The internet age may be blamed by some for the beginning of the end of human communication, yet for others it has opened up new approaches to meaningful and enriching discourse. The latter applies not least to those whose identities are shunned and oppressed within mainstream society. Persons of colour, women, and members of the LGBTQI community—to name a few oppressed groups—can now, more than ever, connect with like-minded others across platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to discuss the issues important to them.
With this in mind, it seems only natural that these ‘safe spaces’ have been extended beyond the confines of online communities to clubs, dancehalls, and DIY music spaces around the world. Increasingly, promoters are curating hedonistic events that recognise the relationship between identity and oppression. At the forefront of such safer spaces are nights like London’s Body Party, amongst others.
And these nights aren’t just limited to the capital. In Leeds, promoters Jess, Harvey, Tayyab, and Helena are bringing their own flavour of club night designed to do away with discrimination and monotony. Their party, Come Thru, makes its presence known online with an eclectic use of emojis, a telling signpost to its intrinsic connection to the internet age. This, combined with a name that is at once a reference to a Drake song and a symbol of the ever increasing appropriation of African-American slang among contemporary millennials, makes Come Thru something of an alternative flagship for the emerging 21st century zeitgeist.
Their most recent party was held on 17th September at Chunk, a relatively basic DIY music space in the quiet, semi-industrial outskirts of the city. Needless to say the event was effortlessly cool. Two large, dimly lit rooms hosted a pop-up bar with a makeshift seating area and a dancefloor respectively. It was a place where fairy lighting and home-made lettering complimented a reminiscent throwback video collage of some of the most extravagant episodes of MTV’s Cribs. I found myself engaged in a typically forgettable conversation with a stranger, my ears throbbing to the music and my eyes fixated on a projection of Hulk Hogan pointing at one of his many cars. Taking over from the resident Come Thru DJs, London’s Yamaneko set an ambient and immersive tone for the night, beckoning us as listeners into a world of etherealities with a set that seemed to evade genre boundaries. As the night progressed, DJ Haram—part of the renowned Discwoman collective seeking to provide a platform for female and non-binary musicians—took over the decks, bringing with her an evocative and energetic mix of Jersey club, Middle-Eastern sounds, and experimental music.
Sound tracked with fashionably unconventional sounds and a décor to match, Come Thru was a refreshing party. I certainly had fun, and it seemed as though the promoters had largely managed to create a friendly space for everyone. A cynic at heart, however, I couldn’t help wonder whether this kind of forward-thinking night, despite all of its efforts, could really claim to eliminate harassment and structural inequality. After all, many of those in attendance were sporting the same kinds of outfits seen in the libraries and exam halls of Britain’s most popular middle-class universities. Even in my intoxicated state, I couldn’t believe that everyone in the dance had left 18+ years of social conditioning on entry. But then, perhaps I was making unwanted and unconstructive assumptions, exactly the type of thinking that nights like Come Thru are trying to get away from. I needed to talk to someone who knew more about it, so I interviewed Come Thru’s Jess and Harvey to get a better idea of what they describe as ‘positive and inclusive’ parties.
Who makes up Come Thru, where are you from, and how do you know each other?
Jess: I’m originally from down South but I came to Uni here (in Leeds). I edit a site called Truants which is an online music platform. Harvey and Fred got in touch with me and were like “Co you want to start a party with Truants?”. We had some mutual friends and just joined forces from there. I was thinking the other day actually, that the internet is where a lot of our Come Thru friends have able to connect and put our ideas together. Platforms like Twitter have really allowed us to find like-minded people who share the same dissatisfaction that we’ve had with our own clubbing experiences.
You advertise Come Thru as promoting inclusive and positive parties. What does that mean and, more importantly, why do you think it is necessary?
Harvey and Jess: There is a rich clubbing history in Leeds and a lot of it is House and Techno. Don’t get me wrong we love House and Techno. We just think there is an abundance of it in Leeds. We weren’t hearing a lot of diversity in the types of music offered by the clubbing scene so we thought, why not introduce it ourselves? As for the positive and inclusive side of the party, there are a lot of clubs that don’t provide a comfortable experience for some people. (Jess) As a woman in particular, going to certain club spaces can be quite intimidating. I don’t want to be groped every time I go out, and it was getting to the point where I didn’t enjoy clubbing and didn’t want to go out. We wanted to make sure the space and the environment was a comfortable one. (Harvey) Yeah, and we wanted to make sure that the people we book are diverse in terms of musical sounds, and also in terms of the backgrounds people are from. We’re just trying to make sure that our line ups don’t only give a platform for white dudes.
So how do you make this happen?
Well, we know Come Thru isn’t perfect, and aren’t claiming to be totally original with what we are doing. We do have a safer spaces policy that encourages people to behave respectfully and to come forward if they have any problems. As promoters we try to make ourselves visible on the night and accountable so that people’s concerns don’t get ignored or lost. We can’t 100% ensure everyone’s safety but we want people to know that we are doing as much as we can to make sure no one is being a dick to you. We are currently developing a much more comprehensive set of policies to make sure that we keep things as positive as possible.
Do you think your nights have been successful in promoting these policies so far?
Jess and Harvey: Yeah, each time we’ve seen everyone having a lot of fun and there has always been a really diverse set of people at Come Thru. It’s been great to see people turn up that aren’t our friends, who have heard about the night and like it. Holding our night at Chunk (a DIY music space) has really allowed us to have more control over who we let in and what we do.
Are there any genres or artists that go against your policy of inclusivity that you would not include in Come Thru nights?
We have definitely thought about this. The problem is that to exclude some types of music based on its content can often have racist connotations, particularly towards black musicians in Hip Hop and RnB. The thing with Come Thru is that we try to showcase such a huge range of different genres and DJs, and try to mx it up every time.
Evidently, no space can be labelled as unconditionally safe or equal for everyone. Even the alternative clubbing scenes of Leeds and beyond cannot be totally removed from the inequality that dictates the rest of society. But the efforts of those putting on nights like Come Thru are not to be overlooked. Indeed, this re-imagining of parties as a space for resistance against the status quo comes at a time when many music enthusiasts are levelling valid criticisms towards the male, middle-class appropriation of traditionally counter-culture genres such as Techno and House. At the very least, these nights do a better job in preventing discrimination and exclusion than many older clubbing establishments. If you haven’t been to a safer spaces night yet, I suggest you do so as soon as you can. But if you’re going to come thru, remember to leave The Patriarchy at the door.
Filed under: Music