If you happen to have walked along the canal past Hackney Wick on the 30th, you might have noticed an amazing party taking place across the water, and wondered how you had missed out on the fun. That party, it turns out, is the queer festival Body Movements, and it’s one of the best festivals in London.
Body Movements began last year as the brainchild of Saoirse, the globetrotting DJ and producer, in partnership with Clayton Wright, a key promoter behind the Little Gay Brother crew. The two were introduced by Simon Denby, a member of the long-running Percolate company, who handle Body Movements’ silky-smooth production. Wright had spent years building queer spaces within other larger, otherwise straight festivals, but felt frustrated with a lack of genuine control over attendee welfare and safety, as well as being shunted, more or less, to the corner of an otherwise straight space. In meeting with Saoirse, the two realised they had a shared vision for something new.
As Saoirse explains, “We both had our own ideas about starting something for the queer community that basically lifted queer artists and gave them a much bigger platform than what already existed. It’s about making a space to give queer people more visbility, more self expression, and taking up space, and providing a platform for music discovery. And it’s also about having a really good f*cking party.”
The two got together and started planning, originally hoping to launch pre-pandemic, but ended up launching their first edition in October 2021. It was, by all accounts, a complete success, selling out in just a couple of days and being widely seen as a true highlight in the London clubbing calendar. Wright laughs that they had been “blessed by the queer gods” with a an outlandishly sunny day; a move to a late July date for this year’s edition certified that good weather trend. This years’ edition expanded to over a dozen venues in that wonderfully colourful corner of Hackney Wick surrounding the Colour Factory club, and invited dozens of crews and hundreds of artists from all over the U.K and the world.
In general it’s easy to forget the amount of work and care that goes into an event as special as this. People often think of queer and trans nightlife as monolithic when, even within London, it encompasses myriad styles, identities, musical genres, and crews. Pulling these diverse threads and artists together into a single day while allowing space for individual freedom and expression is a tricky thing to navigate, but Body Movements makes it look seamless.
“With over 30 crews and 120 artists, and so many different considerations, sensitivities, and identities and care that you have to be aware of – it wasn’t an easy process but it was so fulfilling to see it come together” Saoirse explains.
Part of the reason behind the festival’s success is its willingness to give independence and space to the crews invited, who make many of their own booking decisions within their communities. As Wright explains, “every crew has an individual identity, and they recommend the people that they love within their scene that makes it authentic to them. Every party represents a dip into a different queer subculture, and so we have to honor that. It’s not for us as organisers to dictate what those parties should be or look like. We just curate it and we bring the sounds together in a way that we think will compliment everyone and handle the production side to allow it to happen.”
Ultimately, Wright explains, this community-building effort and care has pushed the community talk more, and it’s allowed for more collaborations and communication within the UK’s underground queer community, such as the creation of a Queer Promoter’s Forum, which has provided a space for clubs and crews to speak to eachother more easily and seamlessly.
Just as important is the festivals’ dedication to charitable causes and its efforts to give back; a large portion of tickets are sold at a discount, and distributed privately through the festival’s pay it forward scheme, which allowed individual crews to distribute tickets to members of their respective communities who might have struggled to otherwise attend.
Tickets also included charitable donations for the festival’s three partnered LGBTQI+ charities: We Exist, a non-profits arts organisation and mutual aid and healthcare fund for Trans* people; Stonewall Housing, the UK’s leading LGTBQI+ housing and homelessness support charity, and All Out, a mobilisation and support campaign for queer people living in countries where being gay or trans is criminalised. Other donations were gathered on-site throughout the day by each charity at various stalls.
Such efforts are critical, particularly as things like waiting lists for gender affirming surgery for trans people are getting ever longer, and as promotion and representation of trans communities continue to be largely ignored by mainstream media outlets, as well some parts of the queer community itself. In speaking with these charities, it was clear the care with which they had been invited and included within the festival’s mission.
Wright was also proud to have stepped up the festival’s welfare capacities this year. Since the festival takes place across several different venues in Hackney Wick with their own staff and security, it was important to set a common standard for the welfare and treatment of attendees. This year the festival introduced a common pledge of inclusion and respect, setting standards that brought venues and their staff onboard to the common vision of the festival and its particular needs, and hopefully leaving a legacy that will continue on even outside of the festival.
These important community-building aspects of the festival shouldn’t obscure that it’s also a seriously great party in its own right. As Saoirse explains, “putting on a queer event, you can get cornered into the political side of it, but it’s also have about having an amazing party.” Although the festival provided an act clashfinder that listed all the set-times, it mostly only served to highlight that there was no way one could catch all of the killer talent and styles of music on offer, from uplifting house to bounce, afrobeats, acid techno, disco, and pure sugar pop; a variety that ultimately reflects the talents and diversity of the scenes and people represented.
The festival’s programming also carefully balances newcomers, such as the surging upstarts behind Dalston Superstores’ FIASCO! party, Reece Spooner and Amaliah, with seasoned veterans, like the Berghain resident Lakuti or all-around local scene legends Jaye Ward or Dan Beaumont, which provides a wonderful sense of intergenerational support and solidarity between what otherwise might be disparate artists and communities.
And it would be tough to ignore the beauty and fabulous dance moves of the attendees and performers themselves. The iconic ballroom artist Jay Jay Revlon gave an unmissable voguing workshop early on the day before playing a ballroom set for the ages in the GROW bar, and dozens of drag and ballroom artists upped the energy across the festival, helping the founder Saoirse herself in working up the Colour Factory crowd into a dancing frenzy.
All in all, the festival’s second edition was a potent reminder of the importance of supporting and respecting queer nightlife. As Wright explains, “it’s not just about coming together one day a year – queer people should be able to come together and express themselves every day, and not just here, but everywhere…”
Words: Louis Torracinta
Photography: Gemma Bell