Decolonise Fest is an annual festival created by and for people of colour in the punk scene.
Run by a collective of group of activists, community organisers, musicians and artists, their manifesto reads: ‘We are DIY Diaspora Punx. We are reasserting our place in punk and want to showcase the amazing, creative and talented contributions punx of colour have made to the punk scene since its inception. We are loud and proud and demand the space we deserve – decolonising our past to decolonise our future.’
We asked Stephanie Phillips, part of the organising collective behind Decolonise Fest, journalist and musician in the band Big Joanie, to take us behind the scenes.
'I first got involved in the London DIY punk scene ten years ago by volunteering at the now defunct festival Ladyfest Ten and playing in punk bands.
'Decolonise Fest is an annual festival celebrating the work of people of colour in the punk scene. We exist because it seemed like such an obvious event, we were surprised no one else had set up something similar. There was Afropunk in the US but it catered more to the mainstream, experimental R&B audience.
'We decided to follow in the footsteps of more radical, politically-minded DIY festivals like Black and Brown Fest in Chicago, US, and form a collective to host a festival that could act as a showcase for talented musicians of colour.'
'We want to create a space that allows us to advocate for emerging artists of colour, foster a community of like-minded people, connect punks of colour to global struggles against the legacy of colonialism, and indulge in our love of punk together.'
'The hope is that through Decolonise, not only can musicians of colour find support in an industry where they are often overlooked, the festival can create a community for punks of colour, create a space for people who wouldn't ordinarily go to punk shows, and hopefully help people affect change in their own communities through taking in the political message of the festival. Everyone can come and enjoy our shows and we focus on creating a welcoming environment for everyone involved. The collective is run by punks of colour and the space is dedicated to people of colour.
'We are not-for-profit and volunteer run collective. There are about ten of us in the collective and we run the annual festival as well as fundraising events and curated events for other festivals. This allows us to focus on what is best for the festival and not be distracted by profit. Our main focus is to create a welcoming space for attendees and participants. When people walk through the doors at our festival they should feel like they're in an environment created by and for people of colour. We want to create a space that allows us to advocate for emerging artists of colour, foster a community of like-minded people, connect punks of colour to global struggles against the legacy of colonialism, and indulge in our love of punk together. Our anti-colonial outlook is deeply embedded in our approach to the festival and we aim to dismantle the legacies of white supremacy in everything we do.'
'The first edition of the festival was my proudest moment. We had no idea how many people would show up or if anyone would be interested. The weekend was packed and ran surprisingly smoothly for a festival. The atmosphere felt so warm. It was like we'd been doing this for years. I remember people coming up to us and sharing their stories of being in the punk scene and feeling alone for so long. It felt like we all found our tribe and our home.
'To me DIY music is about creating rather than consuming culture. It's about taking the initiative to start your own band, put on your own gig night for a band you want to see, or make your own zine to talk about your favourite music scene. DIY gives you the space to try out weird ideas and maybe fail or maybe succeed. In life people of colour rarely get the chance to just try things out. We always have to be on guard and be perfect. Having the space to fail in DIY music can be an incredibly therapeutic environment for people of colour.'
'Musicians of colour who don't fit the standard mould of what society thinks people of colour should be playing are often overlooked or completely misunderstood.'
'We spend most of the year organising the festival. This year we moved online and hosted the festival in September. We have previously collaborated with events like Fat Out Fest and Supernormal and curated line-ups or delivered workshops. We hope to do more of this kind of work in the future. We also want to spread the Decolonise Fest message so everyone that needs to find our community can.
'Musicians of colour who don't fit the standard mould of what society thinks people of colour should be playing are often overlooked or completely misunderstood. Labels don't sign some musicians of colour who make alternative music because the idea that only white men listen to punk and only want to see themselves reflected on stage still persists. Behind the scenes from managers to promoters, bookers and agents, the majority of the industry is white and male. It doesn't look like any of this will change any time soon. There needs to be serious investment in bringing new talent into the industry otherwise nothing will change.
'Hopefully we can become an event that is a staple in the punk landscape and can create a community for people of colour so no one has to feel like they don't belong just because they like punk music.
'In the Decolonise Fest collective we're all just trying to see create the space all of us needed when we were teenagers. A space that would make us feel proud of our roots, our culture, and allow us to stay true to the whole of our being.
'We're on social media and share our updates on what we're doing there. We usually announce when we're open to applications to play the festival so look out for those if you're in a band that wants to play. If any people of colour want to join our festival or any organisations want to get involved this can email us at email@example.com or visit us on https://decolonise.org.uk.'