Pride in: Black LGBTQ+ Punk Scene

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Steph Phillips of Big Joanie

In celebration of Pride Month and the Black Lives Matter movement, Roar writers share their recommendations and reflections on black queer culture.

It is undeniable that black and LGBTQ+ people have been instrumental in the punk scene since the very beginning of it; however, due to the systemic racism in the music industry, they have often been written out of the story. Poly Styrene, Pure Hell, Bad Brains and Death were but a few of the black musicians who were not only hugely influential, but played a significant part in forming the style and scene that became punk rock. Despite the white-dominated industry that never did them any favours, black punk has persevered. Below is a short introduction to five of my favourite current black LGBTQ+ punk bands. They all represent the true spirit of punk, proving that it is still the music of resistance.

Aye Nako

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Aye Nako have always been upfront about how their black, queer and trans identities are inseparable from their music. They make DIY, psychedelic punk tunes, and their second album, Silver Haze, was one of my top albums of the decade. At times angular, while other times highly melodic, the songwriting of frontperson Mars and guitarist Jade contrast and compliment each other perfectly, to create a record that is both sunny and fuzzy, yet threaded with a deep unease. Unfortunately, the band is on an indefinite hiatus, but we can only cross our fingers for their return and support in creating “a planet where those who fall in the margins can feel OK about being themselves” (as their Facebook bio explains).

Favourite Tracks: The whole of Silver Haze is so good that I would recommend listening to it in full, but if I had to pick: ‘Sissy,’ ‘Particle Mace’ & ‘Arrow Island.’

Screaming Toenail

“What can I do to get back stolen lands, I can barely afford to buy name brands,” sings Screaming Toenail’s Jacob V Joyce on ‘Ad Nauseam,’ their scathing takedown of British colonial atrocities and the glorification of them in museums. This DIY queer punk band from Mitcham, London has released two excellent EPs, filled with arresting punk bangers. Their most recent release, Food Chain, includes blistering satirical tracks on the elite white art world: ‘Martin Creed’ and the UK police force ‘Nay Nay.’ We don’t get the feeling Screaming Toenail will stop holding racist institutions to account any time soon.

Favourite Tracks: ‘Ad Nauseam’ & ‘Crystal Queer.’

Big Joanie

Black feminist trio, Big Joanie, formed in London in 2013, as singer and guitarist Stephanie Phillips grew tired of the whiteness of the UK punk scene and looked for like-minded bandmates online. The band offers a slightly more thoughtful take on the punk genre, though it still includes tones of raw anger and energy. Their 2018 debut album, Sistahs, is a unique and complex record, featuring some great guitar riffs and direct, expressive lyrics. Elsewhere, the band works on the Stop Rainbow Racism campaign, fighting against Skinny Girl Diet's Delilah Hollidayblackface in the LGBTQ+ community, and on Decolonise Fest, which centres around black and POC punk bands.

Favourite Tracks: Again, I’d encourage listening to Sistahs in full, but songs I’d recommend most are ‘Fall Asleep,’ ‘How Could You Love Me’ & ‘Token.’

Meet me @ the Altar

If, like me, you love the fuzzy melodic sound and personal lyrics of pop-punk, but hate the whiney white-boy aesthetic (side eye at Neck Deep), then you’ll like Meet me @ the Altar. Three women of colour, who’d formed the band as teenagers, are a breath of fresh air in the rather stale pop-punk scene. Their recent EP, Bigger Than Me, features frank lyrics on failed relationships, mental health, trauma, and defying the expectations the music industry had for them; all over some great poppy guitar hooks.

Favourite tracks: ‘Tyranny,’ ‘May the Odds Be in Your Favour’ & ‘Here’s to War.’

Skinny Girl Diet

I’ve been following Skinny Girl Diet fairly obsessively ever since I’d seen them at a Pussy Riot fundraiser in 2012. The band, formed in London by then-teenage sisters, Delilah and Ursula, has released two albums featuring all the heavy, fast-paced aggressiveness of punk, with scathing feminist and decolonial lyrics. Their recent album, Ideal Woman, is a dark record with rough snarling guitars and defiant screaming vocals, and the band doesn’t dress up their anger and their stance on numerous issues, with songs like ‘Western Civilisation,’ ‘White Man’ and ‘Outsider.’ They’re the Riot grrrl for a new generation; riot grrrl for everyone left out by the original movement.

Favourite tracks: ‘Starf**ker,’ ‘La Sirena’ & ‘Silver Spoons.’

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