Decolonise Fest Aims to Celebrate Punk’s People of Color
Now that Afro Punk has become a high-end – and fashion driven – umbrella festival for all manner of eccentric (organic and contrived) Black music artists, that leaves room for its original goal – celebrating and clearing space for Black punks – to be taken up elsewhere. Decolonise Fest does that while also expanding the mandate to now include all punks of color. From June 2-4, at DIY Space for London, in London, there will be music performances, after show parties with DJs, as well as panels and art workshops. Vegan food options will be offered all weekend.
Explaining the impetus behind the festival, Stephanie Phillips recently wrote for the Quietus:
Looking back at the snotty, gob-throwing days of the late 70s punk scene in the UK you might at first think the stories of punks of colour ended with Poly Styrene, lead singer of the effervescent X-Ray Spex. Of course, delve a little deeper and we find other bands such as Alien Kulture, a majority Pakistani Muslim punk band who formed in the late 70s in defiance of Thatcher’s ‘fears’ of being swamped by new cultures. Even going back to the roots of punk you’ll find Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a queer black female guitarist who combined the fire of gospel preaching with the soul of early blues to devise the earliest form of rock & roll.
No matter where you look in history you can find stories of people of colour going against the norm to either add to genres previously considered white or create whole new spaces for themselves. We are there but our stories are fragmented across history. There is no linear narrative to this narrative because as with all history it is written by the dominant culture who, whether with malice or ignorance, repeatedly seek to prop up their own achievements forgetting to acknowledge the black and brown people who inspired or helped them along the way. It’s why the Sex Pistols had two documentaries made about them but a Poly Styrene documentary is only just in the making and had to be crowdfunded by her family.
The most obvious reason why we need this festival in 2017 is because … well look at the world around us. We’re living through a truly dangerous and destructive time. Racism, homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia continue to rear their ugly heads, even in our beloved music spaces. In 2012, The Tuts were assaulted in a South London venue, Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo saluted and shouted “white power” at a gig in 2016. Even during the early years of punk many white punks, like Siouxsie Sioux, wore swastikas in a clumsy attempt to be controversial.
There is no magical barrier that stops racism from entering DIY venues. Wherever there is a group of majority white people living in a racist society you’re guaranteed to find racism. Not only does it affect the way you live your life it also takes a toll on your self-worth. This is where punk can come in and why it’s vital for more people of colour to get their chance to engage with it. Punk and specifically being DIY gives you the chance to look at the world around you and realise that you don’t have to consume the given culture but you can create your own. In this feeling there is freedom from pre-subscribed rules; a freedom that people of colour have always needed the most.
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Top image of Alien Kulture courtesy alienkulture.org