London's Decolonise Fest is a punk festival for people of color, by punks of color. We talk to three of the festival's organizers about the project.
Decolonise Fest is a punk festival for people of color, by punks of color.
Created last year in the UK, its next installment will take place in London this coming June and will feature a mix of punk gigs, zines, documentary screenings and workshops.
The festival has recently organized some fundraisers, and have a few more planned in the following months, with up-and-coming punk bands of color.
They’re also looking for submissions detailing 'what it's like being a punk of color' for their very own zine. Submissions are open to anyone in the world.
We met a few Decolonise Fest members to talk about the festival, what it means to be a black and POC punk in the U.K. and their hopes for the future.
Steph is a journalist, lead singer and guitarist of Big Joanie (who are featured on our Black Punk Bands You Need to Listen To list) and one of the co-organizers of the festival. Leila is a PHD student and a co-organizer and Debbie is a teacher who plays in the band Sabatta.
Why did you decide to create the festival?
Steph: There’s a number of punk festivals around but none of them were focused on race and attending them when you’re a POC, you tend to get so many glances and comments from people being shocked that you actually like punk music. So it seemed necessary to create our own festival.
We are here, and have been here, in the scene for a long time. We want to create more of a movement like in the US. We want to celebrate current punk bands and the older ones who paved the way.
Debbie: Seeing the Afro-Punk documentary, the creation of their festival and what it has become definitely was a turning point for me to want to create our own festival. Once, me and my band were at a gig, we got on stage and while we were standing, people were staring at us, being like, “really?”
We got off stage after the concert and they were surprised we played so well, and complimented us afterwards. Seeing how people treated me, I wanted the chance to play in a festival where I know the audience would be made-up of POCs.
Leila: Growing up, I was heavily involved in the punk scene in my town.But so many times, I was told I didn’t belong in punk spaces and now, being able to do something like our festival in the UK, it’s amazing. The crusty punk scene plays around with racist jokes, and I feel like people get away with being complacent, which is a very British thing.
So many of punk’s roots are deeply ingrained in the work and the culture of POCs. Think about mohawks, for example. Last time I checked, that's not a Western tradition. It’s too easy for white people to silence us and our work in the past and then believe they've invented everything.
S: White people love to think they’re not racist but when there’s too many of us they feel uncomfortable. They don’t like acknowledge their whiteness. We need to create our own history.
How’s the black punk scene in the UK ?
S: The history of people of color in punk is poorly documented (except maybe for Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex and Don Letts) and scarcely mentioned, unless it’s an archive. It has been removed from our hands.
L: There’s an idea among punks that they’re so radical that race doesn’t matter and they’re colorblind but actually, they’re not.
S: It’s a very English way to deal with things, to sweep it under the carpet. Someone in the DIY punk scene would seem more “open-minded” and more likely to know more about race issues, but most of them don’t want to.D: I’ve played in previous bands with white members and every time we’d go on stage, people don’t have to say anything, but there’s a very peculiar feeling that lingers. People would look at me as if to say, “you shouldn’t be here.” They also sprout so many backhanded comments. So when I joined my current band, I decided I wanted to go against the system.
What do you hope to achieve with Decolonise Fest?
S: Loads of things! But first of all, we want to put on a good festival for people to make sure they’re represented. Many of us identified as punks but were more marginalized, so having people feel validated is the most important thing for us. We also hope to spread outside of London, where it’s harder for people of color to meet up.
D: We want to be a way to empower people, to create a comfortable space for people to express themselves, a secure environment.
L: Since it’s conception, punk has been a form of resistance. I was attracted to the punk ideas, but my personal experience in the scene made me realize it wasn’t always so revolutionary. We want to bring back punk’s true meaning.
D: Punk in the U.K. has always been whitewashed.
S: A good thing is that the festival gathers other punk POCs. We’re still considered outside the norm. I’ve started a feminist band, Big Joanie, and we keep playing to all-white crowds. White people don’t question themselves or why I started Big Joanie because I didn’t want to be in that space anymore. The DIY scene has changed slightly. We want more people of color, we want to challenge misconceptions, but it’s a long process. The festival would make it more obvious that this is our space, too.
What is your experience in the punk scene in the UK?
L: Just through our regular meetings, events and the fundraiser event, we’ve done so much all ready, and met so many people who have a shared experience, that’s why I’m interested in changing the system and the movement we’re creating.
S: People have needed it for years. Of course, other festivals also cater to POC punks, and that’s fine, they’re doing their own things. And so are we. The dedicated outcome is to make a scene for POC punks in the UK.