The month of June is Pride month, a commemoration of the Stonewall riots and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. This year, we’re celebrating the LGBTQ+ artists who are performing at Leith Theatre this summer, shining a light on their contributions to the LGBTQ+ community and the queer music scene.
Spanning genres including spoken word, hip hop, rock, folk and soul, these artists are breaking boundaries in their work and providing much needed visibility for a new generation. We’ve put together a Spotify playlist featuring these artists, so you can get to know them and listen before they arrive in Edinburgh this August.
Lucy Dacus, prolific singer-songwriter and one third of the supergroup boygenius with Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, has been outspoken about her journey with her sexuality over the years. Last year, she wrote an essay for Oprah Daily that discussed the experience of having a label ascribed to her by others before she herself had come out, describing ‘queer’ as ‘a catch-all term [...] like saying not straight and none of your business’.
Her third album Home Video explores Dacus’s experiences of growing up in a religious environment, discovering her sexuality and her friendships. Her lyrics are both poetic and sharply observant, seeking inspiration from authors including James Baldwin and Elena Ferrante. Her latest release, ‘Kissing Lessons’, is a sweet, sentimental song about a childhood crush, with a music video full of early-00s nostalgia to match.
Princess Nokia, a gender non-conforming, bisexual rapper, is unapologetic about embracing the many threads that make up their identity. With each album bringing an entirely new sound and concurrent careers as an actor, podcaster and poet, they resist the pressure to conform or settle into one fixed identity, telling Out magazine early on in their career: ‘I know who I am, I like what I like and I do what I do. I’m wonderful and I’m comfortable with myself. I got that strength from the [LGBTQ+] world, where it’s okay to be different.’
Their music and performance is unabashedly brash and fun, not shying away from speaking openly about sex positivity, feminism, race and queerness as well as the struggles they faced growing up. ‘Slumber Party’, a collaboration between Ashnikko and Princess Nokia, became the most popular audio for queer women on TikTok for most of 2021, firmly securing their place as a queer music artist to watch.
Ezra Furman has had a monumental few years, creating the soundtrack for Netflix’s Sex Education and working on a new album due to be released this August. The singer-songwriter spoke publicly about being a trans woman and a mum for the first time in 2020 and the importance of trans visibility: ‘one problem with being trans is that we have so few visions of what it can look like to have an adult life, to grow up and be happy and not die young’.
Last month, Furman released the third single from her forthcoming album All Of Us In Flames, ‘Forever in Sunset’. The new album will focus on the importance of community, with Furman describing it as ‘a queer album for the stage of life when you start to understand that you are not a lone wolf, but depend on finding your family, your people, how you work as part of a larger whole.’ Over the last few years, Furman has also started to guest present on Marc Riley’s Radio 6 show and in 2021 presented a series of shows celebrating the LGBTQ+ Community, Loud and Proud.
Arooj Aftab, whose songs combine ancient South Asian music and poetry with contemporary American influences, is known for her genre-defying work. She is determined to be defined only by herself, avoiding strict categorisations or generalisations. Speaking about her experience of growing up, she has said ‘I was a little bit different from the rest. Being queer was a thing –everybody else was just so straight by default.’
The title of her most recent album, Vulture Prince, is centred around a character who is “not the king or the queen but this androgynous, sexy dude – one who is kind of dark, because vultures eat people, but they’re also an ancient bird.” Its sound defies categorisation as much as its central character, combining international and multigenerational influences to create something entirely new. She has also composed the music for Queer Brown Feelings, an audio-visual collection of oral histories by queer and trans South Asians, as part of a larger project for the South Asian American Digital Archive.
Kae Tempest is a non-binary spoken word artist and rapper, playwright, novelist and poet, returning to Edinburgh this year following an incredible debut Festival performance in 2019. They came out as non-binary in 2020, and gave their first interview about this experience to the Guardian earlier this year, speaking on the power of the trans community and the importance of visibility: “I think of my community, and how much strength I’ve got from people telling me I don’t have to go through this alone [...] If I hide, and I’m ashamed of myself, it’s [as if] I’m ashamed of them.”
Kae has spoken about the freedom they find in performance: “When I perform I go to the depths; beyond gender, beyond body. I leave everything behind.” Their music is deeply personal, with their latest album The Line is a Curve moving from exploring anxiety and low self-esteem in ‘Priority Boredom’, to directly addressing microaggressions in ‘Salt Coast’, then finally moving into joyous acceptance and celebration in the album’s finale, ‘Grace’.
Listen to these artists on our 2022 Pride Playlist, and share your favourite LGBTQ+ music artists on social media using @edintfest.