Tired of overexposed queer artists in pop circles? Listening to way too much Elton John for your queer music fix? Before CLOCKENFLAP, the biggest music and arts festival in Hong Kong coming in November, check out these 5 new bands for a breath of fresh air.
Punk duo PWR BTTM are probably one of the only queercore bands around (as of now), but despite their ties to an overwhelmingly political genre, members Liv Bruce and Ben Hopkins aren’t explicitly trying to push an agenda – nor do they take themselves too seriously, or, in true punk fashion, see the need to recruit a bass player. They’re just trying to take up space, and exist – as two queer individuals in dresses and glitter, screaming their way into an industry where glitter really wasn’t an option. Their debut album, Ugly Cherries (Hopkins’ response to being labelled a ‘fruit’) is both messy and articulate, with witty lyrics and arrangements that don’t seem to be trying hard at all, yet are profound both in their proficiency and honesty. They sing about boys, their expectations and insecurities above fun, catchy, noise-pop melodies, a record truly reflective of being a queer-identifying young person – fun and overwhelmingly exciting, but with nagging insecurities that come with being yourself in a binary, heteronormative society.
Despite these insecurities PWR BTTM isn’t about to mute their queerness is anytime soon – as Bruce puts it, ‘why would we put on a pair of pants and a sweater when what we wanna wear is a gown?’
Song Recommendations: Ugly Cherries, 1994, I Wanna Boi, West Texas
As their name suggests, Toronto band Dilly Dally came about because founding members Katie Monks and Liz Ball love to do nothing. Reeling from the lack of direction that inevitably comes with adolescence, Dilly Dally was born out of this void when the two childhood friends began to feel grounded in their shared love of angsty guitar music. Strongly influenced by groups with strong melodies and a distinct devil-may-care stage presence, Dilly Dally is probably the most purist form of grunge and garage rock revival you’ll find today – distortion cranked up to ten and not a synth in sight. Dilly Dally writes ‘when something happens’, and debut LP ‘Sore’ tells us that their lives have been eventful, to say the least. On ‘Desire’, Monks explores the potent, almost animalistic frustration that comes with love and lust through lyrics that describe an encounter with an otherworldly beauty, and on ‘Green’, delivers some poetry among the chaos with the lines ‘I need food and I need light/and darling I need you’. On ‘Sore’, Katie Monks and Dilly Dally are onto something – between Monks’ slurred yet intense vocal delivery and Ball’s tight, melodic guitar licks, they truly prove that there is no better way to fall in love than to scream about it shortly afterwards.
Recommended songs: Desire, Green, Ballin Chain
Julien Baker is many things very loudly – unapologetically emotional, unapologetically Christian and unapologetically queer. With this preface to her music, you’d expect her to snarl and yell with politically-fuelled rage but in reality it’s quite the opposite. Her debut album ‘Sprained Ankle’ is essentially Baker’s personal and cathartic diary through the most tumultuous parts of her 20 years of existence; through love and loss, through navigating faith and coming out, through existential crises and through merely becoming. Each track has an undeniable rawness and emotion that probably churned Baker’s insides to write and has the unique capacity to strike the core of its listeners with the same intensity. A proud Southerner with deep religious ties, Baker says she initially struggled with her faith when first accepting her queerness; when coming out to her father at 17, she found acceptance where she expected condemnation and since then has embraced both facets of her identity in earnest – in a performance of ‘Rejoice’, Baker sings “I think there’s a God and he hears either way/when I rejoice and complain’, while her guitar reverberates, hanging on a rainbow strap.
Song Recommendations: Sprained Ankle, Rejoice, Something
Queer girl Ellen Kempner fronts Boston indie-rock band Palehound, fusing technical and innovative guitar melodies and instrumentation with lyrics straight out of an introvert’s diary. Kempner’s definitely done her fair share of youthful contemplation in a dimly lit bedroom – but listening to her confident guitar riffs and articulate, insightful lyrics, you’d soon understand just how necessary it was for them to leave the privacy from which they undoubtedly emerged. Kempner was initially apprehensive about becoming a performer, speaking in an interview about her innate fear that her audience ‘could be judging the way I look, or judging the way I play guitar, or… judging me for singing about girls’, and if you love it when worlds collide, Kempner credits longtime friend Sadie Dupuis (of Boston indie-rock band Speedy Ortiz) with helping her accept her queerness – initially nervous about coming out to Dupuis, she was relieved to find her friend pointing to her shoes upon hearing Kempner’s secret, stating simply: ‘These are not straight-girl boots.’ Although her identity has never overshadowed her music, Kempner never shies away from her queerness – even by just throwing in a female pronoun in some of her lyrics, she cultivates an authentic, unapologetic version of herself through each track, and as an artist, the importance of this truly cannot be understated.
Song Recommendations: Cinnamon, Molly, Dixie Cup
R&B powerhouse The Internet aren’t exactly an upcoming band – but they haven’t quite made it into the mainstream yet and frontwoman/producer Syd Tha Kid is an often overlooked queer-identified talent with a nuanced and somewhat controversial history. Initially starting her career in the hip-hop collective Odd Future, being a member of the collective began to clash with her identity as a queer woman when Odd Future became notorious for their use of homophobic language, and Syd’s side project The Internet thus became a priority, releasing acclaimed 2015 record Ego Death. Never shying away from discussing love and relationships starkly from her own point of view (perhaps a cathartic process in itself), tracks like ‘Girl’ and ‘Just Saying/I Tried’ see Syd draw upon her experiences with women, and with tones fluctuating from sensual to bitter, each a poignant reflection of love and loss, while ‘Penthouse Cloud’ draws from a far more political stimulus – written the day the Michael Brown verdict was announced, the song deals with her frustrations with individuals in positions of power and privilege, acting as a protest (or at the very least, a call-out) against the ‘them, not us’ mentality that she sees as ubiquitous.
Recommended Tracks: Just Sayin/I Tried, Gabby, Girl, Go With It
Words by Lee Phillips