Faka's Desire Marea and Fela Gucci talk festivals, fashion and queer appropriation
Words: Danni Diana | Photographs: Duran Levinson
There are few festival settings more surreal than Melt! Situated at a now defunct coal mine near the town of Gräfenhainichen, about an hour's train journey from Berlin, the setting is reminiscent of a Mad Max post-apocalyptic dystopia. Five giant, rusting industrial excavators rise from the ground, forming an imposing backdrop for the legendary festival that has played host to everyone from Bjork to Kylie Minogue.
A surprisingly fitting setting for FAKA, who manage to upstage the industrial wasteland from the moment they arrive, hot off the heels of their European tour. We sat down to chat festivals with Fela Gucci – dressed head to toe in Versace, slightly hungover behind gold medusa shades – and Desire Marea – dressed down in minimalist chic and sipping on rum-and-coke in the 35 degree heat.
Let's kick off with aspirational pinnacles, you recently inspired Versace's SS19 Menswear show. Tell us everything!
DM: It was so cute! We had played in Milan and some members of Donatella's team were at the show. They saw our performance and heard our music, and then introduced us to Donatella as an option, and she was like, GET THEM HERE!
What is she like in person?
DM: She's amazing! She's a doll. She's cunty! She was like (puts on Italian accent) "I don't-a-know what you are-a-saying in the lyrics but I-a-hope it's provocative!" She's everything. She gave us a tour of Gianni's house. It was amazing. It's like a museum. She's kept it the same, hasn't changed a single thing. All the furniture pieces, all the art pieces. It's so beautiful, so luxe. It's like, my house! (laughs)
What was it like seeing that collection come down the runway to your music?
DM: It was hard to take in. When we were sitting there it was like OMG Kendall! Gigi! Iman! You know? But after it was like shit, that was beautiful. The music really worked with it.
Speaking of fashion, what do you think of European festival style?
DM&FG: (laugh hysterically)
DM: ….. Basic. The floral shirts. The shorts. The Vans. I dunno… Big festivals can be weird.
As queer artists do you feel that queerness-as-aesthetic has diluted the subversive power of queer identity?
DM: Yes, but it's complex. When we were starting out our aesthetic was quite distinct, and there was a photographer who created the same kind of imagery on cis-het boys. The images were beautiful but at that time we were like, do we really want people to claim this aesthetic if their identity isn't part of that? But it's always like this. Queer people will pioneer culture. They will pioneer style. They will pioneer aesthetics. But then it becomes mainstream and queerness is erased from it. Like most people don't know that the 80s came from queer people. Just look at vogue culture. It was people like Madonna who profited from it, not the people who created it. Even today… Lady Gaga, Beyonce, most people don't see the elements in the language, the style, that belong to black queer people. So on this level, this kind of aesthetic mainstreaming is like, uhhhhh. But then on the other hand it's ok in my opinion for straight boys to be able to say, wear hoop earrings. Queerness is a huge spectrum and there should be room for levels of participation.
Aside from cis folk appropriating queer culture, do you feel that there are levels of appropriation within queer culture itself?
DM: Absolutely. You get a lot of white gay men here in Europe who use black queer slang, who vogue and whatever, but don't really understand the context and where those references come from. And that's quite problematic for me. You know, all the yasssssss queens. Though luckily, not many gay men in South Africa have any interest in appropriating in that way. They're still very macho. Which you know is fine by me (laughs).
You have expressed before how being out and proud as queer exposes you to a certain kind of violence in South Africa. Would you say that Europe is safer?
FG: No, it's not. It's not safe to be a black body anywhere, generally. But I guess it's not as challenging to be visible as queer here.
Do you feel that the stage is a safer space to perform your identities?
FG: I feel like on stage I'm able to transcend my reality. The stage for me is a transcendent space, not a performative one.
DM: I feel like even though the queerness we perform on stage is rooted in who we are, the stage gives us the freedom to take it to places we want to see it.
I was recently talking to (artist and DJ) Juliana Huxtable about her experiences in performance contexts here in Europe, and she was talking about the schism between the stage vs an "outside" world that can still be fetishizing and alienating. Do you feel this?
DM: I totally get what she's saying. It's like you get these echo chambers here. Like these festival spaces, these club spaces, they are our contexts most of the time. And they're super free and liberal and welcoming. But outside of them it's a different story. Like walking around Berlin for example and being queer. You might not get a physically violent reaction from someone but there is a kind of violence still, a hostility. I'm not sure if it's blackness or queerness… otherness. It can definitely be very anti-black in places.
FG: We were also having a conversation the other day about how totally different our experiences would be here if we couldn't speak English.
Language aside, do you feel understood here?
FG: Hmmm. It feels like people here celebrate you because they think you're cool, but they don't really understand the complexities of being black, being African, being queer in the world.
I suppose that's one of the advantages of the context back in SA. Even if people aren't immersed in the conversations around identity, they can still "get" what you're doing. There's a lot that's intuitive and easily read. Is it an artistic challenge to make the rest of the world understand?
FG: I don't think they will ever understand. I mean even if you tell people you're from South Africa their first response is "Ah, do you know Cape Town?" "Joburg is dangerous but Cape town is nice, I hear it's very European!" Somebody said that, and we side-eyed hard…
Nevermind the concerned questions from white people about "the white genocide"…
DM: (Laughing) When we were at the airport in Australia all these big news screens were playing some shit about the genocide, or some story about the danger white people are in in South Africa. So that's clearly a story that's being told in the west, and a lot of people think that's the truth, and people are clearly not reading any South African media or taking note of what South Africans are saying about the situation. I guess that's how far white imperialism goes. White media houses reporting on white issues from white voices in a very one-sided way. Which I guess is typical of mainstream media.
You inhabit a lot of style personas both on and off stage. Who are your influences for these?
DM: Definitely Brenda, Lebo Mathosa. My mom. She was high glam… looked a lot like Queen Moroka and dressed like her, changed her hairstyle every week. So I was influenced by that. And of course TV. Generations! The styling on that show! I don't know who the stylist was but it was iconic! So underrated! Those are the aesthetics we grew up seeing. That was our glam, our aspirational pinnacle.
Style wise, which are the best places you've played?
DM: Creepy Teepee! Oh my god! It's a festival in the Czech Republic. They describe it as a festival for freaks. Everyone was in LOOKS. Everyone was so free. It was amazing. Also Bristol was cute. Vienna too.
And back home, who or what is exciting and inspiring you?
FG: Joburg. There's a revolution that's happening there with queer kids creating their own spaces, both digitally and physically. Telling their own stories, documenting themselves. People like Lello, like Tiger. It's a good place to be.