mladen milinkovic wants melbourne’s music scene to face up to queer safety
The musician spoke to i-D about how dangerous misrepresentation and tokenism can be.
Photography Nadeemy Betros
Mladen Milinkovic is the brain behind underground pop act Lalic, a Melbourne-based band that began as Milinkovic's adolecent bedroom project. Now a five-piece (whose members include Liv Jansz, Liam Barton, Lucas George and Andrew McEwan), they've just dropped the first single, Zenith, from their upcoming LP Portal.
As their musical presence grows, Serbian born Milinkovich has also drawn attention and admiration for starting conversations around queer identity in the local music scene. Identifying as non-binary they're pressing for more visibility around music's patriarchal social structures. We sat down with Mladen to get a better idea of the obstacles facing queer artists.
It has already a big year for you, the new single Zenith has just been released and your second album Portal is on its way. Can you tell us about what we can expect from the release?
Basically this is the first album where I feel like I did exactly what I wanted and had the equipment, resources and people around me to do so. This release hasn't felt like a compromise, that's why it's really important to me.
The creative process was also really different to everything else I've ever done. Previously I've written and recorded at the same time and it's been really fast and very much about a stream of consciousness. But with this album I spent six months just with a guitar—not even in front of a laptop—writing, listening, feeling and thinking.
You recently toured Western Australia and are getting ready to head to the States with The Murlocs. Do you enjoy touring?
Touring is really intense but I do love it! If you asked most people they'd probably tell you that there are very big ups and downs, particularly if they are as prone to anxiety as I am. The last big tour I went on I was presenting "out" as gender-queer the whole time and that was extremely difficult.
Feeling comfortable and safe within my music community is one thing, but being exposed to the entire industry and the wider Australian community I've been stared at, threatened with physical violence, ridiculed, tokenised and constantly misgendered.
I feel like it would be hard to head out on tour with those memories so fresh.
While I feel like I have the strength to face these things to a degree and keep touring, it breaks my heart to recognise how far we need to come and how much most of the Australian music industry doesn't have a space for queer people to be safe and represented. At the same time, it has been incredible to go to places where gender is severely suppressed and to meet people that are given strength to express themselves—who can feel like they have a space within our art culture and society in general. It's so important for queer people to be touring, but this needs to come hand-in-hand with lots of cultural changes.
What are the biggest obstacles that queer artists are facing in the scene right now?
Safety, representation, visibility and support. Safety is the big one: safety from violence and safety within social structures. It needs to be talked about more because there's a lot of this rhetoric that "queer people should come out", that queer people need to book gigs and be more visible. While they're all things that need to happen, there are deep, real reasons why it hasn't.
Do you feel that things are changing?
Within the music industry I talk about the bubble in which I feel safe and that's very personal for me, but the Melbourne music scene still isn't a safe place for queer people overall. I have to say that in the past few years a lot of ground has been broken, a lot of important conversations are happening and lots of really amazing bands are emerging. It's getting better, but it's still important to not get stuck on the "Melbourne's so open and Melbourne's so free" idea because it becomes fetishised as this cool attribute when really it's much more complicated.
Looking at Melbourne specifically, where are we falling short?
In a lack of representation, misrepresentation, tokenism and just general transphobia.
Misrepresentation in what sense?
In the sense of queer people not being able to represent their own ideas and experiences, but rather having it represented by other people. It's also the trend of queer people being marketed in a tokenistic way.
Tokenism as in non-queer people hijacking culture. I played this festival recently and this full-bro band rocked up with the classic Melbourne look of the cowboy hat, denim jacket, jeans and the boots. Then, just before they played, they all went backstage and changed into slips.
That's just an example but it happens all the time where cis-people visually present queer music and make it seem like a gimmick.
So how do we fix it, how do we make people feel safer?
I want to feel like more people are listening to the experiences of other people. There is so much discussion around trans politics at the moment but so much that doesn't include trans people.
With all this in mind, what are your goals for the future?
I don't want to see a linear narrative trajectory of my future, I don't want to ever get comfortable, I don't want to ever coast. My goals of it is to not just influence Melbourne music culture but also to be publicly critiquing it.
Words Sasha Geyer
Photography Nadeemy Betros