“If you come to Ladyland, I want you to leave feeling like you had the time of your life. Isn’t that what queers should feel like all the time, especially at pride?”
For Ladyfag, being known as the rave mom-turned-real mom to every queer club kid in New York has paid out big time. Big time, as in hosting a 6,000-person festival with three grand stages, the biggest LED screen in Brooklyn, and Tinashe headlining. For Lady, a beloved figure in New York nightlife, taking her underground rave scene to greater heights resulted in the creation of a flagrantly queer music festival now known as LadyLand.
The festival, which holds its yearly residency at the Brooklyn Mirage, is a labor of love filled with tender moments that meet between the lines of music and community. And while the festival lands a week before Pride, it isn’t your average AEG festival. It’s described as equal parts Coachella, Berlin nightclub, and queer warehouse rave, which in many instances is more intimate and overlooked in NYC’s nightlife scene.
For once, queer people across all walks of life are being centered and given a space to connect with their community in a way that hasn’t been done before. “You want to go the extra mile a little bit, and have it really remind people that we deserve a celebration, and this is the time that we’re doing that. It is our moment to celebrate queerness, and queer artists, and coming together to celebrate artistry and enjoy it,” says Lady.
In previous years, the flagship festival featured acts from Christina Aguilera, 070 Shake, SOPHIE, and CupcakKe, proving that this event might serve as much as a queer hall of fame as anything else. This year, the party features a lineup of Shygirl, Tinashe, Honey Dijon, and more, only further demonstrating that Lady has her finger on culture’s pulse and consistently shines a light on artists who aren’t often recognized for their contributions to it. While Honey Dijon has been a repeat contender for the festival, Shygirl brings an underground electro-pop twist, while Tinashe fills in their mainstream act. For a night of queer debauchery and unity, the pride kick-off event has established itself as one of the most sought-after parties—one that closes the gap between mainstream musicians, beloved queer icons, and underground acts, such as wrestling matches and drag performances. With LadyLand straddling the line between music festival, rave, concert, and all-night party, Ladyfag sees no reason to seek an exact definition. Instead, she leaves it up to us to interpret—all while simultaneously planning for the next festival, with the aim of outdoing herself in more ways each year. Here, Document catches up with Ladyfag for the first time since 2013 to discuss all that goes into this labor of love, and what to expect from this year’s lineup.
Tiana Randall: How are you preparing for LadyLand Festival?
Ladyfag: It’s always interesting [before the festival], because you get to go through each artist again one by one and see what they’re up to, what they’re planning, and try to figure out how to put all the pieces together to make the best festival. So it’s the fun part—a little bit stressful, but the fun part.
Tiana: When you were creating LadyLand, what was the first thing you were tackling? And now, what are you tackling in the 10 days leading up to the festival?
Ladyfag: Well, the first year I was tackling the fact that I had never done it, and that no one in New York had done anything like this. It was just so new to people, including myself. So, that was nerve-wracking but very exciting.
Whenever you’re trying to one-up yourself and make it a slightly different experience for people, you’re always trying to change things. Even though I’m already happy with the product, [what I’m tackling now] is the question of, How do you make it different and keep it exciting? I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge, because it’s not, but it’s something we tackle each year.
Tiana: In your first interview [about the festival], you mentioned how you want LadyLand to be a ‘celebration of queerness.’ How do you think it’s evolved past that?
Ladyfag: Do you think it has? I mean, I still think it is a celebration of queerness. This year, in particular, we’re doing it the week before [Pride]—it’s the Pride kickoff, held the weekend before.
Every single thing I do is always queer—not only who I am, but basically my entire career has been about creating queer spaces. So there’s nothing I do that’s not about pride. But you also want to go the extra mile a little bit and have it really remind people that we deserve a celebration, and this is the time that we’re doing that. It is our moment to celebrate queerness, and queer artists, and coming together to celebrate artistry and enjoy it.
Tiana: You previously mentioned that within all of these pride events, that there’s a hole that has yet to be filled. Whether there’s a really big angle towards the commodification of queerness and pride, or whether these events specifically look very white and cis, how do you think LadyLand has specifically helped fill the hole a little?
Ladyfag: Everyone can always do better, and I think that’s part of life in every aspect. Especially in relation to queerness, it’s asking How can I do better? But I think if you look at our lineups every single year, we have consistently had a very balanced lineup. And that’s been since day one—not only since day one at LadyLand, but since day one of my career, because my friend group is very varied. So for me, it’s a natural thing. But also consciously, since the beginning of LadyLand, I’ve made a stronger effort to make sure I’m doing the right thing by representing as many people in my community as I can. I’m pretty proud of the lineup. It’s great musically; it’s great for representation. I feel like now, everyone talks about representation, but a few years ago, even when LadyLand started, there wasn’t a festival that would have this type of queer lineup that was of this kind—most music festivals for queers were very mainstream gay. And there wasn’t anything on this scale, especially not in New York, that had a lineup that was this specific type of alternative, cool, and underground queer representation. I don’t wanna toot my own horn, because maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t know of anything that came on this strong and was this queer on this level.
“It is our moment to celebrate queerness, and queer artists, and coming together to celebrate artistry and enjoy it.”
Tiana: When you’re thinking of taking the essence from nightlife, that sense of euphoria, and putting it into LadyLand, what is your specific secret recipe?
Ladyfag: Well, I think part of the recipe of LadyLand festival is that we’re always laughing. We’re like, Is it a music festival? Is it a dance party? Is it a rave? Is it a concert? Is it an outdoor festival? Is it an indoor festival? You know, it’s all of those things. And I think that’s what makes it so cool and special. And it’s all the different things that I do in general, you know? So I do parties, I do raves, and I do live music stuff. It’s a combination of all these things [happening] in one night. I think that’s what makes it really cool. ‘Cause a lot of people don’t know, like, Do we go at eight o’clock? Do we go at five in the morning? There’s something for everybody.
Tiana: And you have expanded to three stages this year.
Ladyfag: Yes, we have three stages. It’s both indoor and outdoor, which is great because we can add in more talent. There’s so many people that we want to book! Even now, there’s so many more people that we wish we had room for, but that’s why we’ll be back again next year.
Tiana: You have Honey Dijon, you have Tinashe, Goth Jafaar, and Shygirl. Just looking at some of the headliners, and the people that stick out, what are some of the qualities or characteristics that made you think they would work together well on a lineup?
Ladyfag: Well, Honey Dijon has played every festival, because Honey was one of my resident DJs since day one. Now she’s an internationally renowned DJ who’s in really high demand, but me and Honey have worked together for about 10 years. She’s been a resident at almost all of my parties, so it’s amazing that now she’s playing worldwide on huge stages, and it’s amazing that now I have a 6,000-person stage to put her on. Whereas, when the two of us started, we were playing in clubs for like 200 people, and she was playing for me. It’s been nice to grow together. She’s always a part of Ladyland. And Tinashe, she came to the festival last year, and she loved it so much. So she actually asked us if she could play. And she’s our bisexual queen. We love her. I mean, she’s an amazing dancer. She’s got some really fun stage stunts for everybody.
[There’s also] Sevdaliza. I saw her perform a long time ago on a very small stage, and I was really intrigued. I listened to her music and I went to the show and she wasn’t that big yet, but I could tell she was blowing up. And I was so blown away by her stage presence. And I swore that day, I was like, ‘Oh, if I ever have a stage, I’m gonna get Sevdaliza to perform.’ And we’ve tried before, and it never worked out due to timing. This year it worked out, and I feel such a personal affinity to her because we both became first-time moms at the same time.
Tiana: It’s so amazing to hear you talk about this, because I’m sure so many people want to make their own festivals, or have thoughts in their head like ‘What is my utopian lineup?’ And you have truly done it. That must be so exciting.
Ladyfag: I appreciate that, because sometimes people say to me, ‘Oh, well, why didn’t you get Lady Gaga?’ Like, you guys are so obvious. You think I didn’t think of that? Or the fact that I can’t make tickets $300? This is a small festival. It only holds 6,000 people, and that’s what makes it intimate. Sometimes you go to a music festival and you’re basically just watching a screen, from like, you know, 20 miles down the road. You actually can see the performer from almost anywhere where you’re standing, that’s a nice thing for a performer, and it’s a nice thing for the audience. But it also generally means that, like—well, I’m not saying Cardi B is never coming, but I’m saying pass me a few million dollars. It just doesn’t work that way. And to be quite honest, we don’t need that. If you wanna go to Coachella, you can go to Coachella. We’re the alternative to that.
“There are so many moments of actual joy, where you look out in the crowd and see people all screaming together for this magic moment that happened on stage.”
Tiana: A lot of the news or coverage surrounding the festival has to do with appearance or style. What is something that you wish more people would focus on, when thinking of Ladyland festival?
Ladyfag: That it’s a place for everyone to come and celebrate their queerness, I think, is the most important thing. If you come to Ladyland, I want you to leave feeling like you had the time of your life. Isn’t that what queers should feel like all the time, especially at pride?
Tiana: You’re feeding queer kids in so many ways by creating a safe space for them to express themselves. How are they feeding you?
Ladyfag: I mean, there are so many moments of actual joy. You know, after all the stress that leads up to it, you have these moments where you look out in the crowd and you see, either in a big way, where there’s people all screaming at one moment for this magic moment that happened on stage, where there’s all these people screaming for this. Or it’s the small little tender moment, where you turn a corner and you see some couple laughing and making out in a corner and then running because they hear a song that they love. You overhear those little private moments throughout the festival. I mean, every single one of those moments makes it always worthwhile. And just feeding off of people’s energy at the festival, it takes you through the year to do it all over again because I get to enjoy that moment. And the minute we pack it down, I get a little sleep, and then we start planning for the next year already.
LadyLand is taking place on June 17th, 2022 at Brooklyn Mirage. Tickets are available here.