Voluminous Arts

Nightlife is not inherently liberatory

by Axmed Maxamed
January 27th 2022

For the first four months of the year we'll be sharing the opening talks from each of the four conversations that took place at 2021's Voluminous Arts Halloquium; A Trans and Queer led conference on nightlife. Each member of the curation committee, composed of Aveda Adara, Axmed Maxamed, Gavilán Rayna Russom and Ting Ding, introduced one of the conversations with a brief but in depth talk about the theme that formed its topic. To inaugurate the series, Queer Diasporic Somali activist, organizer and book and music nerd Axmed Maxamed shares his introduction to the first discussion of the event; an insightful look at intention, honesty, care and accountability as they apply (or often sadly do not apply) to the organization and promotion of nightlife events.

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Axmed Maxamed

“Theory is not inherently healing, liberatory, or revolutionary. It fulfills this function only when we ask that it do so and direct our theorizing towards this end.”
bell hooks - Theory of Liberatory Practice.

THIS QUOTE, from bell hooks has often been on my mind ever since I listened to her book ‘Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom’ and during the pandemic I kept coming back to it and realising how it fits within different contexts including nightlife. And when parties were starting up again this year, with many promoters ignoring that we were still in a pandemic, this quote helped me see things that were unfolding clearer. So when we were thinking about topics for the conversations of the Halloquium 2021, I believe it was Rayna who mentioned the quote, because she remembered it from one of my social posts and it became apparent that we had to have a conversation around this.

Although there are certainly 'queer' events and parties that are organised with care and community in mind, most ‘queer’ parties are straight up capitalist endeavours, both monetary and social capital. Some might start off with a mindset of really wanting to bring about change, but are co-opted after getting some form of recognition. When I say co-optation, that might seem as if I am saying that this ‘overcomes’ the promoter(s), but that is definitely not always the case. If you really want to push for change and want to provide, or help provide, space for those that are marginalized in society, you have to first acknowledge that societal injustices will be present and reproduced at any space where people come together. So you need to think deeply of what that means and how this can be addressed and minimized as much as possible. This starts within the collectives and groups of people that decide to organize an event together, but it also extends to your personal lives. Do you for example have people who are racialized in your close friend groups and if so, how do you treat them?

On a personal note, the more I started addressing inequalities such as racism and homophobia, but especially racism and specifically anti-Black racism, the more alienated I became. I am talking about people I considered friends and who considered themselves progressive and politically engaged. As you might have guessed I am mostly referring to white people here and some non-black people of colour. They are the first to yell Black Lives Matter and even run spaces and parties that are supposed to be inclusive and progressive and are the first to share fundraising posts by Black people they don’t know, but when it comes to Black people in their lives, especially the Black people who challenge their whiteness, they can’t handle the discomfort and mostly opt out of that relationship. Which in my case often meant that I didn’t get invited to gatherings anymore, to preserve the comfort of the (often) white person(s) who’s behavior I challenged. There is a quote by Sara Ahmed that comes to mind, which is “When you expose a problem you pose a problem. It might then be assumed that the problem would go away if you would just stop talking about it or if you went away.”

Again, I want to acknowledge that there are those who are organising ‘queer’ parties and other gatherings with care and community in mind and for some of them, especially in countries where queerness is against the law, those gatherings are a way of survival so I want to make a clear distinction. I am and will always be very compassionate towards those who are organizing for those reasons. But that is not the case when it comes to most people who organize 'queer' events in nightlife that I know of in Europe, North America (not including Mexico) and Australia.

As I mentioned at the beginning, during the pandemic, a lot has become much clearer to me. Ever since the majority of citizens have had access to vaccines earlier this year, in Europe and the US, events started to come back again and the way that has been and still is happening is really saddening, but very much in line with what I have stated above. This pandemic has devastated and still is devastating, people from marginalized communities the most, which also includes queer people specifically those who are racialized. Almost all 'queer' parties that I have seen starting up again are more expensive than they were before, while not providing any discounted tickets let alone free tickets to those who can't afford to pay such high prices, especially in a pandemic that devestated the communities that these parties claim to be for. Some are even asking for free labour while charging very high prices for tickets. The promoters of all these highly expensive ‘queer’ parties justify it by stating that they have not been able to make money for more than a year. Although I understand that some of the artists that are booked to play are also struggling and can't afford to refuse gigs, the least everyone can and should do is acknowledge that the higher price will exclude a lot of people that the promoters claim to be in community with. I won’t even get into how unsafe these parties are when it comes to covid.

Not every 'queer' promoter has jumped at the the chance to throw parties again and I hope that those that haven't are using and will continue to use the time to think of ways forward; where the needs of those who are hit hardest by the pandemic and societal injustices are centered. Because I do believe that nightlife has the potential to bring about change and even be revolutionary; but we need to actively and continuously work towards this goal and be self critical.

It is important to realise that as promoters, people who run clubs, music platforms and in many instances as artists, you are almost always in a position of power and it is on you to keep asking yourself why you are doing this and what YOU can do to improve.

For example, when we realised that the Dance with Pride fundraiser events were attracting too many white people and hardly any queer refugees were coming to our events, even though we were doing fundraiser for queer refugees, we knew that it was on us and that we needed to do more to change that. When you position yourself as a ‘queer’ and or ‘progressive’ and ‘inclusive’ party or space, but you are not actively and deeply having the conversations amongst the people you organise with, whether this reflects your party / space, then you will cause more harm than good. Because you will attract people that are in need of a space like the one you claim to provide, who will then most likely face the same harm they were hoping to escape from for a few hours.

Honesty and transparency are crucial in everything.