It’s a brash, new, one-day queer music festival for people who paddle their own canoe. Summer Camp has hired the very best talent from the LGBTQI community to be your counsellors: they promise not to supervise you or teach you any useful skills; they will, however, encourage loud music, outrageous behaviour, non-conformity, and unbridled joy.

To paraphrase co-founder, Kat Dopper: come and explore; leave in awe.

“[Summer Camp is] for queers and allies. It’s about creating inclusion, and visibility, and acceptance and love, and it’s not about labels. Love is love at the end of the day,” she says.

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Dopper might know a thing or two about running big events. She has been at the helm of Heaps Gay for ten years, has worked with Splendour In The Grass, Laneway, and Mardi Gras, just to name drop a few.

Filling the Void 

What she noticed missing in the landscape of large music festivals was an inclusive, safe, queer-focused event. So, she and some friends got together, organised funding and created Summer Camp: four one-day festivals that take place in Darwin, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth respectively.

“We wanted to be able to book and pay as many queer artists as we could across all four cities,” says Dopper.

“One of the things that is really important is that we’re showcasing diverse artists, and when I say diverse, I mean multidisciplinary. So, on the line-up we have live acts that are world famous and then they’re partnered with emerging acts that are awesome in their own right. And then I’m trying to create collaborations and mentorships and networking between each of the different cities.”

The diversity in the program includes different music styles, dancers, performance artists, drag queens, comics. Each city’s show will be a little bit different but all will have the cheeky, ramped-up summer camp theme.

‘It’s Gonna Be Very OTT and Crazy’

Big Freedia

“Colour, movement, performance, depending on where you are […] you might end up frolicking in a secret forest or you might come across a giant mess hall. We’re really gonna play up that theme of summer camp so you can imagine it’s gonna be very OTT and crazy.”

Among the many, many highlights, Dopper picks out a few.

“If you haven’t seen an artist called Big Freedia, get ready! Big Freedia is the CEO of Bounce Music [New Orleans twerk]… It’s a true moment on stage. We’re creating something really special where we’re going to have lots of local acts coming on for her set and it’s going to be a big powerful experience.

“There’s an incredible performance artist duo called, The Huxleys. We’re working to create this really immersive secret experience in the middle of the forest.”

Confidence Man has become a huge favourite at festivals around the world, and Dopper says they are devising something “unique and interesting” for their set.

“That’s one of the things that I’m really trying to focus on [in this festival]. If you’ve seen the artist before, don’t skip out on their set at Summer Camp because it’s all gonna be about ‘surprise and delight’ moments.”

One of the most exciting names on the bill is Years & Years, otherwise known as Olly Alexander. The British actor, musician, and advocate for LGBTQI causes and mental health, has an avid fan base in Australia.

Alexander’s resume is an impressive list of acting and music credits, including his recent role in the popular Stan series, It’s A Sin, and singing performances with Kylie Minogue and Elton John.

“He’s just a beautiful, beautiful performer and obviously going to be a highlight,” says Dopper.

Sugar Bones is one quarter of the band, Confidence Man. He performs out front alongside his ‘sister’ (DNA test result is pending), Janet Planet and they are backed up by two incognito members, Clarence and Reggie who always wear black lace lampshade-style headgear.

What is not hidden about this band is their immense talent for writing incredibly likeable tunes. Since 2016, Confidence Man’s fame has grown exponentially, and they have become festival favourites around the world.

“It all sort of happened so fast, like five years ago,” says Sugar Bones, trying to explain their rapid success. “It was all so natural… Basically it’s just the four of us sitting in a room and making music that has no rules, just rolling with whatever comes out. That freedom, I think, is definitely a big part of it.”

He describes their music as ‘feel good’, and that claim is backed up by the band’s new single, Holiday, which has an exuberant energy.

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“It’s the first time we’ve put out a new song for a while, and it’ll be the first time we actually get to play live for quite a while, so really excited we get to do it again,” says Sugar Bones. He’s also really thrilled about Summer Camp.

An Open and Safe Space

Confidence Man

“It sounds like something Australia’s long overdue to have, and we’re super pumped.” He believes there’s something special about having a queer music festival.

“It’s more of an open space and safe space…it’s nice to have somewhere that establishes that from the get-go so everyone can go in that mindset. I think it’s just a really nice option for festival goers to have.”

And what has Confidence Man planned for their set?

“We’ve got a few new dances. A couple of new tricks, a couple of new gags up our sleeve… a bit of movie magic.”

What does that mean?

“Oh, you just have to wait and see.”

‘Create Some Memories. Be with Your Own People. Have an Awesome Time’

Ladyhawke

Ladyhawke has been a staple on the world festival circuit for a long time, but Summer Camp feels like a ray of sunshine.

“I’ve been on these bills for years with predominantly males – and not just male but straight,” she says. “I just think it’s quite special to have something like Summer Camp, and I just feel really, really stoked to be part of it. I’m really looking forward to it, it’s gonna be a blast!”

One of the key positives is having people on stage that queer people in the audience can identify with.

“As a teenager I didn’t know of any out queer women or any artists. I went to Catholic school and stuff, and it was not spoken of, or if it was, it was used as an insult or like a threat,” says Ladyhawke. “It would have meant a great deal to me as a young person, as a teenager looking up to people in the music industry, if it was like it is now.”

Though she has always been drawn to glam and wild flair in her idols, Ladyhawke’s own aesthetic has tended towards grunge, or at least, not classically “girly.”

“I’ve always unapologetically just been myself and dressed like myself,” she says. That was not always easy in the prefabricated, highly typecast world of mainstream pop. “Nobody really knew what to do with me.”

The pop industry has not changed very much but Ladyhawke has. She feels more confident about standing her ground and speaking her mind. If her success is anything to go by, then being wholly herself has not hurt her career.

She still has not finalised her set list for Summer Camp, but her band has been rehearsing songs from all four Ladyhawke albums, so she’ll be able to choose from her entire catalogue.

“I love the crowd getting hyped and excited, so I wanna play some fun festival tunes.”

And if the crowd wants My Delirium she will play it. “I don’t just play music for myself; I enjoy playing it for people that pay good money to come and see a show. I am happy to play My Delirium ten thousand times. I’ll always play it at every single set for the rest of my life, I promise.”

Summer Camp is going to be a special and unique event for the queer community, so, as Ladyhawke says, “Create some memories. Be with your own people. Have an awesome time, that’s the most important thing.”

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