Thinking queerly: talking safe spaces with Kremwerk

Words by Kate Menzies
Photos by Geo Xeal and Veta Visuals for Kremwerk

Our copywriter Kate Menzies sits down with the team behind one of the best queer venues on the West Coast to talk safe spaces, the importance of diverse programming, and how they keep it weird

Venues are more than just places to enjoy performances – they’re safe spaces to explore identity, sexuality and gender expression, particularly for the LGBTQIA+ community. From molly houses in 18th-century London to New York’s queer venue boom in the 1920s, there has always been – and will always be – a need for dedicated LGBTQIA+ spaces.

But with the pandemic temporarily shuttering queer spaces, it’s been a markedly difficult period for many. The LGBTQIA+ community not only felt the effects of the pandemic more keenly in a number of ways (more at risk from the virus itself, more likely to experience poor mental health, and more vulnerable to job loss) but their opportunities to come together and support one another were restricted, too.

Kremwerk – a queer venue in Seattle, Washington known for offering the finest in live shows, electronic music and drag – is one of the many spaces that was forced to close its doors to the community during the pandemic. But after reopening in July last year, they’ve been working hard to serve the queer scene with the best parties – and a safe space to enjoy them in. We caught up with the team to chat about what safe spaces mean to them, and what the music industry needs to get right now that events are back.

Building a safe space and queer haven

Kremwerk has a strong purpose at its core: to put on queer-centric programming and celebrate queer and drag culture. “Kremwerk was opened to provide a safer more inclusive space for queer and trans people that was not really available to us in the electronic music scene here,” says electronic booker Dani Loose. “We wanted this to be the place where drag performers and DJs have a larger amount of freedom to express themselves – the freaks come out at night.”

Long-time drag performer Mercury Divine, who runs an open drag night for new performers at the venue called WERKshop Wednesday, echoes this sentiment. “I appreciate Kremwerk because it’s a venue that has truly proven its commitment to diverse queer programming. Especially in the RuPaul era of drag, it can be really easy for marginalised subgroups of performers to get overlooked, because the pop culture image of drag is so narrow. Kremwerk is one of the few places in town I feel truly doesn’t give a shit about that narrow definition.”


Investing in inclusivity

The live events that bring fans out to Kremwerk are varied, but they skew towards genres known for their innovation and inclusivity – electronic music and drag. While the queer scene is often praised for its intersectional inclusivity, Dani thinks that the industry is really missing the mark on racial and gender equity. “It’s clear that the right voices are being uplifted but not being paid adequately to tell their stories. It’s time we get real about making sure people’s work isn’t being decontextualised for the sake of ‘looking good’ – and paying them crap.”

With that in mind, where should venues and promoters get started with taking on the responsibility of ensuring that everyone can participate in live music? “Book artists that are in line with your values of inclusivity and safe spaces; take risks and invest in artists that express a variety of life experiences,” says Kremwerk’s live booker Lizz Slabaugh.

“Start by hiring a diverse mix of people in terms of race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomics, and ability,” adds Dani. “Make sure you’re making yourself available to feedback from those you are working to serve. Do whatever you can to build personal relationships with the people in your crowds and listen to what they need. Hire people who understand that diversity is not an accomplishment, but an ever-changing process of connection.”

And while the pair agree that the vanguard of the queer scene has welcomed them with open arms, they want to extend that love and advice to the next generation. “There needs to be more efforts to bridge generational gaps, a lot of young people in the music industry are really cut out of institutional knowledge on how to operate in this field,” says Dani. “I feel lucky to have peers who span generations who’ve been giving me amazing guidance, but I really don’t see that for my peers who are new to the music industry. I think older generations have just as much to learn from us, too.”


Looking out for each other

As the live industry continues to recover from the knock-on effects of the pandemic, venues are playing a huge part in getting things back on track for artists and fans alike. “It feels amazing to be open again,” says Kremwerk’s drag booker Skarlet Dior Black. “I truly missed creating fun events that the community I love can enjoy. I’ve definitely fumbled a few shows, but people are really responding well to the direction the club’s been moving in. 

The team’s ability to stay flexible and prioritise everyone’s safety has worked in their favour. “Logistically, shows are a lot trickier to run and it helps to be at peace with things you can’t change – just make the best of the moment,” says Dani. “We’re really lucky that Kremwerk’s crowd is incredibly considerate and responsive to the ever-changing Covid measures. I know that nightlife is where you are meant to release your inhibitions, but seeing people take the measures seriously when we were in the thick of it made me feel like our scene was really looking out for each other.”

Keeping it weird

Since getting back on track, “Cucci, Arthaus, NOIR, Drag Does and Strike a Pose have all been exciting staples at the club post Covid,” says Skarlet. “The energy is always positive and exciting at these shows.” Strike a Pose, led by Julian Everett and Tinashe Monet, showcases Seattle and Tacoma’s ballroom community. 

With all this generative learning and growth, what does the rest of 2022 look like for Kremwerk? For Skarlet it’s “building Kremwerk back to being the place for unique drag show ideas and to make this a place for people to spread their wings and grow as drag artists”. Lizz hopes to “increase the avant-garde experience of live music and expand our reach to show-goers in Seattle.” And Dani? “I just want to make sure we do more to contextualise who/where music is coming from and how it connects to everything it touches. And getting weirder. We gotta keep it weird.”

Interested in learning more about how to create a safe space? Get in touch with our team. We’d love to help.

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