A safe and welcoming queer festival that is at once intimate, ambitious and one unforgettable party.
I was 19 years old when I was first made to feel uncomfortable at a music festival. Despite enjoying festivals since my early teens, it wasn’t until I attended one with my first boyfriend and had a group of lads hurl abuse our way, that I felt different and unwelcome. Though much has changed since then, there’s a sense that many mainstream festivals do little to make LGBT+ and other marginalised groups feel included and safe.
It’s then no surprise that wily queers have taken matters in their own hands, to create experiences that offer something alternative. From the inclusive punk thrills of DIY Space For London’s BENT FEST, to the glittering spectacle of Mighty Hoopla, London has already seen its fair share of queer festivals this summer. Nestled somewhere on the spectrum between these events is Berlin’s YO! SISSY, now unapologetically charging into its third birthday.
Conceived by promoters and performers Scout and Pansy, YO! SISSY’s aim is to create an inclusive creative space, where audiences and artists alike can express themselves loudly, clearly and without restraint. Upon entering the multi-stage Festsaal Kreuzberg – itself recently rebirthed following a devastating fire – it’s clear their aim is realised.
It’s difficult to describe the YO! SISSY crowd – of course, your eyes are instantly drawn to the insanely creative club kids and drag queens that stalk the venue, but it’s immediately clear that all are welcome within YO! SISSY’s walls.
London’s amazing drag talent was well-represented, with appearances from queens including Bourgeoisie, Maxi More and Cola Phalquero. Kicking things off on YO! SISSY’s first night, Cola presented an abridged version of her One Woman Show. Her Microsoft Powerpoint presentation-assisted performance is a creative and cathartic fifteen minutes, as hilarious as it is heartbreakingly honest. Further into the evening, members of The Cocoa Butter Club – a staggeringly talented ensemble who celebrate performers of colour – wowed audiences with an array of incredible performances, including stunning interpretations of tracks from Beyonce’s Lemonade.
Emerging hip-hop talent Mister Wallace highlighted the festival’s dedication to supporting the finest in new international artists. He delivered his quick-fire barbs with pinpoint accuracy while his Chicago house-influenced beats provided the perfect backing for his troop of voguers. This was followed by a slick performance from Brooklyn rapper Jay Boogie, who made damn sure you listened to and understood each and every word he spat.
One of YO! SISSY’s most anticipated bookings was DJ duo Karim & Karam, aka Karin Dreijer Andersson (The Knife/Fever Ray) and Maryam Nikandish. Any hint of pretension was immediately ejected from the venue, as the pair got their lives, while DJing an unpredictable mashup of electronica, pop, hip-hop and world beats to a packed and eager crowd. French electro stalwart Vitalic then provided the perfect end to the first night, with his pulsating, disco-influenced house DJ set keeping the sweaty mass going well into morning.
YO! SISSY embodies a DIY spirit but still runs like a professional and slick machine. Though the festival has its share of big-hitting performers, there is no corporate sponsorship. As well as its dedicated hosts, YO! SISSY is made possible by team of volunteers whose love for the festival is evident, not least in the swathes of incredible decorations they help to create.
For the first time, YO! SISSY also programmed a market featuring an array of independent queer businesses from all across Berlin, demonstrating the festival’s commitment to giving a platform to the abundance of talent the city has to offer.
Despite being one of the only guitar-heavy acts of the weekend, Gurr couldn’t have looked more at home. Starting possibly the weekend’s only moshpit, the band thrashed out a raucous set of lo-fi riot grrrl-influenced punk on the second evening. Having not performed live in over three years, the anticipation for Planningtorock’s return to the stage was palpable. Despite confessing their nerves, the set was truly spellbinding, with songs from 2013 album All Love’s Legal featuring heavily, culminating in crowd-favourite Let’s Talk About Gender Baby. Planningtorock’s Jam Rostron seemed genuinely touched as the audience gave them arguably the best reception of the weekend.
One the finest discoveries of the weekend was Swedish rapper GNUČČI, whose kaleidoscopic hip-hop brought the whole audience to life in one of the standout moments of the weekend. Her hazy flow perfectly complimented the technicolour beats, exemplified by the infectious closing track Ultimate Syndrome. US innovator Lotic followed – whose dark, distorted beats, could have easily thrown off some of the audience. But by cutting up his own unpredictable electronica with some more familiar pop and RnB, Lotic challenged whilst still turning the party.
As a DIY-focussed festival with clear ethics and a sense of responsibility, YO! SISSY inhabits a unique space in the queer calendar. Seeing performers step from the mainstage, straight to the floor to chat to fans shows not only the appreciation they have for the audience, but also for what is that YO! SISSY has created; a safe and welcoming queer festival that is at once intimate, ambitious and one unforgettable party.
Words Joe Parry
YO! SISSY will return to Berlin next year. Click here for more information and ticket details.