Today, multi-hyphenate Callum Crighton becomes the fourth and final act to be spotlighted by Breakthrough, GAY TIMES and Coke Studio’s campaign to find the very best unsigned LGBTQ+ music talent in the UK and Ireland. As part of the campaign, Breakthrough will offer all four acts a range of exciting paid opportunities comprising a photoshoot with a leading queer photographer, valuable live experience and lasting support propelling them, beyond the summer Pride months, in an industry so few manage to break into. This support will include prestigious festival slots at the likes of Luno presents All Points East, Boardmasters and Longitude, as well as performances at Pride in London and Brighton Pride as part of Coca-Cola’s Parade Float. The four acts were chosen following an online callout which attracted submissions from more than 200 talented artists.
Callum, a London-based artist, DJ and model, says they are “mostly inspired by ’80s music” because of its distinctive “style and energy”. Last year, they released an appealingly dreamy cover of Duran Duran’s 1982 hit Hungry Like the Wolf that shows off their shimmering, synth-led production style. And in the past, they have wryly described themselves as “the lovechild of Madonna and the Goblin King”, David Bowie’s iconic character from the cult 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth. But at the same time, Callum is no dyed-in-the-wool ’80s revivalist – they also draw inspiration from “the iconic disco artists of the ’70s” and present-day pop icons like Lady Gaga and Marina and the Diamonds.
“I would describe my musical style as fun, upbeat, queer housey disco,” they say. “It’s spacey, gorgeous music that makes people feel good about themselves and gets them on the dance floor.” Artificial Life, a heady highlight from Callum’s debut EP Lazer Police: The Musical, definitely sets a unique musical mood. “I’ll take you downtown where the robots drink and fight,” they sing intriguingly over a gleaming, club-ready beat. The EP’s title track The Lazer Police is equally transportive: it sounds like the theme song from the best queer sci-fi film you’ve never seen. Play it loud and you can almost taste the ’80s-style dry ice.
Released in 2021, Lazer Police: The Musical showcases Callum’s ability to create an immersive music world that we can all find ourselves in. “I’m really inspired by escapism and the idea of fantasy, cosmic themes and themes of self-confidence,” they say. “I’m also really inspired by storytelling and love to encapsulate a feeling in my music through narrative.” You can definitely hear this in Universal Hand, a yearning ballad from the EP that Callum says “was inspired by the loneliness yet togetherness one can feel in the age of digital communication”. Universal Hand also shows Callum’s rare gift for giving authentically retro sounds a box-fresh contemporary sheen. “It has an old-school ’80s ballad sound with a more modern upbeat drum movement to connect the nostalgic ideals of the past with the electronic realities of the present,” they said when the EP came out.
As well as making their own music, Callum is a rising star DJ who is very much booked and busy. This year alone, they have delivered sets at the Mighty Hoopla pop festival, zeitgeist-grabbing club night Feel It and beloved LGBTQ+ venues The Glory and Dalston Superstore. Callum says they are able to create a sense of community around their music “particularly when I’m DJing as a lot of the time my shows are in queer spaces”. Bringing people together is always the aim. “These [sets] allow me to express my own identity through music and have all the other queer people connect to it, relate to it, and feel united together as one powerful, gorgeous community on the dance floor,” they say passionately.
In April of this year, Callum played “some of the most memorable gigs” of their career when they were booked as The O2’s opening and afterparty act for legendary gay icon Elton John. “The sheer energy in the arena was magical,” they say, “and I felt so lucky to be a part of such an iconic, significant time, with this being Elton’s final tour!” Callum is keenly aware of our collective queer history and points out that in Pride Month especially, “it’s important to recognise the [community’s] history of standing up for LGBTQ+ rights”, stretching back to the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. They highlight the vital role played by Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman, in the New York City riots that became the wellspring of today’s LGBTQ+ liberation movement. “Pride to me also means the notion of embracing yourself for exactly who you are, living as authentically as you can, and standing up for your freedom in self-expression,” they say.
Music has been Callum’s outlet for self-expression for as long as they can remember. “It was my escapism as a kid when I was being bullied in school,” they say, “but I knew from an even younger age that I wanted to be a performer and have a career that centres around music.” A pivotal moment came when they moved from Liverpool, their hometown, in order to pursue new opportunities in London, the UK city with more LGBTQ+ spaces than any other. “My biggest challenge as a musician was feeling like I wasn’t being accepted and was invisible,” they recall. “I tackled this by relocating to London, finding my queer community, and surrounding myself with people who believed in me as much as I believed in myself.”
Still, Callum retains close connections with Liverpool, a city with a rich musical heritage that includes birthing legendary ’80s queer icons Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Dead or Alive. In May, Callum even got to perform in Liverpool’s Eurovision village alongside Zuzu, a fellow Merseyside-born musician who they describe as their “best pal”. The two collaborators, who worked together on Callum’s Lazer Police: The Musical EP, are now hatching even bigger plans together. “I’m currently making my next record and also making a new band with Zuzu, which is a disco synth duo called The Darklings,” they say. “And I am super-excited for that!” One thing is certain: we can expect to see a lot more from Callum Crighton in the coming months and well into 2024.
Creative Director: Julia Salotti
Senior Producer: Sophie Christophersen
Account Director: Pav Grewal
Executive Creative Director: Josh Fletcher
Sales Director: Tiffany Gumbrell
Art Director / Designer: Jack Rowe
Designer: Yosef Phelan
Photography: Jordan Rossi
Photography Assistants: Doma Dovgialo, Ally Cook, Marcus Lister
Fashion Director: Umar Sarwar
Styling Assistants: Lily Hobson, Bradley Turner
Hair: Louis Byrne, Marc Ramos
Makeup: Byron London, Matilde Ribau
Videographer / Editor: Joe Wood
Sound Recordist: Smiley Sound, Ben Williams
Grade: Studio RM