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Body Movements festival was a landmark occasion for queer self-expression

East London’s first queer electronic music festival reunited communities and allowed them to be free and express themselves in a post-lockdown world

  • Words: Aneesa Ahmed | Photography: Gemma Bell
  • 12 November 2021

Hackney Wick’s Body Movements, the East London’s first queer electronic music festival, is a landmark occasion for queer self-expression and celebration in a post-lockdown society. Taking place in early October with festival season shifting into autumn by the late reopening of nightlife, the sold-out event, founded by DJ Saoirse and Little Gay Brother's Clayton Wright, features 20 collectives, 16 spaces and an astonishing line-up of DJs, performers, and artists.

A rush of sweet sensory overload is felt upon arrival to Body Movements, in anticipation of a day spent revelling in music, dance, hedonism and laughter. Arriving at the ticketing area of the festival, the celebration immediately feels special. The sunlight refracts off of the shiny clothing garments worn by festival goers, all of whom are dressed in various combinations of sequin, leather, latex, faux fur and colour — a spectacle that has been unseen for the long lockdown months of the pandemic. The cluster of food and drink stands makes the venue smell appealing, and there’s a relaxed energy amid festival attendees seated across benches and leaning against walls, cigarettes in hand and sipping on beers in the October sun.

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Beats are audible in the distance: dissonant sounds bouncing off each other, emanating from the several locations where warm-up DJs are getting started, mixed in with the screams of reunions between friends who have not seen each other since March 2020. One pair embrace and declare their excitement to be able to dance together. For these attendees, Body Movements embodies something greater than most festivals in the calendar — bringing together their queer identities, friendships and love for dance music/ “Gay club culture is left for the night-time”, I was told by someone I met at the bar. “Well, hello, I’m here! In the sun, showing off my legs and ready for a good time! I’m tired of waiting until dark, it’s like waiting in the shadows”. Despite being October, revellers show skin and soak up the last of the early autumn rays.

“This isn’t what Hackney Wick used to look like”, one East London local attendee says to me as I sign in at the ticketing office, explaining that the space has seen several new apartment blocks erected over the course of the pandemic — a gentrification move that is not welcomed by many of the locals who champion the local identity of Hackney Wick. “We’ve also seen lots of these businesses suffer, so it’s nice that the organisers are not leaving them out,” she adds, in reference to the 16 Hackney Wick venues hosting various collectives and performers throughout the day.

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HE.SHE.THEY’s Sophia Kearney says the same as we stand with a drink in hand and sway to the beats played by Wax Wings at the Lord Napier Star. Wax Wings and Sophia both cherish this “amazing” occasion following what has been a tough year-and-a-half for their collective, as well as for many other collectives who are present. “It’s nice to be able to see people have free reign over their day and their choice of activity,” Sophia says. Her statement rings true. People having full autonomy to attend whatever venue they want and to listen to whoever they want seems like the perfect personification of what the day represents — coming together after lockdown to be free, unite, and listen to music.

Founder Clayton Wright says he felt both fear and excitement when planning and hosting this eventm noting that there’s a lot of pressure to get it right because of the sheer amount of people that he feels obligated to represent. “I just want to make people happy”, he explains. “Collaboration and solidarity is what I want to achieve, we wanted to bring several groups together and represent a diverse range of queer bodies. At the end of the day, we wanted to come together and we’re here to enjoy the music.” Clayton is keen to hear my perspective, as a young queer person with limited experience in the club, rave and festival scene, and wants to ensure that people like myself can use this event as a learning experience too. DJ Saoirse mirrored this sentiment during our conversation at La Terezza, sharing that there are several acts present who she herself has not seen and that is excited to check out and learn about them in real life, as opposed to just on Instagram. “I’m just glad we’re here and we got to make this happen for this reason”.

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Queer electronic artists and individuals from all around are represented at the event. "After all, we want to demonstrate that we have more in common than you would think," Clayton says. Manchester's Homodrop and High Hoops, Sheffield’s Club Rush, Leeds' Love Muscle, and Glasgow's Lezzer Quest are all present. Herrensauna and Homo Drop from Berlin, Grace from Dublin, and MARICAS from Barcelona are also representing their local scenes. These collectives are among many scattered around Hackney Wick, turning each stationary space into a temporary home.

Love Muscle DJs Michael Upson and Sayang get people moving with some techy house beats, and more and more people start to move up from their seats to dance to the beat. A fun, rhythmic set by Club Rush’s Pig Ignorant at HWK Terrace also gets people moving more, setting the mood for the day.

News that Daytimers, one of London’s most spoken-about collectives in 2021, are taking over Old Street Brewery spreads. The dimly lit venue is packed with Daytimers regulars and showcases a colourful set by anu and a fun, freeing b2b from Gracie T and DJ Priya, featuring South Asian classical samples and cheeky bangers remixed. anu sports a dupatta, representing her South Asian heritage at a festival of queerness. DJ Priya and Gracie T, long-time Instagram best friends, tell me that being at Body Movements is the second time they have ever met in person and their first ever b2b performance. The DJs proudly wear cultural clothing and spend the day exploring the other stages, all while getting to know each other in real life, and have a boogie over at The Yard Courtyard, where Big Dyke Energy had packed up the space.

At The Yard Courtyard, Reece Spooner and Amaliah fill the outside area with UKG, trance, breaks and percussion club edits. Lewis G Burton performs an incredible two-hour techno session at Colour Factory, during which I over multiple sniffs from poppers bottles and feel the ambiance get warmer and more intimate. Their set is accompanied by a string of high-energy dancers, all of whom spark a strong reaction from the crowd. Following that, Jasmine Infiniti delivers an intoxicating techno set to an audience hungry for another pulsating two hours. The music from Colour Factory booms through the rest of the area, causing large queues to form outside the venue with many eager to see what’s in store.

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Over at the Crate Terrace, a huge 4 hour long b2b2b2b set featuring Ellie Stokes, Suze Rosser, ZenZero and Butch Queen goes off. As part of Bitch, Please!, these acts deliver various combinations of high octaves, high drums, high synths and immaculate vibes - a set which gets the people moving, the drinks flowing, and the intimacy growing as it starts to turn dark.

As the night draws on and the weather gets cooler, I know that the best way to warm myself up is to head back towards the canal for Saoirse and Eris Drew at Studio 9294. Saoirse does not disappoint, blending techno, trance and house with eye-catching visuals as a backdrop. Eris Drew serves up a high-octane experience which one reveller describes as “trippy”. Fans leave the set feeling tantalised by the sonics of her experimental selections and the accompanying stage visuals that complimented Eris’ whimsical persona.

While cooling down with a pint after a day full of music, I bump into one of the DJs playing who seems overwhelmed by what is happening. Their set at the festival was a monumental milestone in their career and acted as the largest display of self-expression that they’ve performed to date. For them, and some others in their collective, it was their first performance while out as a queer person - something that some of their own family members still do not know. Playing at a large-scale event such as this is a milestone for their own personal journey as a DJ and a queer person.

For the night-time, festival goers have an array of afterparties to choose from, all of which are also taking place in Hackney Wick. There’s trUst X MARICAS with a line-up including ISAbella b2b Saoirse and Jaye Ward; Herrensauna with the likes of CEM, Jasmine Infinitii and MCMLXXXV; Harpies x Little Gay Brother starring Eris Drew b2b Octo Octa; and Chapter 10 with Dan Beaumont, Charlie Porter, D.Tiffany, LSDXOXO and Nadine Artois on deck.

However, no day is perfect and every new festival comes with a few teething problems. Some of the revellers I speak to say that they couldn’t help but feel somewhat disheartened at the queue times outside each venue, and are wary of making decisions to leave one area to catch an act they want to see in case of a long wait. “It’s just annoying that after waiting so long to gain entrance into the festival itself, I’m having to wait ages to enter the stage,” one explains on the way into watching Saoirse. We’re simply too spoiled for choice and at times struggle to navigate the ambitious timetabling packed into the 12 hours. The sound also struggles at some spots around the festival “I couldn’t even hear the synths,” one punter complains on the way out of Bar 90 following Job Jobse’s set, where euphoric trance melodies were swallowed in bass fuzz.

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But technical and execution issues are expected in any inaugural event, especially one with such a pioneering mission. Every person that I encounter recites that the event is serving its purpose of bringing together queer bodies in electronic music, shining a light on diverse talent and making people dance — all while having a harmonious post-lockdown reunion. Body Movements is a way in which they can reconnect with their identities, connect with others, connect with music and rebuild and transform the sense of community that was hindered due to the pandemic. For that reason, it’s a huge success.

“I’m ready to do it all over again,” says one happy dancer on the way out. It will be interesting to see what the festival takes from this year into future events - with time to work on any technical or timetabling issues. But as long as it continues to centre queer expression and queer enjoyment, it will not disappoint.

Aneesa Ahmed is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

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