reinforced our loving ethos within us as we work. So many people from the music industry and not just the public want this party to exist and believe in its cultural value.
What’s been your biggest party so far?
Braines: Brighton Pride in terms of numbers was the biggest as the tent was like 5,000 capacity. We’ve sold out quite a lot of big venues now for a new party that’s a big mental. We definitely want to do more festivals. As you have the budgets and space to showcase a wider range of talent both on the decks and live. We will have been in over 10 countries by the end of the year and by our two-year anniversary close to 20, if we pull off a little something we’ve been planning…
What has the feedback been like?
Sophia: The feedback has been absolutely staggering so far. When you work so hard on pulling these shows together, it can almost be a bit of a shock come 2am when you see everyone enjoying themselves and the place is absolutely buzzing. Once the work is done and you can watch it unfold it is the best feeling ever. We have had some of the kindest messages from people after the shows, they really keep us going. I have to say though, taking the party to India recently was really special. Lots of people turned up solo, when it’s not usual for people in India to do so. When I was wandering through the crowd talking to people one woman told me it was the first time she’d ever been approached in a club by another woman in India. That made me so happy that people felt they could be so free to be themselves in our space, love is love after all. One of our lovely hosts also said they felt they were witnessing an important cultural moment for their country by being involved in He.She.They and begged us to return soon. To receive that compliment from someone who has been part of the scene for so long over there was overwhelming in the loveliest way. We had better keep pushing on then hadn’t we?
He.She.They are hosting a party at Motion in Bristol on the 26th October, line up and info here.