Reorganised fun: Big Dyke Energy are the party community dancing into a brighter future for festivals and queer spaces
We’re working with Dr. Martens to gain an ALL ACCESS pass to some of Europe’s best festivals. Finding the people, places and plans that are pushing the landscape forward and levelling the playing field for music lovers. Here all summer.
Big Dyke Energy is the ravey, rowdy queer party that’s pulsated in southeast London for the last four years.
“We were told not to do it there, because apparently, there are no queers south of the river!” co-founder Melo says. Co-running the night and label alongside DJ, producer and promoter Elliott (who also manages a vinyl-cutting company), they’ve built a strong community that revels in the night’s elastic house, freewheeling techno and fizzing energy. The party brings together a collective of dancers that revere mutual respect and unbridled self-expression – that’s set to spool out across a summer of festivals: up next is Peckham’s GALA, and then onto Bristol to BDE’s first-ever festival.
What is now one of London’s DIY scene mainstays was first born out of Melo and Elliott’s own lacking partying experiences. “We felt like there really wasn’t a safe space for queer women, non-binary and trans people to go and dance to dance music – hedonistically, very specifically!” emphasises Melo. While spaces for cis gay men existed, there were less for those under the wider queer umbrella. “We were just an afterthought,” Melo says. Both share instances in clubs where they were misgendered, thrown out of toilets, and hassled over their identity on IDs. BDE, in contrast, is part of a tapestry of queer parties and collectives forging safer spaces.
“We think it’s so important that our community feels euphoria and freedom while dancing to the music that they love. That’s BDE,” Melo explains.
Those nights of intentional dancefloors – powered by respect, consent, and egoless, unbridled hedonism – will open up at BDE’s festival in June, where they’ll take over Bristol’s Lakota for the one-day event. There’s a guaranteed raucous back-to-back set from Eris Drew and Octo Octa on the cards, plus space for Angel D’Lite, Ellie Stokes, YAZZUS and Fliss Mayo, as well as Elliott’s joint project FAFF – a link-up with fellow BDE mainstay Orny. “It’s just an amazing privilege – we get to curate the whole energy for the night, providing an experience from start to finish where we invite our favourite DJs to come and show off their talent. FAFF will be bringing high camp, ‘T4T NRG’!” says Elliott. The festival grew from first connecting with Eris Drew and Octo Octa; while all playing at London’s Corsica Studios, Elliott slipped them a BDE label vinyl with a note asking to book them. They built the festival around that first killer booking.
“We wanted to make sure we had a balance of exciting, established DJs, local talent and our residents,” says Melo on the event’s programme. “To bring them in at an affordable price for Bristol is also important. And we’re conscious that we’re a London party. I live in and absolutely love Bristol, and we want to make sure we’re bringing something to this community,” Melo adds.
The festival is pivotal in bringing the Big Dyke Energy ethos to bigger spaces and audiences, but also for the wider festival landscape. It’s a chance to level the festival playing field, which BDE is taking on with fervour. They’ve partnered with GALA to ensure a safe, queer-friendly environment, bringing in their own security and team. And aside from sourcing smoke machines, confetti guns (to be confirmed!) and a few hundred yards of trans pride flag bunting for their open-air celebrations, they’re setting an example with forward-thinking on the most fundamental elements of running a festival. Tickets are priced higher for allies, which supports a fund for free tickets for low-income queer people. Just like they do with the club night, it makes it a more considered purchase, cultivating a safer space.
“We think it's so important that our community feels euphoria and freedom while dancing to the music that they love. That’s BDE" – Melo
“When I was coming out, I didn’t actually have any queer friends,” says Melo. “From my perspective, removing allies from spaces would be difficult – it could marginalise people. We never want to separate openly queer people from those who are not. We keep it queer and safer. BDE has never been exclusionary. We’re about bringing people in.”
While creating safer, representative festival environments, it’s also an opportunity for queer artists and punters to enjoy the same scope, specs, and production levels as mainstream festivals. The continued success of Body Movements is testament to that – the expanding, LGBTQ+ London festival run by Saoirse and Clayton Wright sold out Printworks with its winter edition, and has an even bigger summer offering (it’s at this chapter that BDE hosted a stage last year).
“I’m so glad we’ve moved on from when I started coming out,” reflects Melo, ”in a northern town where if you were queer all you had were cheap, tacky clubs. Nights with a lesbian night on one floor and metal on another or in Soho centred around cis gay men. I’m so happy we can grow BDE, especially with so many spaces shutting. There are clubs like FOLD that are queer-centred, with amazing sound systems. We absolutely deserve more of those spaces, too.”
Still, it’s vital for them to keep the spirit of the sweaty queer underground, nights made by and for an underserved community, while they expand. This is still fairly new territory for queer organisers – there’s no set template, and that’s both challenging and liberating. “We have turned down a fair amount of offers that didn’t feel right to take on, as they wouldn’t generally prioritise the crowd that come to our events,” says Elliott. “We are growing, but we are doing it in our own way. We don’t rely on any outside sponsoring or funding, which allows us total control and freedom to do what we want. I know we are extremely lucky to be able to do.”
Elliott cites small, independent festivals like Field Maneuvers and Floorless that “keep the underground scene alive, as well as putting punters first”. Club nights that stay true to their core values percolate across the UK, Ireland, and Europe: London’s T-Boys Club and Pxssy Palace, Maricas in Barcelona, Glasgow’s Shoot Your Shot, and Honeypot in Dublin.
Away from the familiarity of their London home, Bermondsey’s Venue MOT Unit 18, Elliott and Melo feel a responsibility to educate straight-focused venues. That means ensuring non-gendered toilets, briefing security, and prioritising people’s safety. At the same time, they’re up against frustrating challenges in the run-up to their festival: while promoting in Bristol, they’ve had Instagram ads banned for using the word ‘dyke’. “That’s a word we find power and strength in reclaiming,” says Melo. “It shows how out of touch corporate businesses are in policing us this way. There are so many barriers as queer promoters we’re still coming across.”
It feels all the more urgent to create havens for trans people in the UK, where the social and political landscape is fractured by transphobia. “I hope these bubbles we create are places trans people can just go and feel genuinely safe,” says Melo. “These are places to provide respite, to exist without prejudice, but also somewhere to create a community that helps fight that war on trans people.”
The summer is stacked with that opportunity: after GALA and their Lakota outing, their residency at Venue MOT continues through the year, as well as Bristol Pride. As Melo says: “We can hope for – and steer, I hope – a future that feels bright for queer parties and spaces.”