The first club that I set foot into when I moved to Leeds was Mission, for an R&B night that I had bought a group ticket for with my new flatmates in the weeks leading up to fresher’s week. I had moved to Leeds with high expectations for the nightlife, after reading about it on websites such as The Student Room, with everybody raving about venues such as Beaver Works, Canal Mills and Mint Warehouse where all the ‘cool’ and ‘edgy’ kids frequented. As Freshers’ Week progressed, I found myself buying more and more tickets to events, splitting my time between the group of friends that I had made in halls and the Afro-Caribbean society. Whilst I had a good freshers experience, it started to begin to feel like a chore to go out, and after seeing such staples as Hybrid Minds and Chase and Status for the 20th time at Mint Warehouse, I had had enough.
Although I had come to university as an out and proud queer black woman, I began to feel myself supressing my queer identity as I navigated these majority white, straight spaces and I felt lost and desperate, initially clinging to the Afro-Caribbean Society as a safe haven away from this. At first, I quite enjoyed being a part of ACS as it connected me to my culture and reminded me of home, but then I began to realise that I needed more than what it could offer me, and again I had found myself hiding my identity in the name of keeping in touch with my culture. I hadn’t joined the LGBT society as I didn’t feel as though it was a space for me and found it hard to fit in to the mainstream LGBT clubbing scene at venues such as Tunnel and Viaduct. By the end of my first two months at Leeds I felt defeated, isolated and conflicted. My love for underground electronic music simply did not align with either of these two groups, and whilst I love afrobeats and feel good pop anthems, I wanted to step out and explore.
Attending a screening of ‘The Bi Life’ organised by a member of the ACS committee completely turned everything around for me. I had no one to go with and almost didn’t turn up out of fear, but I did, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, opening doors that have changed my life forever. There, I met more individuals like me, queer people of colour looking for spaces that were safe and accommodated for them. After being added to the QTIPoC (Queer, trans, intersex people of colour) Leeds group chat, I got to know more of the community and began to attend QTIPoC events, my first being the Pxssy Palace takeover at Open Source Arts. My second semester was spent attending DIY events such as Slut Drop, Not Exotic, Flesh in Tension, and Tongue n Teeth where I heard amazing Black female DJs like as Plugkeisha and Kessie play. Each night I would go back to my dingy flat at James Baillie Park, feeling fulfilled and inspired by the music they played, delving into experimental forms of techno and club music with RnB and Grime influences. Alternative alcohol-free spaces such as Late Night Tea were also available fortnightly for those that wanted to meet other QTIPoC, a chance to meet the wider community in Leeds. In these spaces I finally felt at home, and most importantly – seen.
The rest of my first year was spent developing new clubbing experiences, making new friends, listening to queer POC DJs and exploring my own identity as a queer black woman. By the end of the year I had found a community that I loved and was passionate about preserving. A key event for me was the House of Flava ball, which took place in the summer at Freedom Mills and was sponsored by Red Bull in collaboration with Our Space Leeds. It was my first Vogue ball, and featured DJ’s from the Pxssy Palace collective, House of Flava (A Leeds based QTIPoC kiki house), LSDXOXO and a legend in the ballroom scene; MikeQ. I’ve been obsessed with ballroom culture ever since I first watched Paris is Burning at the age of fifteen, so going to a ball was a dream come true, especially as it served as a representation of the socio-political struggles of the QTIPoC community and queer youth. The ball was where I met two of my best friends and was the beginning of the formation of our own queer collective, RAT Party, a collective led by and supporting QTIPoC, sex workers and the gender diverse. A big part of our ethos is to help facilitate more safe spaces in Leeds for queer youth, taking techno back to its origins as a genre led by and for QTIPoC.
Through this, I want to remove the stigma of listening to ‘untz untz’ music, a term coined in the Black community to label the genres of house, techno, garage and drum and bass as ‘white’. When I first started getting into the genre, I watched a documentary called Black to Techno, learning about the birth of techno in Detroit, and how white DJ’s from Canada and Europe co-opted and whitewashed the genre, turning it into a largely white and straight subculture. The gentrification of our spaces over the years has led to the development of ‘Rave Reparations’, a self-described social experiment based in Los Angeles working to hold event’s organisers accountable for curating diverse line-ups and working closely with party promoters to offer discounted tickets for POC. This kind of work has already started in Leeds, with clubs such as Wire and Wharf Chambers facilitating safe spaces for Black, brown and queer people and offering discounted tickets through events such as Not Exotic and Love Muscle. Despite the impact of COVID on the nightlife industry, I’m hopeful for the future, and hope to see more QTIPOC reclaiming our culture back in Leeds.
Header image: Alamy