Today’s world feels more divided than ever, even in the traditionally unified community of music lovers.
With politics, war, prejudice, and hate in our faces constantly due to social media, it can be hard to attend your favorite show without feeling like an outsider.
Enter HE.SHE.THEY: a music label, event promoter, and fashion brand that is encouraging people from different walks of life to come together, share ideas, enjoy music, and simply have great, connecting interactions.
Inspired by the lack of diversity in the industry from both a straight and queer perspective, founders Sophia Kearney and Steven Braines began hosting events to help everyone—whether they’re on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum or not—understand each other a bit better.
Now HE.SHE.THEY has become an international household name, hosting residencies in Ibiza as well as locally tailored club nights all over the world.
We sat down with Sophia and Steven to discuss the ethos behind HE.SHE.THEY and why they feel so passionate about creating this inclusive space:
EDM Maniac: What is the philosophy behind HE.SHE.THEY?
Kearney: HE.SHE.THEY means many things to many different people, but in a nutshell, it’s the wider intersection of people to feel more welcome in mainstream clubbing spaces.
It means a different thing in each place and to each person. If you are queer or you’re trans and want to go out with your straight or cis friends. Someone raving in a wheelchair loving their life with voguing ballroom dancers in a circle around them. People from the trans community getting up on the catwalk with Welsh boys from the Valley cheering them on.
Braines: Ethos-wise, our DNA is about equality, diversity, and inclusion.
Our parties are for people from all genders, all sexualities, and all races. We’re an inclusive night, not just a queer party.
It’s wider in scope than that. It’s more varied groups of people coming together. So our DJs and dancers are diverse and this gets reflected on the dance floor as everyone can self-identify on different touch points.
EDM Maniac: You are well known for your events, stage takeovers, and residencies. How did you first get into producing events?
Braines: The first time I produced an event I was 17, so that’s like 25 years ago. I stopped after uni and focused more on management.
But I got the bug and worked for outside events as well as my own. I’ve worked in management for nearly 20 years, over a decade alongside Sophia, and we’ve managed artists like Maya Jane Coles, Tale of Us, Magda, Catz N Dogz, and other really big DJs. So a lot of promoters and venues have known us for years.
Kearney: I used to throw parties from about 19 when I was at uni, but not very regularly. I actually felt that being a promoter was one of the most difficult jobs in the music industry.
I worked on various things with agency marketing management, but I think the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning and makes us super motivated is the soul and the ethos behind the brand and how much we felt it was needed while looking at lineups and the world.
EDM Maniac: How do you create an inclusive environment in a world that doesn’t always support people being themselves?
Braines: People are always going to not be OK with people being themselves. There’s not a country in the world where there isn’t somebody somewhere who’s transphobic, racist, homophobic—even in the queer community. We want to create a party for people who want to come together.
If, for example, you are a Black trans woman with a best mate who’s a straight white man, we wanted to have a space where everyone exists as people. Not just as allies. In true democracy.
We hope there’s a little bit of small social change. Like if someone had a nice chat with somebody at the bar who they might have previously not understood or stared at in the street. Then maybe they’re more likely to speak up if they see somebody else abusing that person.
But if we don’t create those situations where they can have that shared experience and get to know each other beyond the stigma, then it’s much less likely.
EDM Maniac: How do you protect the integrity and safety of the ethos for artists, fans, and dancers at HE.SHE.THEY events?
Braines: We don’t like the term “safe space” because we don’t think it’s accurate. We aim to create a safer space but I don’t think you can guarantee the safety of anybody if you have more than one person there, let alone with drinks and different things flying about.
We call it a “brave space” because it’s about people coming into contact that might not necessarily be exactly like you, but that’s okay.
Social media likes to pit groups against each other. People get taught that everyone else hates them, but most people are more concerned if you’re a nice person.
EDM Maniac: What can people expect from your upcoming North American tour?
Braines: If it goes to plan it should be anywhere between 10 and 20 dates, and anything that we don’t do on the tour now, we’ll do at some point in 2024.
I think it really resonates, particularly in North America, because of the political situation. During the pandemic, we really noticed how certain brands wouldn’t take a stand during Black Lives Matter. You’ve got these major platforms, fucking use them.
Are you really bothered that you don’t sell a ticket to someone who thinks that slavery was a good thing for Black people? Is that how you need to make money?
We had a pride show in LA and it was amazing. There was so much acceptance. In some gay spaces, there’s a lot of misogyny, transphobia, racism, body shaming. A lot of LGBTQIA+ spaces aren’t really designed for, say a Black trans woman, at all. And many people can feel othered in those spaces.
At our last LA event, we saw a lot of Latinx people, a lot of Asian people, a lot of Black people, a lot of brown people, a lot of white people, etc. as well as different genders. And it’s the same with our DJs and dancers. We always have people from different backgrounds, demographics, body shapes, etc.
EDM Maniac: There have been some huge names headlining your events and spearheading your label like Sara Landry, Honey Dijon, Faithless, Maya Jane Coles, etc. How do you choose artists that embody the brand but also push boundaries in their music?
Kearney: For us, I think it’s really important to pick nice people we really enjoy spending time with because we truly believe that if we can get the energy right in the green room, then that amazing energy spills out into the room for everybody.
That’s the best thing that you can do to make sure that the party has that very special energy. We’re also so malleable as a brand, which is great. We are a different thing, in a different place, and different to people.
We look at what particular genre will work depending on what city we’re in or what club we’re in. It means that the music isn’t pigeonholed.
One thing we always try and do is uplift the local community. We don’t want to be one of those brands that comes in and tells a community, “Hey, we understand this better than you, you should do it our way.”
All images credit HE.SHE.THEY