fraserfab is a queer dance artist working in performance, production & queer space. Graduating from The Rambert School, fraserfab has worked for LGBTQ+ organisations The Chateau and Raze Collective supporting with design and social media. They also co-curate and produce the queer dance platform and party MIND UR HEAD; the sixth edition of which will be going live online this April. they have worked commercially in music (Arcade Fire, John Grant), fashion (Craig Green, Dazed, GQ) and in art (Pablo Bronstein, Jack Irving, Christopher Matthews). Their solo and ensemble works have been performed widely across London (Lilian Baylis, The Place, Bunker Theatre, OXO Tower Gallery).
Q: How did you become involved with the Chateau? What's your role in the Chateau family?
It was all quite rapid actually. I went to listen to a panel Q&A they had on, messaged them after on Facebook about bar cover, got a shift and that was it. There was a time I would have said that I worked at the Chateau and then somehow that evolved into feeling like I was really just part of it all, which is really special. My role in the family... I mean it’s all very DIY, there’s a kind of ‘all hands to pump’ mentality! I work the bar, the door, bleach the loos, get up in drags, do the socials, a few of the graphics…a bit of everything really.
Q: During your time working at the Chateau in Camberwell how have you seen the South London queer scene develop?
Obviously I’m wildly biased but I feel like it’s fair to say that the basement, for a lot of people, has really become a centre of their queer community. There isn’t a whole lot for queer folks in the local area and so to have that space held - knowing it's there every weekend and doing what we were trying to do - it really went some way in actually bringing a south east London queer scene together. It seems like an age ago (before Coronavirus!) but we recently announced that our time in the basement was at an end. The outpouring of love we got on our socials after that announcement was immense; literally hundreds of people commenting, messaging, getting in touch. It really affirmed to me just how much this space meant to so many people - it was only meant to be a 6 week pop-up in 2018 and 2 years on it’s grown into something so much bigger.
Q: Why and when did you set up the club night ‘MIND UR HEAD’? What is ‘MIND UR HEAD’ for anyone who doesn't know?
MIND UR HEAD is a platform and party which I co-curate with Pierre, which centres queer dance performance.
Around me there were (and still are) so many incredible queer dance artists doing their thing, hustling, as we all do and I felt like it needed space. For me it was about a kind of urgency to make a space which I didn’t see. Where people could fully bring themselves as both a ‘dancer’ (whatever it is that means for them) and a queer person- where neither are feeling compromised or diminished or commodified- they're just being.
Last June I got chatting with Pierre (Pierre & Baby) and we decided to bash it out together. The night is a kind of bizarre and unique experience. Because the space in the basement is so limited, the interaction between people and artists is so physical and intimate. Audience really have to shift to see stuff and for the performer there is this amazing power in really physically carving out space. There have been these moments where the basement goes from like party party vibes to suddenly a room of 120 silent people totally engaged by whatever is happening- I live for that.
This month our MIND UR HEAD No.6 will be available via a Google doc. Commissioned artists will be sharing their work in whatever formats they wish and we’re trying to curate a kind of queer dance resource; loads of links, playlists, footage, reading material.
Q: How do you choose which artist you work with for ‘Mind Your Head’?
Honestly there are so many incredible artists on our ‘people to invite’ list- it’s really long. We always talk about balance and I think that means a few different things for us. We want to invite artists from as broad a range of styles and backgrounds as we can to the night so there isn’t ever a sense of ‘house-style'. The scene is so diverse in terms of gender, race, style, class background and any night which doesn't reflect that just isn’t reflecting the reality and full beauty of the scene. In the 5 events we’ve hosted till now I think we’ve had contemporary, burlesque, performance artists, voguers... so it’s super broad. Inviting younger artists (maybe final year students or recent graduates) is a big commitment for us. There can be a real cliff edge at the end of dance education, like “ok what now?” Reaching out is a small way for us to bring those younger artists into this community which is there for them and really celebrates them and their work.
Q: You're from Southampton, does this have an impact on your creative influences when producing a performance? What's the scene like there?
I think about Southampton a lot. I did everything I could when I was a teenager to get out because I didn’t see a path for myself there and when I first moved to London for dance training, I really dragged it as a place. Now I’ve got so much more respect and love for it, especially the teachers and mentors there who really took the time to nurture me. It influences how I think a lot these days, in performance but just generally too. Having those connections outside the London bubble makes me quite mindful of just how London-centric some of thinking within the lefty/liberal/queer world can be.
Q: Do you think it's hard to be a freelance dancer in London today? How do you think the industry is changing?
If I’d answered this question a month ago I would have said yes but literally today, right now, it’s impossible. The Covid-19 crisis has wiped everyone’s calendars for the foreseeable future. It’s throwing a massive light on just how fragile all our livelihoods are. People live pay cheque to pay cheque, filling the gaps between dance work with a patchwork of different jobs- all of it now is on hold. I’m on a group chat right now with a bunch of queer artists as all of us are trying to figure out if or how we are eligible for any government support and it just feels like we fall through all the gaps. I have no idea what the industry will look like on the other side of this. All i do know is as a community, there is a desperation to just be with each other and dance together again- hopefully that energy will help to propel us when we get to the other side of this.
Q: Do you think it's still important for a dancer to go to school and study dance in 2020 in current educational climates?
I feel like it’s important for dancers to want to learn and be open to experiences, but whether that has to be within an institutional context, I’m not so sure. The financial burden is obscene and I’m not just talking about tuition but for dance there’s audition fees, living costs, all the 'specialist’ clothes you have to buy, the summer intensives you have to pay for, the unpaid labour that’s expected of you to ‘get yourself out there’. Dance is still wildly elitist and if you’re not from money, the choice of whether or not to go and study/train isn’t a simple one. On balance I’m grateful for the education I had at Rambert. Though the experience was really intense, I think I have been able to process a lot of really valuable things from some of my hardest struggles there.
Q: In the last 2 years there’s been more exposure and recognition for queer artists then ever before amongst art institutions, do you think this has helped queer dancers gain more exposure and work? How can this be sustained looking forward?
I think broadly, yes it has given queer dancers more work and exposure. However if an institution just wants you and your ‘queer identity’ to come and tick their diversity box, they better pay for it. If those institutions do care genuinely about giving a platform to queer dancers, beyond just ticking a box, they might be well advised to take a pause and consider: are queer people being given control and agency over their own work? Has your institution taken the time to understand this artist'swork, who they are? Just because a person identifies as a queer dancer does not automatically make them a voguer. Has your platform or institution given thought to the specific needs of queer dancers regarding space, safety and time? If your institution is platforming only white queer artists, you have a big problem. Sustainability-wise, how about these institutions look at themselves? Consider whether they have queer people, vitally queer people of colour, in positions of power to action the structural change which is urgently needed to make art institutions more accessible to everyone.
Picture credit: @scallywagfox
Published: 04/04/2020 by Queerdirect
Edits by Tamar Clarke-Brown