How BBZ are changing the face of London’s queer club scene
“We did the first one at Buster Mantis in Deptford, got a load of friends on board, and the rest is history.” Film-maker Tia Simon-Campbell, one half of the BBZ collective, is musing on how she co-founded the night which is shaking up London’s queer club scene.
The other half of the power couple is photographer Nadine Davis. And despite the fact that BBZ has only been around for just over a year, Tia and Nadine already have an impressive list of collaborations under their belt, including events with gal-dem, Born N Bread and Pussy Palace, Peckham-based radio station Balamii, and an exhibition at the V&A.
At its core, BBZ is an inclusive place for lifting up women and female-identifying people of colour. “It’s about creating a brave space for that particular community to embrace each other, embrace themselves, and to help build in many different respects,” says Tia, “whether that be creatively or emotionally. To have other people to talk to who will understand your experiences… But also just to have a good time!”
Inspired by Nadine’s visit to renowned San Francisco queer night Swagger Like Us, the girls sought to create a similar experience in their hometown of London. “It was a period where we were both feeling quite low and also ready to just find our community. I didn’t feel like I belonged to a community, and I suppose that without even realising it that’s what we were doing with creating BBZ. It was a bit of a selfish project to start off with to be honest, we just wanted to make our own friends!”
Some might argue that concepts such as representation and diversity have become buzzwords in the mainstream over the last couple of years, with corporations and major institutions attempting to favourably align themselves with the increasing awareness around the spectrums of race, culture and queerness. Although they are both wary of the possibility of this new interest being little more than a fad or marketing tactic, both members of BBZ believe that, overall, it’s a positive phenomenon.
“Visibility is everything,” argues Tia. “It means that people are able to see themselves in a space where they would never normally see themselves, in spaces that they’ve usually been alienated [from].” Nadine agrees, “It feels like the beginning of the call out, people are constantly evolving and realising where they’re going wrong. For my trans friends, my differently-abled friends, my female-identifying friends, I feel there’s more room to take up and more confidence in taking up that space. I definitely feel nights like BBZ have helped steer the conversation, or just bring it up in the first place. The conversation is the answer a lot of the time.”
As we talk, the girls are preparing for their Afropunk London installation, which they describe as a “nostalgic nod to the Black British teenage experience”. The project, entitled My Yard, comprised of three rooms representing different versions or phases of this experience: woke, road and punk. Think Erykah Badu and Maya Angelou, 2003 grime and Channel U, X-Ray Spex and Nina Simone. Each room features a BBZ TV indicative of its respective vibe, because a feature of every BBZ party that is “a re-imagining of television as what we would like it to be with ourselves being actually seen and heard and visible”, alongside works from artists such as Adama Jalloh, Rochelle White, Leala-Rain Shonaiya, and fellow collective Black in the Day.
“We’re trying to really build on it being a collective, interactive experience so people can just chill and cotch. When you’re an immigrant you end up creating your own home, and you create home within community, and we’re exploring that idea. When we go ‘back home’, i.e. to the Caribbean or Africa, we don’t quite fit in, and also when we’re in the UK we don’t fit in. It’s important to recognise that Black British people have created their own culture.”
Earlier this summer, Pride weekend saw Tia and Nadine host a BBZ x Balamii party at Corsica Studios played by DJs such as Ikonika and Throwing Shade, a party that they describe as an “unintentional” Pride event – “we’re not anti-Pride, but the Pride that we know in Soho isn’t really for us. If you’re a queer woman of colour, or even a woman, or even someone that doesn’t define themselves as male or female there isn’t necessarily a place for you,” they explain.
As for the future, they want to take a break from big events and go back to focusing on “house party vibes” at their own club nights, along with preparing for a week-long exhibition at the Tate Modern in December. Despite plans for events overseas and expanding the night outside of London, it’s clear that community is at the centre of all that BBZ does. “Everything starts with the community. Without the community we are nothing. It’s all about building together, so that we’re all stronger and elevate together.”