Our 2019 Fall Pride Guide, in collaboration with VA Pride, is out now! In this article from the magazine, Alexander Rudenshiold dives deep into Richmond’s vibrant LGBTQ music scene.
It’s no secret that Richmond is experiencing a musical renaissance right now. Everywhere you look, there’s something happening in every genre: from metalcore to emo, and experimental hip hop to techno. It’s all happening, it’s all connected, and it’s all LGBTQ. While many of the musicians deemed “culturally relevant” at large are the same cookie-cutter, cisgender, straight white people that they have always been, Richmond’s underground music scene — like so many others across the United States — is run and populated by LGBTQ people.
Perhaps the most prominent recent success from the Richmond LGBTQ community is six-piece metalcore collective .Gif From God, who recently signed to Prosthetic Records: an internationally-distributed metal label known for putting out such titans as Lamb of God, Gojira, and Animals as Leaders. The band has become notable online not just for their punishing riffs, but also for the reactionary homophobic and transphobic rhetoric they’ve received in response to their music. The band exists in an intersection between different communities of LGBTQ people in Richmond, sharing members between scenes — most notably vocalist Mitchie Shue, known widely for their post-metal project Truman, and bassist Sofia Lakis, who also regularly DJs techno music.
“I believe the identities I hold directly shape the way I perceive and experience the world,” said Shue. “Most of what I write about in .Gif is in reference to mistakes I’ve made, frustrations I’ve felt, and a deep feeling of intense hopelessness, surrounding the circumstances of my existence and the people I care about.”
Both Shue and Lakis also play guitar in the six-piece “revenge” band Listless, which has recently made appearances at DIY festivals up and down the East Coast. Shue elaborates that much of the content in both of these bands is focused around holding individuals accountable, and that “actions have consequences, and the ways in which we carry ourselves through the world hold weight and meaning.”
“I feel like these identities have shaped my perspective and experiences in both obvious and imperceptible ways, but at the end of the day, I make music to please my own palette,” said Lakis, an out bisexual trans woman. “I draw inspiration from my environment and my experience of it, and that experience is affected by my gender and sexual identity to varying degrees in any given situation.”
As a guitarist in Listless, Lakis said that most of her inspiration comes from sources of anger. “A lot is derived from my identity rubbing against the grain of my environment, or a self-loathing somberness and resentment stemming from dysphoria, disillusionment, and trauma.” With .Gif however, she thinks of things as a bit “cheekier,” specifically with regards to the genre typing of the band as “sasscore.”
“Sasscore is hard to define in strict musical terms, but there is a sort of queer connotation to it,” she said. “That goes along with certain sounds and tropes that basically serve as the hardcore/metal equivalent of ‘camp,’ referring to the more ‘effeminate’ qualities of some emo/screamo, mixed with a kind of off-kilter ‘lol, I’m so random’ humor trafficked by myspace-era scene kid memes.”
On top of all this, Lakis also books a series of electronic music showcases under the name “Formula,” aimed at bringing together the many dance scenes in Richmond. She directly credits the LGBTQ community with the success of these events. “LGBT+ artists were at the forefront of this party because we were the ones facilitating it,” she said. “And to a large degree, LGBT+ artists are the ones leading the charge in the Richmond dance music scene.”
Shue and Lakis find themselves at the intersection of two of Richmond’s most prominent LGBTQ music communities, the Great Dismal collective and Ice Cream Support Group. Shue, through Great Dismal, is responsible for many of the most notable offbeat metal and punk shows happening in Richmond booking prominent bands like The HIRS Collective and Soul Glo. The shows also give back to the local community, by donating a portion of the proceeds from each show to organizations working towards positive change, like the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project and the Richmond Doula Project.
Ice Cream Support Group is a collective of electronic artists organized by Angel Flowers (a.k.a. DJ Archangel), who regularly throw dance parties called “Ice Cream Socials” as fundraisers for some of the same organizations supported by Great Dismal. The Socials serve as an important springboard for DJs like Lakis, a place for them to experiment and find their sound. These groups represent a community which, while differing in some interests, comes together through the principles of what Shue calls “values-based organizing and mutual aid” — coming together around common goals and, despite their differences, supporting one another when they’re able.
Another vibrant new group on the scene is Space Litter Records, a community space run by Ana Davis and Sawyer Camden, both members of emo band Warrington. Since starting in February of this year, Space Litter has become a hub for DIY organizers across Richmond. They lend their space and time seemingly without limit and book their own shows, specifically with the intention to highlight marginalized voices. Davis explains that her identity affects the way she books shows, and that she specifically looks to book groups which aren’t entirely straight and white. “It feels good to see people performing who might not have had their parents pay for their instruments and lessons,” she said. “[People] who make DIY look and feel different for once.”
On top of affecting Space Litter’s booking practices, Camden, a trans man, said that his identity affects his songwriting as well (even if indirectly). “I honestly only have one song that’s actually about my trans identity, and dealing with that as a human,” he said. “But my identity shapes my whole life, and I sing mostly about my depression and anxieties, with very few songs about love and relationships. Oftentimes that stems from my ‘gay/trans lifestyle.’”
Critically, Richmond’s underground hip-hop and rap scene is also making major moves, particularly since LGBTQ rapper Alfred. released their latest album LIKE YOU!! on the notable indie label Topshelf Records, in conjunction with the joint Richmond-Brooklyn operation Citrus City Records. They, along with producer/rapper Ty Sorrell and noise rap duo BLVCKPUNX (of which DJ Archangel is a member) are leading a new wave of hip hop artists in Richmond exploring gender and sexuality through classic and experimental forms.
“I see [Great Dismal and Space Litter] making an effort to make connections across different genres, and bringing people together by simply providing spaces where marginalized people can feel safe and welcomed.” said Judy Hong. “[They] have been so gracious to me by booking and supporting me during my time in Richmond.” Hong, a non-binary/agender Korean-American and frontperson of indie rock band Baby Grill, and the mastermind behind longstanding label Quiet Year Records, also spoke to the hardships of being a QPOC (queer person of color) in music. “Whether it’s while playing shows, recording, or working with music journalists, the relationships I have with the people around me have largely shaped my experiences.”
They stress that there are a great number of practical issues which limit the access for many marginalized people to participate in this type of music. “Who has the PA, the recording studios, the booking calendars, the online platforms?” they ask. “Who will take me seriously and show they can respect me as a person?” For them, finding ways to connect with people higher up in the music industry is a challenge. “It’s still cis, straight, and white-dominated, and I’m just not around many people like that anymore — but that’s who’s calling the shots in the music industry, that’s who I have to get the attention of and impress. It’s discouraging sometimes, for sure.”
Despite setbacks like policing of DIY venues and closures of venues like Strange Matter, Richmond’s LGBTQ music scene has persisted and thrived, particularly in the past year. There’s a pervading sense of positivity that enmeshes its members, a sense of community that’s uniquely entwined seemingly-disparate genres into one giant web of support.
“Moving to Richmond from Columbia, SC — four, going on five years ago — was one of the best things I ever did for myself,” said Lakis, who credits the community here in Richmond with empowering her transition. “The resources provided by local organizations like Health Brigade are what brought me here, seeking residency and a chance to begin some form of medical transition. Along with those resources, I found a community full of the most supportive and generous people I’ve ever met, and I’ve made more friends than I could’ve imagined in a relatively short amount of time.”
Hong’s feelings echo Lakis’s. “I have a lot of love for the queer and trans people of color in Richmond,” they say. “While there’s still a lot of violence against LGBTQ people here (and everywhere), there’s pockets of joy and solidarity that make being here worth everything.”
“Being a queer POC in Richmond is actually sick because there are so many of us around,” said Davis. “It’s nice not to feel like such a freak in a town full of them.”
“Also,” adds Lakis, “it’s a pretty good place for a girl to find a date.”
Top Photo: .Gif From God at Gallery 5. Photo by Erik Phillips