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Rough Trade Records

June 19th, 2024


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“Today I’m so grateful for my life, not because I get to stand onstage with my best friends…but because I’m content with the person that I am.”

Julien Baker

Words by Kerenza Nawaki, Rough Trade East.

Our celebration of music history is not the same without its LGBTQIA+ icons, a community who have opened our eyes to the power of music when talking about identity, embracing individuality and pushing creative boundaries.

The likes of David Bowie, Prince, Tracy Chapman, Boy George, Elton John and many more, the evolution of modern music has long been characterised by LGBTQIA+ figures, whose experimental nature with music, fashion and performing have set the precedent for the hitmakers of today who continue to not just be artists but also activists and trailblazers.


From country rockers to supergroups, pop sensations and pioneers of electronic music, Rough Trade East’s Kerenza Nawacki explores some of our most adored LGBTQIA+ artists of the 21st century.

“To be queer, and to be a musician, are more often than not intertwined in a battle of identity and creative expression. LGBTQIA+ artists often pave the way and push the boundaries of existing genres, due mostly to the nature of simply existing against the grain of tradition. Join me on a deep dive into some of the most influential LGBTQIA+ musicians within the past 10 years…”

Kerenza at Rough Trade East.
SOPHIE: 1986 – 2021 | TIDAL Magazine
SOPHIE, photo from msmsmsm.com.

The late and dearly missed parent of hyperpop – Sophie Xeon – known famously as SOPHIE, was a music producer and songwriter characterised by experimental sound design, crunchy synth bodies, and disorientating waveforms of sound. A pioneer of a new wave of pop music and described as ‘one of the most influential artists in the last decade’, the Glasgow-born producer worked with the likes of Charli XCX and Madonna. SOPHIE released the Grammy-nominated Oil of Every Pearl’s un-insides in June 2018 – the only album the artist ever released. Known for being a trans icon in electronic music, SOPHIE explains their approach to identity in an interview with PAPER:

“Transness is taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit so the two aren’t fighting against each other and struggling to survive”

SOPHIE, PAPER, 2018

Chappell Roan | Spotify
Chappell Roan, The Rise and Fall of the Midwest Princess artwork.
Chappell Roan Had '20 Wardrobe Malfunctions' at the 2024 Governors Ball |  Us Weekly
Chappell Roan at the New York Governors Ball. Photo by Marleen Moise.

On a recent rise into the public eye, Chappell Roan is an obvious choice. Riding a wave of new self-defining and unapologetic queer pop, the singer-songwriter has recently been seen dressed as the Statue of Liberty at the Gov Ball, June 2024 in New York after rejecting an offer to perform at a Pride celebration at the White House. Avant-garde stylistic choices are not a new thing for Roan, however, with strong drag makeup influences ingrained into her image. Taking huge influences from drag queens such as Violet Chachki. You may be familiar with the recent viral single Good Luck, Babe – an 80s pop-infused breakup anthem, with hints of I Told You So. Explicitly Queer, and unapologetic about it – Chappell Roan offers a safe space for the femme – a ‘Femininenominon’.

Kerenza with KicK iii and Arca.
The Forward-Thinking Music of Arca | The New Yorker
Arca for the New Yorker. Photo by David Hauser.

Alejandra Ghersi Rodríguez, known professionally as Arca, is a Venezuelan musician and record producer based in Barcelona, Spain. Originally releasing dreamy synth-pop music under the name Nuuro, the producer is now characterised by experimental electronic music; working with artists such as Kelela, Blood Orange, FKA twigs, Nicki Minaj, Björk, Rosalia, and production credits for Kanye West. Arca’s journey into identifying as a trans woman began publicly in 2019, and what followed musically is a series of albums titled Kick, respectively consisting of 59 tracks in total. Releasing each album through a series of announcements in 2021, each album spans a multitude of genres from IDM, Reggaeton, avant-pop, techno, and ambient. Each song being a continuation of personal identity, and the spectacle of evolution as an artist. 

May be an image of 1 person
Photo from Orville Peck.

Daniel Pitout, known more famously as Orville Peck, is a South African-born country musician based in the United States and Canada. Frequently seen (or rather the opposite) sporting an assortment of masks to publicly obscure his identity. Something Peck doesn’t obscure is his identity as a gay man. Building a repertoire of albums spanning the typical country themes of heartbreak and love, but through a queer lense. Peck’s music videos are also celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community, featuring appearances from RuPaul’s Drag Race stars, and actor Norman Reedus as a love interest. (Check out the music video for The Curse of the Blackened Eye).

“The thing that I connected with country music when I was a kid is it’s about isolation, heartbreak, and disappointment. That’s the gay experience for everyone at some point. I feel like that music is written for people who feel like the minority or feel somehow alienated.”

Orville Peck, Attitude Magazine 2020.

Frank Ocean's T-Shirt Has Gone Viral This Week, But Has the Message  Originated by Brandon Male Gotten Lost Along the Way? | Vogue
Frank Ocean. Photo by Getty Images.

Born Christopher Edwin BreauxAmerican singer, songwriter, and rapper, Frank Ocean is hailed as a pioneer of alternative R&B. Approaching the genre with a distinct style and carving out a new space, Ocean cements himself as one of the most influential alternative R&B artists of the last 10 years. Frank came out online in 2012, through an ambiguously worded but carefully curated letter stating his first love was a man. This was shortly before the release of the critically acclaimed album Channel Orange. Ocean’s 2017 single Chanel was hailed as a ‘bisexual anthem’. Despite Ocean not publicly subscribing to that sexuality label, it still creates a space of acceptance within the narrative and fanbase it has since found. Ever since then, Frank Ocean has been a haven for LGBTQIA+ fans of R&B. An iconic performance at Panorama Festival in 2017 features Ocean sporting an iconic “Why be racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic, when you could just be quiet?” t-shirt.

Troye Sivan Announces Album, Shares Video for New Song “Rush”: Watch |  Pitchfork
Troye Sivan. Photo by Stuart Winecoff.
Troye Sivan at Rough Trade West, October 2023. Photo by James Potter.

Troye Sivan found his popularity as a singer on YouTube and in Australian talent competitions. Since then, he has released a series of three albums and five EPs. 2023’s Something to give each other sees the singer-songwriter’s first Grammy nomination. The singles Rush, Got Me Started and One of Your Girls were met with chart popularity. One of Your Girls received online acclaim for featuring Troye in drag makeup, a shirtless Ross Lynch, and taking a huge inspiration from the iconic Britney Spears. This album is an embracement of femininity, something the singer has had to learn to find comfort in, having been in the public eye since his teen years. 

Kerenza with boygenius’ 2023 album.
Boygenius on the 2024 Grammys, 'The Record,' the Chicks and the  ever-looming question of new music | AP News
(L-R) Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker aka boygenius. Photo by Chris Pizzello.

This American indie-rock supergroup consists of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker; all solo artists of their own right and merit, formed from a simple admiration of each other’s work and strong friendship. All three members of the group are part of the LGBTQIA+ community and exist as a showcase of strong queer friendship – something hugely idolised by their fans. The debut album the record was released last year, following a long hiatus after their last and only EP boygenius in 2018. The result? A breakthrough album with three Grammy Awards which saw them claim a space in music previously unclaimed; an all-female LGBTQIA+ supergroup. boygenius are also known for their outspoken nature and unapologetic queerness. At their Nashville show in June 2023, the group performed in drag as a way to protest the recent anti-LGBTQIA+ bill under the drag names Shanida Tums (Julien Baker), Queef Urban (Phoebe Bridgers) and Lucille Balls (Lucy Dacus). Julien Baker aka Shanida Tums said onstage regarding the bill:

“Today I’m so grateful for my life, not because I get to stand onstage with my best friends … but because I’m content with the person that I am.” 

Julien Baker

The Last Dinner Party at Rough Trade East, February 2024. Photo by James Potter.

Providing an alternative option within London’s largely post-punk music scene, theatrical rock band The Last Dinner Party (Rough Trade Album of the Month February 2024) have gained massive popularity with their debut album Prelude to Ecstacy via Island Records. The band use biblical imagery and flips it on its head into something inherently queer. A celebration of LGBTQIA+ through theatricality and lyrical themes of lust, feminism, and queer sex. The singles off the album Nothing Matters and Sinner saw the group gain their cult following, and broke them through into the world of theatrical pop rock. As the band’s guitarist Lizzie Mayland explains to Line of Best Fit in June of 2023:

“It’s about growing up in a small town and it being kind of prejudiced and not having words for the sexuality unless it’s a negative thing.”

Lizzie Mayland of the The Last Dinner Party, Line of Best Fit

Ezra Furman writes simple songs “for the mind to stretch out in”
Photo by Tonje Thielsen.

With an entirely impressive discography consisting of twelve albums and EPs, the soundtrack for Netflix’s Sex Education and a 33 1/3rd book analysing Lou Reed’s Transformer, Jewish songwriter Ezra Furman has cemented herself as a staple rock and roll-inspired musician, borrowing from genres of art pop, indie folk, and queer punk. Furman is someone who is characterised by an adornment of colourful fashion choices and makeup, even before she came out as a trans woman (and mother!) in 2021. All of Us in Flames is Ezra’s most recent album, coming to the world in 2022 and speaking to themes of gender envy, also drawing connections between transgender oppression and Jewish exile. “I watch her flicker on my TV/ The teenage girl I never got to be” (a lyric from Ezra’s song Ally Sheedy in the Breakfast Club).

Brittany Howard - YouTube
Brittany Howard, photo by Bobbi Rich.

Named by Rolling Stone as one of the ‘250 greatest guitarists of all time’ (which is so weird because I wasn’t on that list). Frontwoman of Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard has made a strong name for herself as a prominent solo artist. Lending to genres of Americana, garage rock, experimental rock, and roots rock. On going solo, Howard said:

 “Learning about myself and being proud to be myself, being seen and being heard and saying, I created this, I produced this. I arranged this, I composed this. This is mine and no one edited me.”

The lesbian songwriter received critical acclaim upon the release of her debut solo album Jaime. This is named after her sister Jaime who died at 13 of retinoblastoma, a condition Howard has suffered with, leaving her with only partial vision in her left eye. Having grown up gay, and as a child of interracial parents in the American South, this album covers themes of identity, trauma, and awakenings. More recently, Howard has released her second solo studio album What Now this year, in a showcase of absolute ingenuity and evolution as an artist. 


Further listening…

MUNA say new music will be on the way "very soon"
MUNA, by Issac Schneider.

MUNA, Billie Eilish, Kaytranada, serpentwithfeet, Kae Tempest, The xx, Arlo Parks, Lava La Rue, St Vincent, Lynks, Peach PRC, Ashnikko, Girl in Red, Ethel Cain, Lil Nas X, yeule, Janelle Monae, Christine and the Queens, Lambrini Girls, Kali Uchis, Dev Hynes.

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