“I instantly felt a connection”: The rise of Brighton’s queer punk scene

Brighton has long been known as a vibrant hub for queer punk and DIY. And, thanks to a brilliant crop of current bands like CLT DRP, LibraLibra and Lambrini Girls, it’s a scene that is continuing to thrive…

“I instantly felt a connection”: The rise of Brighton’s queer punk scene
Rosie Solomon

As 2020 drew to a close, with the end of the pandemic decidedly not on the horizon, Brighton took action.

The city put on four live shows on consecutive Saturdays at the Dome, dubbed Live Is Alive, in order to showcase emerging talent and raise money for grassroots venues. There, three acts in particular – LibraLibra, CLT DRP and Lambrini Girls – began to carve out a space for themselves in a cis-male world, anchoring to Brighton’s queer music scene as they did so.

“It was really an honour to be asked to play the Dome – it’s such an iconic venue,” smiles LibraLibra’s Beth. “There was a load of genuine emotion in that room [after so long without live music]. Everyone was hungry for it.”

“People who were getting paid pennies made that night happen…” continues Annie Doret, vocalist and lyricist of electro-punks CLT DRP. “But without that kind of community and dedication, those places would fall apart.”

And while LibraLibra and CLT DRP were already on the rise, it was Lambrini Girls who arguably benefitted the most from this deserved exposure. At the event, they were name-checked as a cornerstone of Brighton’s queer music scene – and it changed everything. “No-one really knew about our band before that gig,” remember Fox and Catt, bassist and drummer respectively. “Since restrictions were lifted we’ve had amazing turnouts for our gigs, and that’s definitely due to the exposure that Live Is Alive gave us.”

Brighton has, of course, had a rich queer history for hundreds of years. In the 19th century, gay men were drawn to the seaside town by the soldiers stationed there during the Napoleonic wars; the city now boasts a 11 to 15 per cent queer community.

“I moved to Brighton for university. I didn’t specifically choose the city as a queer space, because I didn’t know I was gay back then!” LibraLibra’s Guy Jones laughs. “I think subconsciously I just knew that Brighton was somewhere I was going to be safe. It’s so normalised to be queer here that it almost doesn’t matter.”

Beth agrees. “To me, the Brighton scene always looked so free,” the singer nods. “It felt like a place where you could be yourself and not be judged.” This attitude is reflected in LibraLibra’s utterly unique sound – a chaotic blend of pop hooks and punk verve that brings a carnival-like atmosphere to every live show. Or, as Guy says, “It’s a very ‘come one, come all’ attitude – bring any flavour of freak.”

Annie fell in love with the hardcore scene after moving to Brighton to study. “I was obsessed with it because I had never experienced anything like that in [my hometown] Toronto. I instantly felt a connection to the music.” And, having just wrapped on a tour with Svalbard and Heriot, Annie has since realised that around the country, CLT DRP were still mostly drawing crowds of predominantly white men – contrasting with the mixture they tend to get in Brighton. “It made me realise the importance of representation and inclusivity in line-ups – to get more diverse crowds at shows and make the scene more accepting. It’s inspired me to go on to write music that’s more celebratory instead of confrontational.”

This camaraderie might be a niche corner of the scene, but it’s one that defines and inspires the bands there. Annie describes the creativity and collaborative nature of working in Brighton, which is “another outlet for me, collaborating with creatives who are also my friends. It’s amazing to have a single come out and like 20 of my friends have worked on it.” She speaks from experience, too: CLT DRP’s remixed debut album features tracks reworked by fellow Brighton bands Bitch Falcon, Yumi And The Weather and, of course, LibraLibra.

Guy also mentions the benefits of being inspired by others who live and work in the same circles. “Playing hometown shows is always a little bit daunting, because everyone in Brighton is in a band! You’re always playing to a room full of musicians, but it’s beautiful because those musicians in our scene tend to be queer, punk and community focused.”

Beth credits Brighton with giving her the awareness to comment more politically on her past experiences and traumas. “There’s a lot of feminist rage in our music – and that’s definitely from Brighton. It’s a place where I could come into my own and understand and process past trauma and aggression and expel it into the music.”

The queer, DIY and punk attitudes of Brighton’s music scene goes further than the musicians, too. Small Pond, a local record label, created Engineering Equality as a way to encourage more people of marginalised genders to work in music production and sound engineering.

“I remember first reading that only five per cent of sound engineers – and less than three per cent of producers – are female. It’s even less for non-binary and trans individuals.” says label manager Liam McMillian. “We wanted to give more women, non-binary and trans individuals the opportunity to get real-world experience and expert training in music production.”

Not that Brighton is perfect. One only needs look at the commercialisation of the town’s Pride events – the largest in the country – to realise that rainbow capitalism comes to a head in the unofficial queer capital of the UK. Hammering home that it’s the people working in grassroots venues and making up the smaller queer community that are to credit for the creative and supportive atmosphere that radiates from the city, Annie simply states: “There are bigger companies around who treat their workers like shit.”

However, with events like Live Is Alive, and within the tight-knit group of queer friends and peers, it’s the punk, grassroots and community attitudes which prevail every time. And now, there’s no stopping them.

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