So, where do LGTBQIA+ artists stand on the music scene? A conversation with Xavier Paufichet, founder of Les Disques du Lobby
Well-known among Parisian clubbers under his stage name, Ixpé, Xavier Paufichet has a long background in the music industry, having been the communication director of the late club Concrete Paris and a cultural communication specialist for Red Bull.
But Xavier is also the founder of Les Disques du Lobby, a promotion platform for French artists from the LGBTQIA+ community, which takes the form of a SoundCloud playlist filled with exclusive tracks.
While preparing for the Pride March parties, Xavier took the time to answer our questions on the pulse of the French and international LGTBQIA+ music scene, which he is very familiar with.
Xavier Paufichet © Linda Trime
The primary goal of Les Disques Du Lobby is to showcase queer musicians, DJs and producers. However, we are seeing more and more prominent artists claiming to be LGBTQIA+. Do you think there is still a lack of visibility for these artists?
Yes, I think there is still a lack of visibility. If I go out in the street and ask anyone to name 5 prominent French LGBT artists, or at least represented in the media, I don't think anyone will give me 5 names,unless they are well informed. It is true that the representation of queer artists is advancing in the media and in society, but is it enough? I don't think so.
In my opinion, record companies have avoided the subject for too long because they didn't know how to deal with LGBT artists. Therefore, there is a real gap in the production and promotion of these artists. It is being done, but it is not enough yet. And the other issue is the amount of hate that these artists have been subjected to. I will mention Bilal Hassani—who has been facing outbreaks of hatred since his arrival in the media for the Eurovision. We may have gained visibility, but the fight is far from over.
Because of this, I feel that another very important aspect of representation is allowing the audience to identify with the artists. I will use Rebeka Warrior who sings in Sexy Sushi and Mansfield Tya, and who is also a producer, as an example. She's an outspoken lesbian, and when you go to her concerts, there are a lot of young lesbian women who are there because they can relate. The fact of seeing LGBT artists who affirm themselves and kick ass allows many people, young people, to say to themselves that they can do the same. It's empowering!
Is France lagging behind other European countries, such as the United Kingdom, on this issue?
Even though we shouldn’t reduce it to this at all I do I think that the UK is ahead. There was David Bowie, an icon of the 70's who was perhaps the first gender non-conformist person to become a superstar. There was also Queen and Freddie Mercury who was openly queer. They were respected for their art and their sexuality was not the first topic of discussion in the media. Kim Petras is another more recent example: she is a German transgender singer (she was the first transgender woman to have surgery at the age of 16) and she is a pop star with an international career and her gender identity is not questioned in every press article.
I will mention Bilal Hassani again because he is a blatant example of the situation in France. Whenever he makes an appearance, whenever he releases a song, there is an outpouring of hate. And I don't think it happens like that in all our neighboring countries, even if I don't want to say that the grass is always greener elsewhere.
In my opinion, record companies have avoided the subject [of LGBT artists visibility] for too long because they didn't know how to deal with [them]. Therefore, there is a real gap in the production and promotion of these artists. It is being done, but it is not enough yet. And the other issue is the amount of hate that these artists have been subjected to
Going back to Les Disques du Lobby, the project welcomes both pop and electronic music. Apart from being a member of the LGBT community, what is the criteria for an artist to be chosen?
Actually, there are not many others than this one! The idea was really to open the door to all French queer and LGBT artists. When I created the project, I liked to say that Les Disques du Lobby had "no gender, nor musical genre". To say that it was a project open to all without restriction of gender, sexuality, or musical style.
As the only artistic director of the project, I still had to make sure that the chosen songs sounded good and were audible to everyone. You could say that there was a basic production level requirement. Even if I didn't expect a professional level—because I know that not everyone can afford it either. Then there were some tracks that sounded a bit "dirty" but because there was an artistic will behind them.
Is the music scene in France still militant when it comes to LGBT battles?
I think there are many forms of activism. There is street activism, which is open to everyone. And then there is also the activism of existence, we will say.
From my point of view, artists who have a media presence are activists because of this mere presence. I am thinking of Yanis, a young artist who came out as trans and non-binary on Mediapart. Yanis did not come with a militant banner, but the simple fact of speaking and existing in the French media universe is an act of militancy. I'm going to talk about Bilal Hassani again, but when he releases a song like "Il ou Elle", it's not just an artistic project~~,~~. It's also an educational activist project.
There is another form of very interesting artistic activism in the LGBT community as well. It's an activism of converging struggles. Queer artists don't only militate for their own cause most of the time. For example, Kiddy Smile recently released a video denouncing police brutality while staying hyper-queer, hyper-flamboyant in the video. There is really a convergence of anti-racist, anti-sexist, etc. struggles.
From my point of view, artists who have a media presence are activists because of this mere presence [...] The simple fact of speaking and existing in the French media universe is an act of militancy.
How much has the LGBTQIA+ community changed in the last 15 years as well? Has this affected the queer music scene?
Oddly enough, what has changed the most in the LGBT community is the use of social networks. Before social networks, everyone was on their own. The only way to get together was either in clubs or in associations, and in both cases, there weren't many. So, you often stayed home alone and isolation set in. This is what several generations of LGBT people have experienced.
Thanks to the emergence of social networks and their multiplication, there is now a community that is both physical, with more and more places to meet, and digital. This digital part is very important. There is a lot of activity on social networks, including militant Instagram accounts where young LGBT people can educate themselves on a lot of topics like: gender issues, sexuality, or historical topics related to the movement.
I think it's something that has really changed the community today. Because today, even a person who is alone, isolated, who lives far from the city, and who wonders about his gender identity, can use these networks find people who look like them, exchange with them, and potentially meet them. And to come back to the subject of artists' visibility, they also use social networks a lot to express themselves. Yanis has done a lot of work to present his coming-out, which has been essential for many young trans people.
But I don't think it really changed the music scene, because queer artists are on the same level as others when it comes to social media. I believe that it has allowed some people to be more outspoken when they see LGBT artists speaking out on social networks and calling out the haters.
Isn't the queerbaiting phenomenon an indicator that the "queer" label seems to have become a selling point for some artists, rather than a way to assert their identity?
I'm going to answer that question in a slightly different way. In fact, it turns out that the cultural scene at large has always been influenced by the gay and LGBT communities. Why? Because LGBT people were often in these industries, whether it was in fashion or music, and they were often at the forefront of all the artistic and cultural trends. It was therefore tempting for straight people who were at the helm of cultural institutions to reappropriate the codes of what they saw as avant-garde, knowing that it would become fashionable later. In the case of queerbaiting, it's a little different because it's really about reclaiming all the codes. It's almost cultural appropriation. But it's too complicated to put the cursor on this matter.
Personally, I don't always feel like pointing the finger at an artist for queerbaiting, even when the appropriation seems blatant. We don't necessarily know the artist's entourage or if they are influenced by LGBT friends. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt, but don't push it too far... I'm thinking in particular of an Anglo-Saxon producer and singer—whose name I won't mention—who uses very homoerotic visuals for his album covers or in his communication. He plays a lot on this gay imagery, so everybody thought he was gay, but, in reality, he's not. And now he has a huge gay audience at his concerts... so it works!
Thanks to the emergence of social networks and their multiplication, there is now a community that is both physical [...] and digital. This digital part is very important. There is a lot of activity on social networks, including militant Instagram accounts where young LGBT people can educate themselves on a lot of topics
You are also a co-founder and organizer of the Discoquette parties, which combine electronic DJ sets and drag shows, and where mixity is the motto. Are parties also a way to militate?
In a way yes, partying is a way of activism because historically the club has always been a place where many people from the LGBT community could meet. It's what we could call a “safer place.” The club is the place where the community can escape from society, from the daily life, from all the homophobia and LGBT-phobia suffered in the street, at work, or in the family. A place where an LGBT person can find people who look like him/her. So in, essence, the club and the party are militant spaces.
With Discoquette, we try to act on different levels. We have an internal and external charter presenting the values of our collective that is essentially composed of LGBT people. We have prevention during the parties. We have drag shows. It's festive, but somehow militant.
As the artistic director, I also pay a lot of attention to the line-up of the parties. For me, creating a line-up, choosing to put forward artists who would not have had a chance elsewhere is another way to militate. For example, for the Pride 2022 party, we have a line-up composed of 100% LGBT artists, with non-binary persons, people of color, drag queens and drag kings, with an almost perfect gender equality. For me it's important and this way of gathering artists is already a militant act.
We could make a techno party with all the top-selling artists and earn a lot of money and there would probably be a lot of happy people. But we're not interested in that. We all have jobs on the side. We're doing this to please ourselves, to please the public. And to promote artists that we think are interesting, both in their personality and in their music.
Doesn't the club remain one of the best places of expression for many LGBT artists?
Well, yes and no... As I said, it's true that the club and electronic music are very much linked to the LGBT community. Techno was founded by minority communities and house music was born out of the death of disco, which was the music of choice for the Black American gay community. So, there's a very strong mutual history which is why LGBT artists love to express themselves in clubs because there's this very distinct energy.
But not all LGBT artists make club music and that's a good thing! That doesn't stop them from coming to our dance floors from time to time!
Partying is a way of activism because historically the club has always been a place where many people from the LGBT community could meet. It's what we could call a “safer place.” The club is the place where the community can escape from society, from the daily life, from all the homophobia and LGBT-phobia.
What are the upcoming projects for Les Disques du Lobby and for Discoquette?
Since we were talking about clubs, let's start with Discoquette. We will celebrate our 5th anniversary in September! Concerning Les Disques du Lobby, I'm taking a short break from the project to take a step back and give myself time to think about what will be the " 2nd version " and to see with whom I can partner with so that the project will be less artisanal than what it was at the beginning. even if it was nice. So, stay tuned!