VOX POP IS AGELESS
VOX POP IS COLOURLESS
VOX POP IS GENDERLESS
VOX POP IS U/ME/HIS/HERS/THEIR FANTASY
VOX POP WELCOMES YOU TO A 4 PART PERFORMATIVE AND INTERACTIVE ARTS EXPERIENCE THAT COMBINES THE POWER OF A SAFE SPACE/MUSIC/ART/FASHION/OCCUPANTS TO DEFINE OUR NATURAL/UNNATURAL + HUMAN/INHUMANE FANTASIES THAT WILL HELP US/U/ME/THEM CREATE HYPER REALISTIC/UNREALISTIC EXPERIENCES XXXX
So goes their bio, and I really couldn’t do better. Part queer-as-fuck club night, part jawdropping art collective, Vox Pop defies description: you have to see it for your yourself.
I spoke to them a few months after the close of Final Fantasy, the last in their four-part series.
Thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me! Since this is our first issue and our theme is Beginnings, I’d like to find out more about how you got started creatively. What began it for you?
Benaissa Majeri: I personally got started by designing clothes for my mum and my gran when I was super young. Then I was obsessed with fashion without having any cultural knowledge, and that developed into Lady GaGa and an actual fashion education. I didn’t know fashion was a thing when I was at school – art class consisted of painting still lifes of fruit. I was never good at that and my teacher told me I’d never go to art school.
Dylan Moore: It took me a while to get started creatively. It wasn’t until I gave up on the idea of higher education and put more of a focus on forming relationships that I came into myself a bit more. I met some really amazing people through the Glasgow club scene that were all creative in their own ways, and that’s really what opened up my eyes to the possibility of creativity as an avenue to pursue.
Furmaan Ahmed: I think a lot of my creativity comes from frustration. Being queer and a person of colour raised in a strict Muslim household forces somebody like me to want to become a rebel. Being part of two polar opposite cultures has had a great effect on me and I think it’s this fascination with performance that drives me. Most of my creativity comes from constantly living two different lives, which I feel like I mastered really well. Existing on the internet and being whoever I wanted to be was really exciting for me because it was like doing a kind of cyber performance drag. So the beginnings of me being an “artist” is probably me being locked in my bedroom playing dress up hiding from my parents.
Benaissa: Ugh, I should have written about my hard life making me so creative.
What was it like for you all growing up with your sense of style? For anyone who’s not aware, your lives look like a Polyester photoshoot. Fashion and identity are so closely linked, but teenagers in a lot of places tend not to ~get~ fashion that’s more exciting than, like, Helly Hansens. RIP 2006.
Benaissa: Yeah, growing up was an experience. As an OG emo I was constantly slated for the things I was wearing. Like, I wore skinny jeans and people really went in on me and then the next year all the boys were wearing skinny jeans. I got egged once too. I think it’s small town syndrome where everyone knows you and everyone hates you because you’re not like them.
All these experiences just made me want to piss them off more so I wore weirder clothes, developing from emo to scene-ish to seapunk to god knows what. But I was just doing what I wanted to do which was healthy for me, and honestly that still affects what I choose to wear today.
Dylan: For me it took a long time to embrace my interests and apply it to my own sense of style, in the same way it took a while to realise my creative potential. I grew up in a kind of rough area of Paisley and was really shy and introverted when I was younger. When I started going out to clubs in Glasgow, I flitted between a bunch of friend groups trying to find a group that I could be myself with.
I’ve always been drawn to men who expressed femininity through they way they dress, and in finding the close friend group that I have now and finding my own confidence through their support, I was able to recognise that same desire to express myself in a way that was free from the gendered norm. I think accepting this really made me aware of the importance of expressing yourself through fashion, as it sends an important message to other young people and can challenge societal views.
Furmaan: I grew up learning how to hide things from my family really well, so they never saw me dressed as the real me. I would hide that whole part of my life from them – for example, I would sneak out the house to go to a club and I’d do a costume change in my close before coming back home in the morning.
When I was younger I saw my style as performative, as a costume, partly because I lived at home and didn’t feel safe enough to dress the way I wanted to. As I’ve grown up the costumes and that “other” person I wanted to be has become me, which is kinda nice.
I think for all three of us our identities are so so important to us, and we have a strong sense of character. It’s important to have ownership in your image and use it to your advantage. The way we present ourselves online is just a projection of who we want to be – so we will set up cool lighting and create cool sets, and go to a club like we’re dressed for an editorial.
How do your families react to it now – are they involved in your ‘real’ life and your creative work now that you’re older? And have you maintained any friendships from high school, or have they fallen away as you found your people?
Furmaan: I think definitely my parents respect me a lot more now they see it isn’t all just a bit of fun and that I’m at university doing a degree, which for some reason brings some value to what I do.
I don’t think people like us keep many friends from school. High school is a toxic place when you’re a little different. I am a firm believer in choosing your family!
Benaissa: My direct family (mother and brothers) are fine now. They always need some work but they have seen me fight back against them my whole life so they know at this point they can “like it or lump it”. The same goes for my work, I try to hide things from her that I know she won’t understand but I show her and talk to her as much as I can about it to try and get her thinking more about gender issues and sexuality.
Dylan: I think when I moved away from Paisley I felt it was necessary for me to have a clean slate, and I don’t talk to many people from school anymore. Even when I go back to Paisley now it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I think it reminds me a bit of the wee shy insecure teenager I used to be, and it took a lot for me to get over that.
There’s definitely a separation between me and my family that began at that time, even though they’re all super supportive of me. I think they recognise it as a form of independence and they’re glad that I moved away from Paisley and I’m doing my own thing, but any sort of separation between us is 100% from me feeling like they wouldn’t appreciate the stuff that I do. I tell them a watered-down version of the work I like to make.
I agree with Furmaan though, especially within gay culture there is this whole thing about creating your own family unit of people who share the same values.
Furmaan: Queer people are always disenfranchised by society, so having that in common helps bonds with other LGBTQI people. It’s natural and beautiful thing that happens in the community.
I was thinking about this recently actually. Someone once said that to be successful creatively by the time you’re 30, you have to act as though your parents are dead, and I do get it. I used to write for Glasgow Uni Magazine, and I wrote really personal essays about sexual consent and body image. It was weird showing it to my dad like, hey, wanna read about my teenage sexual misadventures?
Furmaan: I think making yourself really vulnerable and almost naked like that is so important to being a creative person.
Dylan: When I was telling my gran about starting Vox Pop, the theme of the first one was Casual Encounters, so the idea was that you were dressing as though you were meeting a hook-up at a sex club. I totally skipped over that part and just told her about the future ones we had planned that were more “family friendly”.
Could you explain what Vox Pop was and how it came about to anyone who wasn’t fortunate enough to attend?
Benaissa: For me I wanted to create a club night that I wanted to go to. I felt there was a lack of nights in Glasgow that were campy and fun but also about fashion and art and bridging together all of these things. It was inspired by London and the scene – it’s so full of life and energy.
Furmaan: We’ve all been partying in Glasgow since we were underage, but have never come across a place where we felt 100% authentically belonging to a scene. Then Vox Pop was born. We wanted attendees to buy into a storyline that we created and posted online, in the hope people would run away with these storylines and create looks that fit the storyline, and come to the club for an extremely immersive experience of being transported to another world. Vox Pop was like the ultimate escapism.
Dylan: I feel like by creating this space in which people could express themselves through fashion and become this extreme version of themselves, it creates more awareness and acceptance of the queer scene by inviting people to be part of it. By giving people a storyline and a theme, it takes away that fear of ridicule for expressing yourself visually and taking risks.
The themes were all so on point – the current obsession with Kardashians and sugar daddies in Billionaire, and actual daddies in Casual Encounters, and that kind of post-internet retro/futuristic aesthetic in Final Fantasy. How did you come up with them?
Furmaan: We wanted the nights to reflect aspects of society that are almost taboo, things that we all want deep down too but are too afraid to explore. By giving you a safe space in the form of a one-night-only club environment, you are able to explore these guilty fantasies. Sex, money, faith, and the future – these are such classic and universal themes.
Benaissa: Yeah, the safe space for weirdos in Glasgow was always a priority!
Dylan: I always think it’s funny because we do so much research into the theme of each night and it kind of consumes us, and after each Vox Pop I feel like the aesthetic for that night kind of rubs off on my own personal style.
Benaissa: I do sometimes feel if we had a bigger budget the smaller details within our research would be more noticeable. We would all be looking at different artists, musicians etc. It was hard to show everything we wanted to within our price range.
How did you work around limitations like that?
Furmaan: Lots of binbags and cellotape.
Dylan: We’re quite lucky because there’s three of us, so the cost of materials split three ways is never as much as it seems. We’ve never really considered our profits, it was always more about providing the experience. I don’t think we made any profit on our first night [Casual Encounters].
Furmaan: I think it was exactly £1 each haha. We made a profit of £3. Having no money to make the events happen was an issue, but it never limited our success. Once the club was full of people dressed up in their looks, what we dressed the club with and how much we spent on it really didn’t matter. It was the atmosphere that was priceless and that was created by the people being there.
Dylan: Exactly. I think that’s good in a way, because if we hadn’t had such a strong ethos we probably would have given up at that point, and the night we put on after that [Billionaire] was really the defining moment for Vox Pop.
What do you think made the second one special? What was it that came together?
Dylan: I think the Billionaire theme was something people can totally relate to. Everyone fantasises about being rich and famous and there’s so many ways to explore that. You can really make that your own, be the person you would be if you had unlimited resources.
Benaissa: Also, if you tell anyone there’s a club to go to and the dress code is glam, people are going to turn up.
Dylan: We were new to the whole thing and it was all a learning experience, we didn’t even make posters for the first night really.
Benaissa: Oh yeah, the PR for the second night was so much better than the first. Four different posters spread all over Glasgow. (As far as we could spread them before the rain washed them away.)
Dylan: I think we were maybe too quick to go in with the Casual Encounters theme first of all. Asking people to turn up to a night they’d never heard of before dressed in bondage gear is a big ask.
Benaissa: Yeah, we had people come expecting it to be a real bondage night and that just was miscommunication on our end I think.
Dylan: That was kind of my fault because I’d been using my Grindr profile to PR for it. Oops.
Oh my god. How did that go down?
Furmaan: It was a really funny story, these two really normal looking guys turn up with gym bags, in tracksuits, and once the party starts becoming a bit more lively, they pop into the toilet and come back out in full bondage gear and PVC unitards. And they stayed till the very end and made loads of new friends.
Dylan: They were actually really nice. I think they were a bit nervous at first because they were all wearing proper bondage gear and obviously other people were just wearing weird shit, but Vox Pop has such an inclusive vibe that in the end they just accepted the night for what it was and had a really good night anyway.
I think that’s the thing, you’re free to be as extreme as you want or as casual as you want because there’s always this tongue-in-cheek thing to Vox Pop. Like having a fetish night that’s not really a fetish night. We try not to take it too seriously.
Benaissa: I love that. I’m glad everyone went out of their comfort zone and also when you got into the club I don’t think anyone felt naked because everyone was quite naked!
In ISSUE 02 we continue our conversation with Vox Pop into the murky realms of art school, safe spaces, the commodification of queerness, and serving tea to Patti Smith. In the meantime, keep up with them through the Vox Pop Facebook page or through Instagram: