Lagos’ EDM scene is a safe space for queer liberation
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When Samuel first found himself at Sweat it Out Lagos, an EDM event that happens once a month where different DJs play electronic music and house tracks, what he immediately noticed were bodies pressed together against the wall of the warehouse. For the first time since moving to Lagos, he was in the presence of other people who enjoyed the sound.
“It was midnight when I arrived with my friends after they had persuaded me to come. I didn’t know there was this community of people like this in Lagos, and was reluctant to go,” Samuel remembers. “But when I walked into the venue, I could see bodies moving, people shaking their heads, dancing. It felt like a place without scrutiny. Seeing queer people making out on the dance floor was a highlight for me.”
For many LGBTQ+ people in Nigeria, having a place to live freely without worrying about being attacked by homophobes is an uphill task. With the Same-Sex marriage prohibition Act (SSMPA) signed into law by former President Goodluck E. Jonathan, the SSMPA prohibits any sort of gathering by LGBTQ+ people, and criminalizes same-sex marriages with up to 14 years in prison. Some parts of the country even sentence people to death by stoning. This has caused so many LGBTQ+ people to look for ways in which they can find a community. With events like Sweat it Out, this community seems to be within reach.
Fola Francis, a trans woman, became an avid EDM fan after attending her first rave just a few months back and now never misses EDM events in Lagos. She describes [EDM events] as a place where queer people can be themselves. “It’s like escapism filled with good vibes and a getaway from the normal songs we are accustomed to that mostly promote heteronormativity," she says.
[Photo by Bishop Ebuka Duke]
At raves, where queer people try to be themselves and have fun, security is always a factor to consider. “I enjoy the fact that there are bouncers outside [who] offer safety,” Dami, another EDM fan, says. “I think the light at Sweat It Out has a thing to do with why I’m more comfortable making out with another guy than I’d be in other places. It’s dark — with the red lights that don't let you miss your steps — and feels safe, too.”
As a country that is widely known for its Afrobeats, the EDM scene is relatively small, as compared to other genres in the Nigerian music scene. While it is still gaining ground among listeners and hasn’t gotten the same recognition other genres have from big brands and event promoters, there are people working toward taking it more mainstream, despite how challenging it has proven to be.
For Maze x Mxtreme, an Afro EDM duo, being EDM DJs in Nigeria is hard. When they first started out, people didn’t understand what EDM meant, and they had to break it down. “In 2017 when we first moved to Lagos, we had to tell people EDM was electronic dance music, and when they asked what it meant, we’d ask if they knew David Guetta,” the duo says. “Getting meetings with radio heads was hard on its own, too, because we had to be persistent, seeing as we had no backing in the industry. It was already hard being a DJ/musician here, but being an Afro-EDM DJ was way out of the box.”
The duo recalls having no gigs one year because nobody was interested in listening to EDM. So instead, they spent their time honing their craft as DJs, playing at small events, and looking for ways to penetrate the industry and get people to listen to Afro-EDM. Now, they have secured their place in the Nigerian EDM scene, with their infusion of Afro helping them reach more audiences.
“Infusing Afro to EDM is very exciting. The rhythm in our Afro music is tied to our person, to our blood — so if you don’t have a melody Africans can relate to, it’s not going to be easy.” With a combination of Afro and EDM, the duo is making music that's more interesting for Nigerians to connect and relate to.
[Photo by Bishop Ebuka Duke]
Maze x Mxtreme also set out to give people a time of their lives at raves and parties. Just like Sweat It Out, the duo hosts an EDM party, Zodiac, once every month. Held in different parts of Lagos, the raves are filled with Gen Zers and millennials looking for an avenue to have fun and meet new people.
“You walk into a rave, and you are sure to connect with people you’ve never seen before on the dance floor because you’re both high and having the time of your life,” Samuel says. “You know making friends as an adult is hard enough, so this is always the best time!”
Francis agrees that the dance floor is a place of connection. “You walk into one, and all you do is dance — with your friends, with people you’ve never met,” she says.
Now, you walk into any rave and can find a mix of generations on the dance floor. Fans like Francis agree, though, that it's only a matter of time that the EDM community in Nigeria just keeps growing, saying, "I see more musicians exploring this genre in the future as it becomes prominent in the country."
As more people become accustomed to the sound, it seems likely that raves beyond Lagos could open — with even more people finding themselves connected and liberated, as they shake their heads to the beats and pass each other blunts on the dance floor.