From the mainstream to the underground, the history of dance music has deep ties to the LGBTQ community.
In the early beginnings, back in 1890, many blues musicians began expressing their same-sex sexual adventures, which sparked others to follow suit. The 70s saw the opening of Frankie Knuckles’ The Warehouse club in Chiacgo, a members-only venue that was frequented mainly by black and Latino gay men. This legendary venue is now widely recognised as the birthplace of house music, specifically Chicago house. The 80s boosted an increased exposure to LGBT culture with huge acts such as Culture Club, George Michael, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and others dominating the mainstream. Nowadays, Broadway and theatrical audiences, in addition to icons such as Lady Gaga, Madonna and others, continue to champion LGBTQ music and audiences.
The LGBTQ scenes, and the artists which represent them, are championed for their activism to make the music industry a more tolerant and accepting space. Modern parties like Glitterbox, GE20G0TH1K and Traffic LA, along with labels such as Queen Beat and Fade to Mind, to name a few, continue to push music from the club to the catwalk and beyond.
LGBTQ artists now flourish in abundance, impacting scenes and genres from rock and indie to grime, rap, techno, house and more – and it’s safe to say many of the greatest records, tracks and performances of all time are owed to these visionaries. As it’s LGBTQ History Month, we’re spotlighting some pioneering musicians, old and new, from the LGBTQ community, whose influences remain prominent.
1. Wendy Carlos
Enlisted by one of the greatest film-makers of all time, Stanley Kubrick, Wendy Carlos created the score for his 1971 cult classic, A Clockwork Orange. The soundtrack is highly regarded as one of the greatest of all time, with many people feeling greatly unsettled by its synthesized choir chorus. In the midst of A Clockwork Orange’s release, the artist disappeared for seven years, undergoing several gender-affirming surgeries. This resulted in the name of the composer, Wendy Carlos, not being revealed for almost a decade. Other stellar works from Carlos include her 1968 debut album, Switched On Bach, and her experimental portrayal of the four seasons, Sonic Seasonings. In addition, Carlos is renowned for helping develop the iconic Moog synthesizer.
2. Pet Shop Boys
The electronic Brit-pop outfit and LGBTQ legends, Pet Shop Boys, rose to fame in the 80s for their hit tracks ‘West End Girls’, ‘It’s a Sin’, ‘Always on My Mind’, ‘Heart’ and others. Although they have cited that their lyrics are not specifically gay, and are encompassing of any gender, their music was heavily inspired by the dance music in gay clubs. It was in 1994, speaking to Attitude magazine, when Neil Tennant confirmed his sexuality. This allowed the singer to become less ambiguous with his lyrics and fulfil the persona Pet Shop Boys’ fans loved and admired. During their career, the duo collaborated extensively with LGBTQ icons including, Liza Minnelli, Dusty Springfield and more.
3. Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury remains one of the best showmen the world has ever seen, fronting one of the most popular rock bands of all time, Queen. His performances were captivating and electrifying – just revisiting Queen’s 1985 Live Aid show is enough to give you goosebumps. Mercury’s bold style helped shape the identity of the four-piece band and tap into numerous genres such as pop, rock, disco and even opera. Freddy Mercury passed away in 1991, following complications from AIDS, but managed to feature posthumously on the band’s final album, Made in Heaven. In 2001, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
4. k.d. Lang
Singer, songwriter and activist k.d. Lang is one of Canada’s championed LGBTQ artists. The country singer collaborated with the likes of Roy Orbison on the Grammy-winning cover of ‘Crying’ and The Killers on ‘Lightning Fields’, as well as Elton John on a number of live duets. She is praised for her support of animal rights, gay rights and HIV/AIDS care and research. In 1992, Lang came out as a lesbian in an article for The Advocate and in 1998, she was inducted into the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives’ National Portrait Collection.
SOPHIE’s ability to twist and manipulate sound to create something which felt physical, like you could reach out and touch its rubbery, metallic surface, was otherworldly. This uniqueness and genius did not go unnoticed, seeing the Scottish artist go on to collaborate with the likes of Madonna, Charli XCX, Kim Petras, Nicki Minaj, Vince Staples and countless other colossal forces in the industry. Her imprint was huge, contributing to forward-thinking movements like PC Music, releasing on Numbers, Transgressive Records and others, being nominated for a Grammy Award, winning the AIM Independent Music Awards’ Innovator Award and more. Sadly, on Saturday, 30th January 2021, the tragic news of DJ, master producer, singer, LGBTQ icon, songwriter and trailblazer’s untimely passing was announced. Her mark on electronic music will undoubtedly last decades.
6. Bronski Beat
The gay pop trio, Bronski Beat, are renowned for their bittersweet song, ‘Smalltown Boy’, from the best-selling album, Age of Consent. ‘Smalltown Boy’ is a stone-cold classic and a certified gay anthem, spinning a heartbreaking tale of homophobia and intolerance into a liberating dance-floor hit. The video for ‘Smalltown Boy’ depicts Jimmy Sommerville, the then singer of the band, undergoing an emotional (and physical) journey, fleeing his home town and leaving his mother behind to embark on a new start in the big city. Following its release, the song peaked at no. 3 in the UK Charts as well as becoming a no.1 dance hit in the US. If you want to see exactly how this track was made, check out our deconstruction here.
7. Mica Levi
Mica Levi aka Micachu is an English singer, songwriter, producer and composer who’s known for their acclaimed work with Micachu and the Shapes/Good Sad Happy Bad as well as their hypnotizing score for Jonathan Glazer’s film, Under the Skin. For her stellar and eerie work on Under The Skin, Levi received a European Film Award for Best Composer and a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music nomination. Last year, Mica released their latest offering in the form of an experimental grunge and dream-pop album titled Ruff Dog.
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