Bend&Shake is creating a safer place to party for people who need it - Features - Mixmag

Dance freely: Newcastle's Bend&Shake is creating a safer place to party for people who need it

The multi-genre, global majority-led queer party is curating amazing and necessary clubbing experiences for people who are intersectionally marginalised

  • Words: Aneesa Ahmed | Photos: Oana Clarke-Wills
  • 15 June 2023

Functions is our interview series profiling essential parties from across the world. This week: Newcastle's Bend&Shake

Based out of Newcastle, Bend&Shake is the multi-faceted, genre-defying, global majority-led queer party with the mission to spread jubilation and joy. Created by Chantal Herbert, known as Tel, it was made to take up space in the North East - an area which is “very white” and where the existing queer and LGBTQI+ spaces are “heteronormative”.

“There was a gap in the market,” Tel explains to Mixmag. “There are not many ‘alternative’ spaces, which offer the same things that we do. I wanted a night that’s multi-genre, and global majority-led and is meant for people who are intersectionally marginalised.

“Whether it’s global majority people, trans people, or non-binary people, I wanted something that fit that umbrella which is led by people you don’t really see. So while there are queer nights, they’re often led by white men and I wanted to have nights that were different.”

Creating a safer space is at the core of Tel’s values, and the party is a reflection of that. “We want to make our nights safer. Not safe because you can’t guarantee anything will be safe, but safer,” she says. “We want this event to be somewhere where our guests can be who they are, dance freely, and express themselves how they want.”

Bend&Shake also values versatility and flair in their music output, wanting to be “truly multi-genre” so that there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Their DJs spin everything from house, to techno, to amapiano, to drum ‘n’ bass, to tech-house, to pop, to hip hop - often all within the same set.

The first edition of Bend&Shake took place at Newcastle’s renowned World Headquarters, but now events at the multi-storey venue are saved for special occasions, with a smaller local space called The Old Coal Yard becoming its more regular home. Events take place every two to three months with bonus editions for occasions such as Pride or Women’s History Month.

Mixmag catches up with Tel to chat about the curation of the party, how safer spaces are created, wholesome memories from the dancefloor, and why this event is important for the community.

Logistically, how did you get the ball rolling and start the party?

I did it, mostly, myself. I know how I want things to work. It’s not that I don’t work well with others, I just want to get things done quickly and effectively. I’m 40 now, and I’ve been arranging nights for a long time so for me it’s not super hard. I just made the artwork and booked the venue, the venue helped me with some of the marketing. I do the social media, I got the logo made, it was very I guess ‘DIY’.

A lot of places claim to be ‘DIY’ but they have loads of money behind them or they’re landlords somewhere so they have resources, but this was very DIY in the sense that I’m the person. But I’ve got friends who I could ask to DJ. I also started a DJ collective, and most of them are part of Bend. I thought the worst-case scenario was I’d lose a few hundred pounds, and I had that money sitting there ready to lose and it was the risk I was willing to take. Organisational work is all done by me, even down to sometimes being at the door and also DJing the same night. But I do outsource some things such as logos and artwork.

When was the first-ever Bend&Shake, and how was it?

The first one was in November 2021 at World Headquarters in Newcastle. It was mint. I’d been doing events for a while but never anything in a venue like World Headquarters. So they have two spaces, an upstairs and a downstairs, and they normally host two club nights each evening so one in each space. I just thought we’d sell 100 tickets or something, but we sold out the entire 340-capacity space which was amazing.

A lot of the tickets sold out beforehand, which is really cool, but we did also sell a fair few on the night. I was shocked. It was the loveliest of energies, and people said this is what they needed. The first event was good, but there was another event which was very dominated by white heterosexual men in the other space and they kept coming into our night, which made our event feel less safe than it should have been. However, the next time we were at World Headquarters, the other event got cancelled so we had the entire venue to ourselves. The difference in just having the whole building to yourself, it was wonderful.

Read this next: Why Newcastle's DIY clubbing scene is thriving

When you first moved from World Headquarters to The Old Coal Yard, what was that like?

The first one [at The Old Coal Yard] sold out in about five days which was crazy, but then it means that some people can get excluded which is not what we want. But also, I like this venue because it’s more accessible. It has gender-neutral toilets, it’s single-floored, it’s not as over-simulating, it has a very personal feel.

There are more parties planned at World Headquarters. There are so many benefits to using it because it means we can have more people and welcome people into our community, and also it has the setup and the lighting and the stage to give the full rave or club experience that a lot of people are after from the party. We absolutely will not stop using that venue, but for now, I’m calling The Coal Yard our home.

Where did the name Bend&Shake come from?

I just liked the name. I wanted to call something Bend&Shake, so this felt really fitting. Someone was trying to call it bend and snap, like from Legally Blonde, but then it progressed into this. But Bend&Shake works, and normally I find it really hard to name things but this felt right.

What makes the Bend&Shake experience, either literally or metaphorically?

It’s global majority-led. When you’re intersectionally marginalised such as me, I’d call myself a fat, Black woman, you automatically have a greater sense of care for the people that you’re trying to create this safer space for. That is what makes Bend the way that it is. A lot of global majority events do have a more welcoming feel because of that. We have a safer space policy, and I also purposefully pick venues depending on what type of environment they are. Bend&Shake is not about just filling a room full of people, it extends way beyond that.

People who are on the margins of the queer scene anyway, because of how they might dress or feel, create the experience too. The people really make it the way that it is, and this has created a real alternative space for people. The curation and the range of music also really help. If you come here, you know there’s always going to be something that you like. For example, I’m not a massive fan of techno. I love tech-house, but I wouldn’t go to a queer techno night. But now we’ve created a space where you know where you can hear what you want to hear, the venue is safer, and people are going to look out for you.

Who DJs the events?

I started a DJ collective and it’s for both global majority and queer people. I’d prefer for most of us to be global majority, but being queer is the main requirement, as such. We do every event, so technically we are residents. Some of these DJs are DJ Awkward Black Girl, Azula Bandit, ffog, ivorything, Kitty, Samara, DJ Hollie and Jacklyn. We’re completely multi-genre, and each DJ brings something different to the table.

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So when you say multi-genre, can you give any examples of what gets played out at Bend&Shake nights?

Oh, everything! I’ve even played classical. Every DJ is different, and I keep the line-up as varied as possible. One plays amapiano, one does R&B but sometimes plays drum ‘n’ bass, one plays vinyl only and it’s all ‘90s house and soul, we have techno, tech-house, world, leftfield, jungle, funk. So genuinely, a real mix. There’s this orchestra called Vitamin C Quartet, and they do orchestral covers of Britney Spears and other pop classics, and I’ve played that there. Then I can go from that to hardcore or something with a lot more edge.

We all play completely different things, even within the sets. For example, Kitty played a happy hardcore version of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ at one of our winter parties! You really do never know what you’re going to hear. I try and explain to our DJs to play some niche things, but to try and keep the music accessible and to things and sounds that people are familiar with. I don’t want to alienate any audience members.

How do you hammer home your safer space policy?

So, I've got a document that I recently put into slides on Instagram. So people could just slide through and read it rather than having to do a PDF. The venues have safer space policies in place as well. It always has to be wheelchair accessible. That's one of my absolute musts. Unfortunately, with toilets, you know, you can't make everything gender-neutral, that's just how it has to be. That's venue dependent. I always say that if anyone touches you, come to me directly.

In the first event, we had to stop the music and shout someone away until they left. We follow through with actions, and if I see something that is not right then that person will be removed. I've had to ban one person from Bend before completely after they were really disrespectful to me online and I was like, I'm not having it, you know, there's no debate, it's just you're banned. I don't care. I also make things public online. If people complain about harassment, I’ll post online and say that this behaviour isn’t okay.

Luckily at World Headquarters, they have good bouncers, and they print off our safer space policy for the venue to read. The staff at both Coal Yard and World Headquarters are all great.

How does it feel knowing that you’re creating a safer space for people?

It’s really surprising. And I’m not really good at taking compliments! People haven’t experienced something like this before. After pretty much every party, someone will always reach out to thank Bend&Shake and explain that they needed a space like this. One person messaged after our most recent party to say they’ve not been in a space like this in their 34 years of living. Someone even made a zine about Bend. It was their first night out like this, and they’re an autistic person, and they created a whole zine about how amazing it made them feel.

Seeing people making zines or Instagram posts commending our events, it’s really nice. It’s so nice to see community and longevity to this, that exists outside of the club space itself. There are people I know who met at the party and now regularly see each other, and it’s heart-warming to know that people are making so much from this party that I just created because I wanted to. Selfishly, I was just doing a lot of it for me at the start. But it’s become so much bigger - and I’ve always wanted to make people comfortable and safer and that’s proven to me that what I did really was necessary. I set out to do what I wanted to do, and it paid off.

Read this next: Pxssy Palace and gal-dem's Sugar are setting the blueprint for safe clubbing

I’ve noticed that your prices are accessible, relative to the economic situation, is that something you’re trying to maintain?

I’d still say we are quite expensive, but also yeah - relatively speaking we try and keep costs as low as possible for attendees. I think going up to £15 on the door felt extortionate, but people were happy to pay for the experience. We’re in the North East, so we have to keep things accessible here. And that’s something I’ll continue to do moving forward, and if it’s too much money then people won’t even come to the event anyway. There are so many people who are fighting for their lives. I have a policy where if people message me explaining their situation, whether people are asylum seekers or just have no money, then I give out a free ticket so they can experience it. I make enough profit from the event to keep the event going and pay my DJs and some of my rent, which is enough for me.

What challenges have you faced in the process of creating the party?

Finding venues! With World Headquarters, as much as it is a great spot, it was a lot of work. We have to sell a lot of tickets, and there’s more admin and preparation attached to it. It’s a lot of work. So I had to find a mid-size space, with good people, which was very difficult for me. Also, just the odd times of non-consensual touching and getting people to respect personal space. Anything where there’s alcohol is a problem. People get handsy and can occasionally get disrespectful, but I do find it hard. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a mum role where I’m telling people off. It’s a lot of work making sure somewhere is a safer space, it’s draining. But the payoff is worth it. Bend&Shake is the light of my life, and it gives me pure joy and I find it healing to organise. While it’s tiring and isn’t easy, it’s so rewarding.

What’s the wildest thing that’s happened at one of your parties?

Honestly, we just have so many wholesome moments. There are a lot of dance-offs that happen at the party, which is always so fun. There’s nothing particularly wild, I guess it’s how you define wild. There’s a photo with Azula Bandit who was there with the mic and there was like 100 people all dancing around.

Oh! But there was this time when we were playing World Headquarters and I was DJing and Azula was MCing. I look to my side and there is a man who had a massive plushie penis on his head. He didn’t have a ticket for the party, he had come from the other event happening at the same venue. But Azula and I just looked at each other like nahhhh, and we turned the music off and the whole of Bend was just like “get out” and we said we’re not turning the music back on until you leave. He just left with his head down, and that was probably the wildest. Man with a massive penis on his head.

What’s your best memory from Bend?

We had a Bend Pride. It was absolutely beautiful. We had a day event where there was a panel discussion and colouring in. And then there was a dance in the evening which was pay as you feel, and people from the main Pride event had queued to come to Bend. That was crazy to me that people were choosing to come to this event over the other Pride events happening in the city for the weekend.

Follow Bend&Shake on Instagram

Aneesa Ahmed is a freelance journalist, follow her on Twitter

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