Meet the community behind Unorthodox: the UK’s first ever LGBTQ+ D&B event
In the 20th Century, Black and LGBTQ+ communities pioneered rave culture as a refuge from persecution; these were places to momentarily cultivate true and joyful self expression. Heaven, founded here in the UK in 1979, has always been one of those institutions. Black and LGBTQ+ people established Dance Music in queer spaces: from Acid House to the Junglist Movement.
Fast forward to today, and the white, straight washed Dance music industry has culturally appropriated and marginalised its Black and LGBTQ+ roots. It’s no secret that commercial D&B is one of the guiltiest culprits of them all.
That’s why it’s so vital that on 17th September 2020, Drag DJ Nathan X hosted Unorthodox: the UK’s first ever LGBTQ+ D&B event. Hosted at Venue MOT: the turn up fuelled a night awash with euphoria from start-finish.
In this exclusive Data Transmission interview, Nathan X and his community express how it feels being LGBTQ+ in the world of D&B. After reading this, you’ll understand why Unorthodox is so much more than just another D&B night.
Hey Nathan! What problems did you have with the UK D&B scene before you founded Unorthodox?
I used to be a Drum & Bass DJ and promoter in Brighton, but back then I was way less open about my sexuality. Although I was gay and had a boyfriend, I found myself trying hard to fit into the ‘D&B mould’ – bringing that whole snapback Black T-shirt kinda vibe! But it wasn’t me. I eventually ended up feeling like I had diluted myself by trying to fit in… My progress in the Brighton scene wasn’t going in the right direction.
I then moved back to London and got a job, so my D&B career quickly moved to the back burner. It was sad because that was what I’d wanted to do with my life for such a long time! A lot of my time was now spent working, but I also found myself getting more involved with the London gay scene.
I ended up on a journey of self discovery; gradually I was learning to be more comfortable with myself, allowing my inner queen to finally come out. I was also spending a lot of time hanging with my brother, Ash Kenazi… he’s a drag queen and a percussionist in an Indie band! He influenced me to try drag and set me up with my first wig; so on Halloween I threw a little ‘fancy dress’ party at my house (but really it was more of an excuse for me to give birth to my drag identity!).
I had new life inside me! But while I was having a great time, I started to notice the somewhat bitchy and competitive side to the London gay scene. At times, it made me feel quite alienated… I still felt I didn’t completely fit in. On top of that, I was also feeling disconnected from the D&B scene. Whilst I was previously very involved, I now felt like I was on the sidelines, even though my passion still blazed within. I felt lost between scenes, so when 2020 came around, I decided to make my re-entry to the D&B scene.
I had done a lot of changing! The black t-shirt and snapback were gone, I now had acrylic nails, bleached hair… and a makeup collection most girls would be jealous of! This was the hardest part. I didn’t see how my new (boy) image would be accepted into the Drum and Bass scene, when what I actually wanted to do was rock up to a D&B rave in full drag.
Most of the D&B raves I’ve been to have felt predominantly straight-male dominant. So it was hard enough getting back into the scene as a camp guy wearing crop tops to the rave, let alone in drag. Comments like “why are you dressed like that” or “oh you’re gay” – very obviously pointing out that I looked different; are what made it even harder to take the leap and actually go to a rave in drag.
That’s so disappointing. Is that why you founded Unorthodox? To create your own safe space?
Yeah! I knew the only way I’d feel comfortable DJing or raving to D&B in drag is if I created my own environment to experiment. So back in January 2020, I wrote a post in the Facebook forum D&B Talk.
It was a very simple poll, asking people what they would think about an LGBTQ+ D&B event. I pitched it as a standard rave – but a bit more camp and a bit more fabulous – where ‘everybody’ is welcome. To my surprise it had over 800 comments and thousands of votes! Many of the comments were super narrow minded, saying things like “you’re causing more segregation”. But for every negative comment, there was the most beautiful positive response. That’s when I realised that so many other people out there needed this as much as I did.
That’s unsurprising! You’ll always get people who don’t have a clue.
Exactly! Taylor Cunningham, one of the group moderators was a great help in managing the blow-up of that post. She’s so sweet and a massive supporter of what we do! She put a lot of the ‘secret homophobes’ back in their place. She was helpful, because at the time I was unprepared and didn’t really know what I wanted to achieve. People were active on that feed for a good week, and that, along with countless supporters DMing me, gave me the motivation to take LGBTQ+ D&B a bit further.
How did it feel at the event? Hosting the UK’s first ever LGBTQ+ D&B rave must have been such a proud moment!
So proud! I was nervous as hell! Especially on the day: getting into drag, waiting to get to the venue, doing my set, keeping an eye on social distancing… But once I realised how much everyone was enjoying themselves, my nerves quickly settled.
“I can’t even think of a time when I was surrounded by LGBT people at a rave. It’s also nice to have some allies here as well – it’s not exclusive”.Sam Standing
“I’m gay and I love D&B – but I don’t feel like theres enough representation of our people. So tonight I’m here, I’m queer and I’m ready to go baby!”Chris
I felt one of the most important things of all was to be present as the host of the event. In D&B when you think of a host you think of an MC. But when you think of a drag host, they go around the event and actually interact with people! Whether it’s dancing, a bit of banter or something else outrageous! That’s why a lot of gay nights are so good. The drag queens can act as a sort of social-gel, which is something I wanted to bring to this Drum & Bass night.
“Seeing drag queens at a DNB rave feels great, it’s so inclusive!”.Tia
“It’s a bit sad this hasn’t happened before. But the fact that it’s happened to this scale now is great!”MC Y-zer
“It’s beautiful to feel free and comfortable with my sexuality in a space where I can be myself and love who I need to”.Mary A
If I’ve already done the most outrageous thing in the room, it means other people can feel more comfortable! Whilst some are already comfortable with their sexuality, there’s a lot of people who aren’t, so it’s important to break down all the barriers.
“I feel really proud – I just want to support everything they’re doing.”MC Chickaboo
You’re bringing so many fresh ideas to LGBTQ+ D&B – it’s desperately needed!
Well this is the thing – a lot of the pioneers of the scene were Black and/or Gay, and that is the foundation of all rave culture. It came from the Black and Gay senes in 80s Chicago. It was a very anti-establishment movement, because they had nowhere else to go and be themselves. Today, that premise is ignored. Especially in D&B which has become white and straight-washed. You know about Rage? One of the pioneering D&B events, it was held at Heaven – the UK’s most famous gay club. A super important piece of history which has sadly been forgotten.
“Is this the first LGBTQ+ DNB rave in London or the world?! It’s inspirational. I’m a queer raver and was a DNB MC in New York from 1996- 98. It’s so inspirational to finally see things like this happening”.Zeb
“It just shows you can’t judge a crowd by being LGBT or whatever, ravers are ravers”.Toya Delazy
It’s fucked that D&B is not a safe space for those communities that built it. That’s why Unorthodox is so important! Who would be your dream headliner!?
Sherelle and LCY are a couple I’d love to get down, I love both their sounds. Sherelle has already given us a couple of shout-outs which is awesome! One day I’d love to get Flava D too. The original person I was going to get was Changing Faces, a Transgender boy living in Slovakia. I love his sound too, but sadly it became too difficult to get him over once the pandemic hit. There’s quite a few Transgender people in D&B: Mandidextrous, B-Complex are two others, as well as many other lesbian DJs. I feel there’s a bigger dip with gay male DJ’s. It could be social pressures, or maybe it’s an anomaly – but hopefully more will pop up soon!
“It feels great to be in a place where I’m able to let go of the craziness and be myself 100%”Alisson Chaigneau
To round it off, how would you describe your dream for the Unorthodox in a nutshell?
I want it to grow, eventually doing shows UK wide. The sound might evolve and I’m very open to collaborations – I’ve got my eye on EQ50! I’ll always want it to remain an inclusive community where we can all come together for a super fun, positive night. I also want to show others that the D&B scene can be an accepting and inclusive place where you can be whoever you want, and that you don’t have to fit into a ‘mould’! Ultimately, I want it to get to a point where we become influential and have the ability to help shape LGBTQ+ D&B for future generations.
“We can’t just go to pubs, we need to dance. Because we are different. We need our space. I haven’t been happy like this for 6 months. Thanks to the promoters, they’ve taken such a risk for us to dance. Thank you guys. Thanks to all”.Vlad Kolodin