'What's exciting about this is that it's an experiment in creating something that doesn't really exist anywhere else,' says artist and nightlife organiser June Lam. He’s getting ready to kick off GGI, London’s only night for queer East and South East Asian (ESEA) people, and as he explains, it couldn’t come at a more essential time.
'It's been quite an intense year and a half for East and South-East Asian people because of the Atlanta shootings and all of the Covid racism,' he says. 'The times we’ve come together as a community have often been hard and sometimes depressing, so I really wanted to create a joyful space for our community.'
So what can you expect? According to Lam, GGI is an arty, fun night of 'house music, techno, gabba and industrial punk' with film screenings by ESEA artists, a performance by Zah, and DJ sets by Chooc Ly, Ms. G, and June Bellebono.
But more importantly, as Lam says, 'It’s about feeling safe, and like feeling you can celebrate your culture without being fetishized.'
'Nights run by non-ESEA folks which are themed around ESEA culture usually inadvertently resort to orientalist stereotypes,' says Lam, 'by asking people to wear kimonos, or encouraging guests to come in asian costumes.” As he explains, GGI has a specific policy around dress, and it’s crystal clear that using Asian cultures as a costume is not acceptable.
It reads: 'Chopsticks in hair, geisha face paint, samurai swords and kimonos or cheongsams worn out of context are an example of reducing culture to a stereotype and will not be welcome in this space. This applies especially to white allies.'
GGI is also a place where people can party without worrying about being fetishised.
Geisha face paint, samurai swords and kimonos will not be welcome in this space
'ESEA queer folks, especially femmes, are often fetishised by white gay men,” says Lam. 'You’ll often see profiles on Grindr specifically looking for Asian men who are 'smooth', 'slim' and 'femme' - fetishising East Asian features and body types - and this also plays out in clubs and in nightlife spaces.'
As well as being fetishised, there’s also a risk of femmes feeling excluded from the queer mainstream. 'there’s a lot of femme-phobia in gay male culture,' says Lam, 'and I wanted to make it very clear that this would not be welcome, by making my night explicitly femme focused.' That’s something reflected in the name: '끼 ‘ggi’ is korean slang, loosely translated to 'feminine energy and affection' - and used with other words loosely translates to 'femme'.
I wanted to pick a name for this night which gives an idea of the vibe and target audience.'
Every aspect of GGI has been carefully considered, from the name to the policies to the line-up: but meticulous planning is essential to create a space where people can feel free. 'The hallmark of a great night is being with a community that you feel safe in, and feeling like you can really dress up and be your best selves and the best expression of your gender,' says Lam.
So what’s it like running a night for the first time? 'I'm having to wear all these different hats,' says Lam, “but most of them I'm familiar with in some way, because I do a bunch of nightlife things already. I used to bartend at The Glory, I've done the door at Dalston Superstores, I’m an artist liaison at Pxssy Palace'.
Still, even though Lam has a wealth of experience in nightlife, it was a scheme by The Yard that gave him the boost he needed to move into running a night: 'they had an opportunity called Night Draft, to fund a new night for a marginalised community. They’re providing mentorship, security, and a venue.'
It’s essential because, as Lam explains, 'as a trans Asian person who's working class, you're not going to have the resources to pay a bunch of DJs, to pay a venue, to pay the bar overhead. There's so many costs involved, especially in London, where there aren’t many venues that are affordable.'
With The Yard’s support, Lam wants to 'galvanise a community', and to help bring people together to share experiences too. 'I'm really excited to see who's gonna come out,' he says. 'I think there’s something really powerful about trans, marginalised people of colour taking up space this way.'
GGI is at The Yard on Saturday 4th December. More info and tickets HERE. For info on future nights, follow GGI on instagram @ggi.club