Meet The Queer Artists & Activists Creating Change

From community organisers driving queer liberation movements and business innovators challenging LGBTQIA+ media representation to a host of queer musicians making their voices heard, this Pride Month meet the queer stars of our #9 'Make Noise' issue.

This story originally appeared in the #9 ‘Make Noise’ issue featuring Phoebe Bridgers, Girl in Red and Bree Runway, which you can purchase now from our online store.

Matthew Blaise

Words by Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin

Matthew Nwozaku Chukwadi Blaise is a 21-year-old gay and non-binary community organiser in Nigeria. Advocating for a range of socio-political issues, they are part of a new, unapologetic generation of queer Nigerians who have been driving forward a powerful queer liberation movement for the past three years. Blaise centres community care and mutual aid for queer individuals within an especially homophobic and hostile landscape.

Abiding by the notion that self-care is community care, Blaise creates safe spaces for queer people to access therapy, engage with the community, have discussions on sexual and mental health, and also to have fun by watching queer movies; they resist oppression by collecting queer joy within an environment that criminalises queer people for organising and gathering. Blaise is a beacon of light within a shadowy world of imposed secrecy – shining bright through social media campaigns and visible resilience, inspiring queer Nigerians across the world.

What do you ‘make noise’ about? 

I make noise about being gay, femme, poor, dark-skinned, fat, and being a student in Nigeria. These are social-political issues that my advocacy centres around because they are all my identities, and I’m being punished by the state and society for them.

What was your greatest achievement in 2020?

My greatest achievement was the success of the safe spaces that I created. With the law prohibiting queer people from gathering and organising in Nigeria, with a maximum guilty sentence of 10 years imprisonment, queer organisers have to work extra hard to beef up security. This is very difficult and costly in this capitalist world; then there is the anxiety that comes with breaking the law. What if someone snitched? Hence, the success of those events was my greatest achievement. Seeing queer people gather, drink, eat, access therapy, laugh, cry, sleep, and wake without any cis-heterosexual in sight is all I live for.

 Are you working on anything special at the moment? 

Structuring my advocacy. I’ve also started this with my new initiative, The Oasis Project. Through being cognizant of the people who have started this work before us, we understand that there needs to be a multilateral approach to address the present situation for queer people. This initiative will be a Nigeria-based registered not-for-profit-organisation, working to create a society of more aware and diverse people, where human rights are guaranteed regardless of status, identity, orientation, and affiliation. We exist to educate, uphold, empower, and promote the rights and humanity of all Nigerians.

In Nigeria, we understand that minorities, especially the LGBT community, are in dire need of safe spaces. We provide a place to connect and engage, find camaraderie and support, and celebrate the vibrancy and growth of the LGBTQ community, and the journey towards acceptance. Out of this hub, we will operate a resource center where minorities can receive mental and sexual health consultancy, and an emergency response where the case applies. All these will be easily accessible through the online platform.

What are your goals for 2021?

I want to be able to achieve goals for The Oasis Project, which are also my own personal goals – to create more safe spaces, make a safe house for Trans people, and have a big commemoration of the #ENDHOMOPHOBIAINNIGERIA and #ENDSARS Movements in Nigerian. I want to be able to attend a queer conference, and be intentional about the undying love I have for myself.

CHAV

Words by Madeline Reid, photography by Elena Mudd

A conceptual artist using the palette of pop music, CHAV {Sh-Ah-V} bounces between saturated PC pop and post-modern R&B with a punk sensibility, combining clever wordplay and melodic suites. Their latest release ‘Growing Up Together’ is an anthem for unity in the face of racial injustice. “It’s a song about putting the ego aside and saying, ‘I am flawed, here I am with my baggage, bare,” says CHAV. “It’s not always the easiest thing to appreciate in one another; our ugliness, our truths. But I’m coming here with an open heart and an open mind for us to really grow together.”

CHAV centres their work around amplifying marginalised voices in music, and in 2019 joined forces with vocalist Ms White and manager Rick Marcello to create Flat Pop Records, a queer-led music label that champions LGBTQI+ artists. “Obviously, things have changed a lot this past year, but my mission has remained the same – to understand what it means to give back to your community. Currently, that’s included me giving myself space to understand and appreciate the collective trauma that we’re experiencing and how that also relates to my day to day, individually, personally.”

No stranger to performing, CHAV spent pre-pandemic touring alongside past BRICKS cover stars Dorian Electra, Allie X and Brooke Candy. But looking forward, CHAV is ready to take centre stage and is gearing up for their debut project, Totally, slated for release later this year. “CHAV, as a pop project and concept, is truly about recognizing how big you can be, and hopefully inspiring people to know that about themselves,” they explain. “Through my life and discovering different creative mediums I’ve met with so many amazing queer, trans and PoC artists, and their stories truly live with me.”

“My core message is to all the queer, trans, POC folks out there,” CHAV says, is “that you can and should take up the room, and share the things that you might be fearful to communicate, or that sometimes aren’t the popular thing to say. You are allowed to share yourself, and you should be encouraged to do so.”

Ms White

Words by Madeline Reid

Ms White, or Marina (her off-stage name and eponymous EP title), creates jazz-infused anthems for lost souls. Her voice is husky and sultry and sad, like a broken heart-shattering between the keys of a sticky, speakeasy piano. It sounds like it came from another era, echoing Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, and yet her music could not be more of its time. In her 2019 EP, Ms White expertly explores the themes surrounding her transition, touching on nostalgia, young love and reclamation with heartbreak and humour in equal measure.

What was your greatest achievement in 2020?

A lot of my past music was me holding up a mirror to boys and relationships and other people who had seemingly wronged me unequivocally. And while that can be therapeutic, I’ve lately found it a lot more informative to flip the mirror onto myself and gaze upon my flaws. While it’s been cathartic for me to express being fed up with other people, eventually I found I was fed up with myself. My arms are so tired from having my guard up. I want to believe that I can be happy and warm and compassionate even when the world has taught me not to be! When the world has taught many of us not to be.

The album explores deeply personal themes surrounding your trans experience, a topic not often explored in popular music. How do you feel about trans representation in the music industry right now?

I was incredibly devastated to hear about Sophie’s death, and it put a lot into perspective for me that has maybe complicated my answer. This industry is allergic to real progression and is run by executives who are incredibly resistant to the idea of trans people being able to make and sell their own art – cis people love to create their own narratives of who and what they think trans people are. We have a select few incredibly monumental trans artists in the industry who have carved their own paths out of sheer brilliance and talent; artists who are so good at what they do that it is undeniable to the powers that be. But there is little room for error despite some of the absolute bullshit cis “talent” we see these days. Trans art has to be perfect, or else it is not worth anyone’s investment or development or care. 

You joined Flat Pop Records in 2019 with a focus on supporting LGBTQ+ musicians. What are you most proud of in the work you’ve achieved so far?

Definitely the wide range and breadth of events that we at Flat Pop have put together in order to showcase a variety of queer and trans talent. We are always looking for new and unique voices that we believe deserve more of a spotlight, and who aren’t the kind of affinity artists that are typically highlighted in the average lineup. To be honest, some of our progress and work was slowed by COVID, so I think the best is yet to come. I personally have been keeping tabs on some artists I’ve come across without labels or direction who are making really good music and I am excited for when we sign someone new to the label. 

QUEER HOUSE PARTY

Words by Hannah Bertolino, photography by Yvette Barzey

Queer House Party is the DJ collective organising virtual dance parties and club nights to combat the isolation faced by the LGBTQIA+ community throughout the pandemic – all while harnessing memories of the sweaty, euphoric nights out of the past.

The past year has seen a wave of alienation experienced by LGBTQIA+ community members due to the closing of queer-centred spaces, leaving people without safe-spots to express themselves without judgement or danger. Luckily for queer club kids – activists and DJs, Harry Gay, Wacha, and Passer – launched the collective on the first Friday of lockdown one as a way to bring together the community through online raves backed by radical messaging. 

Besides providing cathartic escapism, Queer House Party stands up for its community-members, educating followers through political Instagram posts and live streams, providing BSL interpreters alongside events, and raising money for those in need. “We keep our politics and commitment to accessibility central to everything we do – we love to kick off!” explains Harry Gay. 

Otherwise, the collective runs free of charge in order to build up a community where as many queer people as possible can show up to celebrate until they can party together again in person.

“We’re constantly just flabbergasted by the joy and bravery of people turning up to our parties month after month and being camp and silly and kind and flirty with each other in the midst of a really bleak time,” said Wacha. “It takes a lot of guts and imagination to find new ways to connect with our communities and show up for what we care about in the face of such adversity, and seeing everyone every month reminds us how inspiring the community is.” 

Joel Rivera

Words by Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin

Joel Rivera is an Afro-Caribbean abolitionist and LGBTQIA+ activist based in New York. Whether they are resisting arrest in strappy heels and a flowing white gown or representing pure queer joy surrounded by a halo of bright orange feathers, Rivera is building a home of hope upon the foundations that were laid by the Black trans women at the Stonewall Riots.

Throughout the past year, Rivera organised a series of protests outside the Stonewall Inn, to remind all that Stonewall was a riot, and that there is much work to be done before all members of the queer community are free from oppression. Community building lies at the centre of Rivera’s intention and action, as she converts anger into beauty, strength and resilience. Joel Rivera is leading queer Black New Yorkers down the road to liberation as Marsha P. Johnson did before her – full of tenderness and power.

What do you ‘make noise’ about? 

I make noise about the systemic racism that plagues this country in every space, including healthcare, housing, education, workforce, police brutality, etc.

How have you been fostering a sense of community while in lockdown? 

By protesting and by being a part of the Stonewall Protests community. We have formed a family based on mutual aid, abolition, and respect.

Are you working on anything special at the moment? 

Currently, I am trying to make the Stonewall Protests a non-profit to help us buy property so our Black Trans and queer sibling can have housing.

Who inspires you?

My Black Trans siblings.

What are your goals for 2021?

Continuing to strive for Black Liberation.

Grove

Words by Letizia Consiglio, photography by Khali Ackford

Grove is the genderqueer vocalist, producer and DJ exploring a mixture of club, hip-hop and hyper-pop that challenges socio-political norms and expresses the musician’s magnetic character. Hailing from Bristol, they compose raging and unrelenting sounds that reminisce 90s rave and boast modern jungle beats while interrogating themes of sexuality, race and society. 

Earlier this year the artist released their first EP QUEER + BLACK which boldly explores the musician’s personal and political identity against the backdrop of dynamic and aggressive beats and strong vocals. The latest track release called ‘Fuck Ur Landlord’ is a blazing political statement about the inherently white supremacist idea of land-owning. “This is a call for the proletariat to challenge the concept of land-owning and landlords. This system is increasing wealth divide year by year, generation by generation,” they assert. 

Working on the EP on a modest production set-up and during tough lockdown restrictions, the multifaceted artist didn’t shy away from a challenge but rather appreciated their enriching process of song-writing and producing. “Knowing you’ve got such a limited set of parameters makes you push yourself and learn the intricacies of what you’ve got,” they say. 

As both a producer and vocalist, Grove is influenced by the electric soundwaves from artists such as Aïsha Devi and Kahn and is lyrically stimulated by sensual artists such as Sevdaliza and FKA Twigs. Grove’s innovative mix of electrifying genres and lyrics of a confrontational nature constitute the signature sound of the prolific artist which links them to a growing community of politically-oriented musicians.

In the future, Grove will continue to produce conversation-stirring and exhilarating tunes and aims to elevate their “connectivity with other like-minded creators.”

Reveal Party

Words by Gilda Bruno, photography by Oscar Emil Momberg-Jørgensen

A trans woman determined to voice her story through music, Emily Holm Nyhuus is the lead singer and songwriter of the synth-pop alternative band Reveal Party from Copenhagen. Drawing inspiration from The Japanese House, Yo La Tengo, The 1975, Lorde, Soccer Mommy, and more, Emily processes her “gay trans angst into indie & emo cred.”

With a new album and EP in the making, Reveal Party – Emily’s “little factory” as she likes to call it – embodies her well-deserved personal and artistic rebirth following the gender transition she underwent to embrace her truest self. Making noise about the trans experience from her very own perspective, the singer hopes to serve as a mirror for everyone to reflect on themselves through; an opportunity for others to empathise with her emotions while learning more about their own persona in return. “I’d like my honest experiences to be a solace for the international trans community,” she explains. “My work is an invitation for cis people to understand our stories and become good LGBTQ+ allies.”

In Reveal Party’s debut EP, You Stole A Year Of My Life (2020), the singer retraced the 15-month waiting period to access hormone treatment and condemned the medical negligence of the Danish Healthcare System. “I felt powerless,” Emily said thinking back on those days. “Having other people judge your identity to decide whether you’re eligible for treatment is dehumanising. To me, this first EP was a way to regain control over my life and create some meaning out of this incredibly lonely moment.” 

Lynks

Words Emily Blundell Owers, photography Mars Washington

Lynks is the self-described “masked something from South East London, trying [their] best to become an international popstar.” Results, they say, have thus far been “mixed”, though you wouldn’t know it from the attention garnered by their second EP, ‘Smash Hits, Vol.2’, released this January. Gigs, however, often artists’ most tangible measure of their success, have been postponed by the pandemic; to perform again, in a club, is one of Lynks’ main ambitions for 2021.

The 22-year-old’s aesthetic revels in referential joy, as inspired by McQueen and Lee Bowery as it is by “misremembered Drag-Race outfits.” Think horned gimp-suits, balaclavas and ballgowns, a visual loudness mirroring their sound, which bops between avant-pop, techno and queercore as Lynks spits tongue-in-cheek witticisms overtop. Their desire to produce “big, loud music that [they] love,” and make us “wiggle around” in the process is one they’re already achieving – every Lynks song is a party, even if lyrically it’s sometimes the kind where you find yourself sulking in the smokers’.

We’re beyond excited to hear more of Lynks’ self-deprecating, perceptive and silly noise, whether they continue addressing uncertainty, queerness, successes (or lack thereof) with boys and the job market, or simply “chat shit,” like on their recently penned track, “listing different types of whales/wails/Wales over a chaotic techno-house beat.” Lynks’ willingness to exhibit their complexity is a leaf they think labels should take from their book: moving away from “pigeonholing artists into genres based on their minority” and toward trusting audiences, who are “more receptive to diversity and variety than labels give them credit for.” Only then can “the landscape of music be a better and more equal place.”

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