Chew Disco Returns

Amy Roberts on Chew Disco, literally one of Liverpool’s most vital club nights…

It could be argued that every night out you might ever happen upon is riddled with the dissemination or activity of some kind of politics in action. You’d never think it through the vast fog of two for one drink offers, flaming cocktails and repetitively safe pop music blasted out of most clubs, but it’s definitely there. There’s acute and deliberate divisions in class, gender, race and sexuality and from that an acceptance about the way women, ethnic minorities, the working classes and people of a queer or alternative persuasion are openly treated.

If you’re marginalised in any way then it can be a petulant and harrowing experience, rife with politics you feel powerless against. But sometimes you just need one small collective, or even just one person, to stand there with you for a bold united statement to be expressed, and to not feel utterly strange.

Chew Disco is that collective. It is that person.

“I remember once my uncle saying that some days just being black and leaving the house is a political statement!”

“I remember once my uncle saying that some days just being black and leaving the house is a political statement!” laughs Khalil West, who along with co-creator Emma Obong curate this exhilarating queer feminist club night that packs quite a punch as a political statement in itself.

Chew Disco is a rareity in this sense. A politicised party that never comes off as preachy or self righteous, the night manages to be one of the most exuberant and playful events of the year that also functions as a charity fundraiser and progressive resource. Something that you sparsely see done well, or done at all for that matter.

“It’s almost taboo now for club nights to associate politics with a good time,” Emma muses, “But, why can’t we marry the two together and have an awesome club night that raises really important issues at the same time?”

Which seems like a question Khalil and Emma probably raised to each other over ‘a few too many bottles of cheap Rose’ when the two first felt the initial drive to push the club night into conception. Initially inspired by queercore musician Ste McCabe’s huge benefit night for Iraqi LGBT (Pink Bomb) in 2007, Chew Disco began life 4 years ago as a primal reaction to a Liverpool club scene that they found upsetting, offensive and boring.

K: “Firstly, there was just this really confusing lack of live music in the Victoria Street queer scene, which I didn’t get. Secondly, I just saw this area that seemed to me at the time to be completely homogenous and could be really worryingly racist and transphobic and sexist and it upset me. It also just bored the shit out of me, but then, so did the other side of town…”

“I always felt we had to compromise when it came to having a night out”

E: “Yeah, I mean, myself and a lot of my friends from the LGBT community felt that the queer scene and the whole alternative scene in general really didn’t reflect us and had very little diversity in terms of race and gender. So, I always felt we had to compromise when it came to having a night out. I just wanted there to be a space for queers, straights, misfits or whoever to have fun and be able to cop off in the one space!”

K: “…So I thought Em and I could try to create something new where, rather selfishly I guess, we felt safe and our friends felt safe and we could hear the music we wanted to hear and not have to spend the night drunkenly correcting people’s politics. Like, telling people: ‘Yes, Black people can be queers and can be punks. It happens more often than you know’.”

E: “That’s exactly it. I struggle to find places to go in Liverpool and as a brown woman I’ve spent most of my life feeling isolated in a city which I call home”.

Suffice to say they succeeded in their vision, creating a night that appeals to a diverse collective of people who likely struggle to find any stronger sense of belonging in Liverpool than at Chew Disco. The music, too, reflects this succinctly. A sublimely chaotic hubbub of genres that keep the packed out crowd dancing till the wee early hours in a set that fuses diversely selected and eclectic songs together that other local DJ’s would likely have them hanged for, Smiths style.

“I wanted to run a night where the music policy wasn’t Us Vs Them”

K: “I always wanted to run a night where the music policy wasn’t Us Vs Them because where I’m from [New Jersey / New York City] it’s okay to hear Monie Love, Sonic Youth, Le Tigre and Aaliyah in the same set and for none of it to be played ironically. I think we can thank Phil [Bakstad] a lot for helping in DJ’ing for so many of the first nights because he’d follow Pavement with Girls Aloud. I just always wanted to go to a night like my mix tapes, I guess”.

Their next event, Chew Disco No.11, promises to maintain the high quality of music and performance that it’s become renowned for, hosting a set of bands (Sex Hands, Queer’d Science and Trash Kit) that Khalil calls ‘three of the best in three dimensional reality’.

K: “Seeing Sex Hands is like being sucked into a really lush fuzzy dream with a Jesus and Mary Chain/Pixies supergroup doing the soundtrack, and the first time that I saw Queer’d Science – no lie –  I lost about 4 pounds in sweat. I speak in disco noise when I talk about them, and there’s just no labels to adequately describe them. And Trash Kit literally always make me happy. They weave together all these disparate influences into something ridiculously clever, raw, spellbinding and fun  –  I listen to their album on repeat”.

At the heart of the night, however, are the charities that Emma and Khalil fundraise for and raise awareness of. It’s clear how passionate they are about this, and again, there’s a clear frustration about a mainstream oppression – of issues not being tackled and voices not being heard. The sense of not being welcome, not belonging and not being considered vital enough to matter to western culture.

E: “I think it’s really important to raise awareness about the awful things happening in non-western countries, especially because they’re issues that for one reason or another are near completely overlooked by western media”.

K: “Yeah, I just thought it was really fucked up that something like, for instance, the women, girls and men that were gang raped by militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo (so violently that they couldn’t even receive medical help to save their lives) wasn’t featured in the main pages of the papers every day. You don’t see stuff like that in the first five minutes of a news programme at all, and so incorporating charities into the structure of Chew Disco just felt like a way we could personally do something about that”

This time Chew Disco is helping to promote and raise money for Icebreakers, Uganda  – a crucial support group for LGBT people experiencing difficulties with being out and proud or making the decision to be, in Uganda.

K: “A lot of people don’t know but Uganda is virulently anti-gay, it’s basically a country where gay people who come out are largely expelled from their homes, denied jobs, blackmailed, abused by the police and fellow citizens, and you can now actually be imprisoned for life or killed by the state for it, thanks to David Bahati’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Intimidation and violence are everyday realities for the vast majority of the out LGBT community in Uganda, and Icebreakers, while starting out as a support group, has become much more involved in advocacy, lobbying and really bad-ass visibility and protest activities since the bill was proposed. The organisers and their associates literally risk their lives to do it.”

As we prepare to leave the interview, Khalil mumbles an apology about ‘coming across as a preachy asshole’, which I suppose is partly the problem with being outwardly and passionately politicised  – people call you preachy. They call you self-righteous. That becomes the issue over the actual issues, which is ludicrous and exactly why, as Emma mentioned earlier, it is so taboo to bring politics outside of its stuffy box.

They prepare to dash off to catch the coach back to Manchester where they now live, and feeling slightly uneasy, I ask them if their move means that Chew Disco’s days are numbered here, too?

They both look horrified at the prospect.

“I’d never consider not doing Chew in Liverpool. I love this city and even if we toured it around a little, Liverpool would always be it’s home” Khalil reassures me.

“Definitely, Khalil and I have always been keen to keep it here. And anyway, I do still feel that Liverpool just plain needs a night like this…” Emma laughs, wickedly, secure in the fact that she’s absolutely right.

We do need it, and it’s not to be missed.

Amy Roberts

Chew Disco Saturday 2nd February 9pm @ the Kazimier £5 

Posted on 28/01/2013 by thedoublenegative