be safe, have fun, take some clothes off: life lessons from br00klyn queenz
i-D caught up with Br00klyn Queenz to talk about the power of partying and why the promise of a safe space is very complicated.
All images via @br00klynqueenz
Br00klyn Queenz aren't from Brooklyn. Well they are, but not the one you're thinking of. Charlotte Webb and Lorelei Camboni grew up in Melbourne's West, near the often forgotten suburb of Brooklyn—postcode 3012. The word play is a convenient analogy for the two women: both a mix of reality and self-aware fantasy—they're selling a dream and keeping it real.
Through their parties, DJ sets and art performances Br00klyn Queenz have gathered a dedicated following who admire their skills and style. But alongside an innate ability to get any crowd lit they've formed a community focused on partying, freedom and calling bullshit on creepy dudes. They use the dance floor as a space to ignite conversations about expression, safety and how we see our bodies. They're a reminder of how powerful getting dressed up and partying all night can be.
You guys have a strong social message that you communicate through your performances. How do you create a narrative through a party?
Charlotte: Usually it's directly talking and dancing with girls in a club. We pretty much have zero time for creepy dudes, of which there are many. Also playing mainly female artists, we really concentrate on that. So many women feel awkward in their own body and space, we sometimes feel awkward, but we create a sort of character—there's an air of confidence that can be infectious.
Do you feel parties are an untapped resource for activism? It's an unlikely, but pretty effective time to reach out to an audience.
Lorelei: Yes in that it's a time you can dress how you want, act how you want, be who you want.
Charlotte: Going out is a way for us to actually dress how we want to in a space that's generally safe. We're lucky because we can create a fantasy —that's kind of what we are, a fantasy of what we'd love to be all the time. It would be really wonderful if everyone could be dressed up, have fun and just dance all the time.
The idea of young people creating a safe space is interesting. We're seeing it in Sydney; the lockout laws were to address violence but they've resulted in people holding independent raves where partiers take responsibility for each other.
Charlotte: I think the idea of safe spaces is dangerous because it's impossible for a promoter to be able to say, "this is a safe space for everybody." You don't know, and once drugs and alcohol are involved you can't control people's behaviour fully—which is really unfortunate.
Maybe it's more about how we're increasingly seeing promoters and DJs talking about how they manage when a safe space gets fractured. Cool Room's safety coordinator is a good example of that.
Lorelei: There is no such thing as a safe space in any circumstance. You can't guarantee it and I think it's dangerous to try to. People can definitely try but guaranteeing it provides false hope.
Is absolute safety in a club a naïve notion?
Charlotte: I think sometimes it is, I've seen it so many times through Facebook dialogues where club nights have claimed it and it felt really hollow. But people will pick them apart and say, "this person did this, and this bouncer did that". Last year there was a night that said it was a safe space and they didn't let a trans woman in because of what she was wearing—obviously there was a huge black-lash. It's great to say but it's hard to live up to.
We're talking about this stuff like it's new, but a lot of movements started in nightclubs and at parties—look at how important gay bars have been in LGBTQ life.
Charlotte: Totally, it's because people are generally relaxed and around like-minded people. It's a place where you can come together and have this community and share ideas and be free of the usual everyday stuff that you have to put up with all of the time.
Tell me how the outfits play into all this.
Lorelei: Dressing up comes from insecurities within ourselves; we started because it made it easier to perform, be in costume, put on a persona and become comfortable with it. Girls come up to us and say, "I'd love to wear that, but I would never feel comfortable". I always think, really? Because we weren't and still aren't that confident.
Charlotte: The whole thing came from this idea of what we've always wanted to be. I used to be really into fashion and wanted to be a certain kind of girl that I was never going to be. I was in complete denial that I had boobs and a butt. I'd wear a minimiser bra and strap my chest. Dressing up became a release; it was like, yep we can celebrate the bodies we have and that does feel infectious! It's nice to see other girls start dressing in the way that we do and feeling they can express themselves.
Lorelei: When I was younger it felt like it was always a competition with other girls, like, "this girl's hotter than me". But I've noticed now people feel more positive and are really trying to help each other out.
I don't want to make this a focus, but we've touched on the presence of creepy dudes in a community that we've been painting as pretty idyllic. How do you negotiate that element?
Charlotte: I get really hard ass!
Lorelei: We've both kinda toughened up. It's like the more outlandish we dress or the less clothes we wear, the more fucking tough we become in just shutting guys down and sticking up for ourselves.