As 2020 turns out to be the deadliest in recent years for the transgender and gender-nonconforming community, it’s our responsibility—as a DIY hardcore punk network always aiming to expand our solidarity and strive for inclusiveness and representation—to elevate the voices of marginalized people within our scene and the society at large.
On this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), we present you our amazing interview with Maja Liv Groves, founder of Queers To The Front Booking, a DIY tour booking service for all the women*, queers and marginalized people in the underground scene out there. As they’ve been canceling all their tours and shows for 2020, Maja also started The Queers To The Front Podcast briefly after conducting this interview, so we also would like to urge you to check it out as well!
Hello Maja! Let’s start with a brief introduction to yourself and how come you start Queers to the Front Booking?
My name is Maja, my pronouns are she/her, and I’m part of a DIY tour booking agency called Queers To The Front Booking. We are not just me but in fact a team of nine other people at this point. We have three booking agents in the USA, we’ve got three booking agents in the UK, and we’ve got two European booking agents, plus me based in Europe as well. And we also have a marketing person who’s also based in the US.
We all have experience in tour booking, tour management, you know. Most of us have played or still play in DIY bands and stuff. And what we do is that we offer tour services, or booking services, to marginalized artists. Actually, not only queer people but pretty much people that are either queer or disabled, non cis-male, black people and PoC, so we really emphasize that we wanna work with those people who are not being heard properly in society in general, and specifically in DIY music. Yeah, so that’s what we do.
How this came to be? I started Queers to the Front Booking myself about year and a half back, so I know it’s still pretty fresh. I also used to play in DIY bands myself, not anymore unfortunately, but I used to play in bands when I still hadn’t come out as a trans person and that allowed me to a lot of privileges, I guess. So essentially as a man playing in these bands, I’ve never, ever, had a single issue with anything. Like no problem ever occured to me. Like everybody took me serious when I played shows, I’ve never had to walk down, but it all started to change when eventually I did realize like the whole trans person being thing. Then I came out as a trans woman, and, honestly, the second that this thing happened everything just absolutely turned over 180 degrees. It was bizarre.
Just after the first shows that I played live after coming out, I was sexually assaulted twice by men that I actually used to know, people would like to talk to me in toilets like why I’m wearing women’s clothing. Also most of the bands that we played with back then were all white men, and they didn’t quite liked it. The people in my own band, also all male, used to follow me and talk behind my back, made fun of me… of the way I dress and how I look like, for example, my breast haven’t grown yet. Essentially, kind of the second I came out in public as a trans woman—and that was in the DIY music scene, it was in a punk-rock band ffs—pretty much everything has changed. I’ve been made fun of, I got sexually assaulted, I got ridiculed, and the people just wouldn’t really accept me anymore the way they looked at me before. So that frustrated me a whole lot and eventually I left this abusive shit band and kind of left the entire punk scene for a while.
And then I had this idea that I wanted to create something that could help younger marginalized people, and especially trans people like me, to just have a better time. So I’ve make use of both the logistical part of touring and booking shows—I don’t know how to put it well, pretty much everything touring related—since I’ve had a lot of experience with all that, but also combined it with my experience of coming out and all the disrespect I got, to talk about my experience of how unwelcome the scene had become. But basically I wanted to turn that around and create a space where people like me could actually feel welcome and safe when touring. So that’s what I did and I’ve eventually got this whole team of people together. We all believe in these things and started to book all these tours, it’s pretty effing fantastic!
Thank you for sharing all this! Do you think that people get more educated on these issues now?
It’s hard to say, in society in general I think right now, yes. At least in recent years people have got a lot more educated on these issues because trans, non-binary people, and generally people who don’t conform to stereotypical gender norms, have become much more visible. They got more spotlight in media, in TV, film roles and stuff like that. And I think that helped a lot to create more education, but at the same time there’s been a lot of backlash against trans and genderqueer people. The US government is trying to roll back protection in healthcare for trans people, the UK government is on a path to do the same, they’ve just announced this the other day. So I think there’s a lot more representation in society and relevant media, movies, etc., but it’s still kind of a shit time to be a trans person right now. Unfortunately.
With Trump in power and killings of people of color, there’s also has been a lot of backlash against antifascism from the same governments you mentioned.
Yes, it’s mind blowing that the US president will call Antifa a terrorist organization. Obviously, it’s connected to the Black Lives Matter global uprising that is happening right now.
Let’s talk about the COVID-pandemic, how can you survive as a tour booking agency when there are literally no tours happening right now at all?
Yeah, basically nothing. It really sucks!
We’ve had a shit-load of shows lined up for this year, I don’t have the exact number right now but we’re nine people and each one of us books like 2 or 3 tours at a time. So there could be at least 10 tours cancelled in 2020 that were all booked up already. As we don’t only do tour booking but also provide tour services, for example we have a van that is located in Graz, Austria and we rent out to artists, we also have a full backline—like instruments and guitars also located in Graz—and we have a lot of commissions on that, like deposits that we haven’t really secured and stuff like that, so we obviously have to cancel everything and pay deposits back to artists. I can say we already lost a ton of money on this year. So what’s gonna happen? Nothing is gonna happen. There’s essentially zero income right now and there’s not gonna be a single source of income all this year. Essentially the whole team is chatting with each other, we check in how everyone’s doing. And we all agree that despite certain countries are opening up again, we are not gonna book even if it’s possible. We all agree as a team that it’s not ethical and also not responsible to book anything at this point.
We’re not gonna disappear for sure. We don’t have too much running costs anyway. The only thing we pay is a little bit of insurance here and there on the van and the stuff that we own, or for parking or the storage space that we have. But it’s really not too bad and lots of people helped us out already. And although we are all non-cis people, I still think that we as people in the collective have a lot of privilege. We are not the kind of people who need any financial support right now, we’re gonna survive, it’s fine.
So what ways do we have to promote bands and queer artists in times when they can’t perform live in front of people?
I think right now is the best time to reflect on the scene. Now it’s easier to see how we have 99% male and cis-hetero artists and we really need to reconsider that. Just make space for marginalized folks. Honestly, the best way to support artists is to look at your own roster if you run a label, look at the shows you book in town, look at the lineups that you have at these shows, and just try to really diversify the whole thing in the future. I honestly think this is the best way to support us because what we want is not a personal gain—what we really want is a DIY music (and also a society) with more diversity, eventually less dependent on the whole gatekeeping system as it is.
Are there any festivals that you want to call out on this last thing?
Let me think, there’s definitely a bunch of festivals in the UK. But one of the first things that comes to my mind is this huge rock festival in Germany called Rock am Ring. It’s a really awful commercial shit-show, the typical huge festival thing with more than 80% male lineup on the festival or even more. That’s probably the one I got pretty annoyed about a lot. There’s also Download Festival in the UK. It’s pretty horrible and I can’t spend a second on these festivals. But maybe if they fire their male booking agents they could have a little bit more diversity. So without male booking agents and staff, the things may look a bit more different.
But there are also a lot of fantastic festivals that I wanna share out. First of all, I wanna share Decolonise Fest in the UK. It’s a festival organized and catered by people of color. And it’s incredibly important to help this festival out. Obviously, they had to cancel this year as well. But they do a fantastic job! Also in the UK, we have the Girl Gang Sheffield crew who also put out a fantastic festival. Also The Ladies First crew who organize a festival called Ladies First Fest.
All these festivals are specifically catered to marginalized artists and I love that!
How does the DIY scene helps you as a trans person to express yourself creatively? Are there any practical tips to share for cis people like me to support marginalized people and help them out to start their own bands, zines, crews, etc.?
Yeah, first of all the DIY scene could be nothing more than white-male penis energy. But what helps me in DIY to express myself is the general ethos of empowering yourself to do things that you didn’t think are possible on your own or together with your mates. The way the DIY helps me to express myself creatively as a marginalized person, as a trans person, is to just show me that if I wanna do something, I will be able to do it on my own. DIY is just showing me the possibilities that everything is doable, that you can all do it yourself or do it together. That in itself is the greatest empowerment!
For the second question, pretty much stop booking all-male bands! Technically, I don’t have anything against all-male bands, but let’s face it, the DIY scene is way, way flooded by all-male-white-cis-het bands and we’re all tired of them all, aren’t we? We’ve all seen it, so make space for marginalized folks, and if you know any booking person, tell them to look up at their lineup and let them make a plan to make sure that there’s something like 50-50% quota. So if you wanna book an all-male band, make sure there is at least one other band full of diverse / non-cis-male-non-white / folks on the lineup. Just make sure to mix it up.
And if you can’t find any non all-male artists for the specific event, well, maybe you don’t need to have the event. I mean, is it really necessary to have another show of four crust punk all-male bands? Do you really need that? I don’t think so. It gets boring.
Second thing I want to say is to just consider and reflect on the kind of audience that you want to have. If your audience is all-male, all-white, then probably you’re doing something wrong. It’s obvious that if you wanna attract a more diverse audience, then you have to book more diverse artists. For example, as a trans woman I don’t want to go to a show full of men whining about their penis. It’s ok for them to do so, but it’s just not something that I can connect to. So as soon as you start booking more diverse artists, a more diverse audience is also gonna start to show up.
So get your priorities straight, think about what you wanna do. Also look up the kind of people you have in your crew. If your crew is all white people, if your crew is all cis-gender people, if your crew is all men, then probably you’re doing something wrong as well. And if you wanna do something better—start with yourself, start with your crew. Question your attitude and think about what you can do together to attract more diverse folks in your crew.
Thank you, any shoutouts to bands or non-music related projects by marginalized artists?
Yes, I think I wanna shout out to non-music related things. I wanna shout out to Minnesota Freedom Fund who essentially bail out protesters even though they are really overrun by donations right now. But anyway, they do amazing work. Also I wanna shout out to Reclaim The Block, an organization that have been campaigning for years now in Minneapolis, MN, to take funding out of the police force and put the funding back into marginalized communities, and to allocate that money into prevention, into health care programs. That’s pretty much all I have to say. Thank you very much!