Decolonise Festival on making spaces for punks of colour

Decolonise fest is an annual London-based, volunteer-run, non-profit DIY punk festival collectively organised by and for punx of colour.
We’re incredibly excited to bring the Decolonise Fest crew up to Birmingham to guest curate part of our 2022 programme. Their collective is made up of activists, militant community organisers, musicians, and artists who will be making room for DIY punx of colour to take centre stage and make some noise. Ahead of the festival, we caught up with the team for a chat about their work.

“As a Black punk who had been playing on the scene for a few years the idea of a punk festival for people of colour was something that I always wanted and hoped someone else would put on.” said founder Stephanie Phillips. “I talked about it with my band sometimes but eventually I posted on social media and asked people if there was going to be a punks of colour festival who would they want to play. The response was immediate and showed there was a huge interest in the idea of a space to celebrate artists of colour. In summer 2016 I organised a meeting with other punks of colour and about 20 people showed up. We talked about everything we experienced in the scene from the racism, our similarities, experiences of being othered. From then we started planning the festival and held our first annual event in June 2017 featuring three days of music, art, and culture with bands such as Sacred Paws, Big Joanie, Screaming Toenail, Skinny Girl Diet and more.”

“The alternative music scene has changed over the last ten years. When I first got involved in the DIY punk scene around 2010 there were very few people of colour on the scene in bands or at shows in the audience. That environment made me at the time feel isolated and like i was living a double life, going to my Black feminist meetings one day and punk shows the next. The two spaces never mixed. Whereas now, it feels like there are more bands with people of colour in them forming. I think people of colour are starting their own nights and scenes and are more open to talk about the problems that we face in what is still a white majority music scene.”

“Supersonic asked us to collaborate with them to help curate a line up for their festival and to assist them in finding ways to make the festival more inclusive and representative for audiences and artists. We held a roundtable event and invited people of colour from Birmingham and local areas to talk about their feelings around the alternative music scene in the Midlands and their thoughts on Supersonic. We found that many people really needed a space where they could talk as people of colour and share their experiences. It was a moving event and all of the attendees have kept in touch with one another.”

“We wanted to make sure we hosted artists that could benefit from the platform that Supersonic offers and would equally challenge and enthuse Supersonic’s audience. We worked with all of the artists previously in some capacity. PRNCSS performed at the 2020 virtual edition of Decolonise, Rachel Aggs has performed with her band Sacred Paws before but is now doing a solo set, and Nekra opened the first Decolonise Fest back in 2017. It is our first time working with DJ Awkward Black Girl but we know of her through her work with Sister Shack CIC in Newcastle.”

“The acts we’ve chosen are really varied and will cover every genre you would expect from the festival. Rachel Aggs will be performing her lo-fi solo set that takes equal inspiration from pop and it does indie. PRNCSS is an explosive performer and mixes trap beats with an electronic punk attitude. Nekra are an all female hardcore punk act that write fast and furious songs about the theories of bell hooks and the trauma of immigrations. Finally, DJ Awkward Black Girl will spin a selection of rock, r&b, garage, soul and more.”

For a flavour of their selections for the festival, you can listen back to the Decolonise Freak Zone Playlist on BBC Radio 6 Music. Rachel Aggs, PRNCSS, Nekra and DJ Awkward Black Girl are all performing at Supersonic 2022 from the 8-10 July – get your tickets here.