Interview with Stephen Braines co-founder of He.She.They

In an increasingly fractured world, there are those who resign themselves to division and those who take action to unite. While some sit motionless, choosing sides and stewing in animosity, He.She.They. chooses to move - harnessing the power of music, fashion and celebration to bridge divides.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Steven Braines, co-founder of He.She.They., about their mission of fostering a "brave space" of openness and authentic self-expression. He imparted that the more people can let their guard down and be themselves, the more connections are made.

What started off as an inclusive party where their diverse friends could feel welcomed, fast became a sacred space for curating diverse talent on the decks and on the dancefloor. They aim to craft an energy where everyone can feel represented.

At a time when division seems rampant, He.She.They.'s commitment to unity and acceptance shines as a ray of light.

In this interview, I learned how He.She.They. is resurrecting the best of dance music's ideological foundations - using sound to bring people together rather than drive them apart. Their work shows how music, fashion and nightlife can transcend prejudice when the right spirit is kindled.

What sparked the genesis of HE.SHE.THEY? Take us back to those early days when you dreamed up this boundary-breaking community.

The big thing was just to make a party that our diverse group of mates would all feel included in with sick dancers and DJs, which is actually quite easy honestly. We didn’t want it to be that everyone felt like an ally but more it was a space for EVERYONE to just exist in. We call it a brave space rather than a safer space because different types of people mix but to us that’s fine when it’s nice people. I’m a queer man with an iranian-british muslim best mate. I don’t care about labels he’s just my mate Paul ultimately and I want us to go and dance some place together.

The dancefloor can be a transformative space. How do you curate an energy that dissolves barriers at your events?

The big thing is to have diverse talent behind the decks and our weird & wonderful dancers too. Different genders, races, sexualities, body types, ages, so everyone can see someone who they have some touch points with and feel not just allowed but welcomed and included in the space. If you’re a queer black trans woman and you only see 3 straight white men djing it’s not going to feel particularly inclusive for you. Same in gay clubs where it’s often 3 gay cis white men DJing and only men with six packs dancing - that’s not diverse either.

If you truly book talent first it’s really easy because there are lots of talent people of all genders, races, sexualities and beyond.

Who are the up-and-comers we should have on our radar? SYREETA, Wax Wings and Emily Nash are newcomers to some but they are breaking through and it’s amazing to see. I love Bashkka a lot, Lovefoxy, Ryussi, Blueprint. Fabrice 99 feels like a future headliner one day IMO. I started managing an artist called Keiandra - if she doesn’t win a Grammy one day I’ll eat my hat.

For those looking to flex their freedom and self-expression, what gems of wisdom can you impart?

If you’ve seen my drag as Sandra Spitz - you’ll see I have 0 fucks :p The more authentic people are to their own vision and fearless init the more it tends to connect. The clue is in the title you’re expressing YOUSELF not anybody else. It’s fine for people to not get you. I get me and that’s all that matters. It took me time to get to their - and sometimes I still have crises of confidence - but by and large I’m unapologetcally me and that’s what attracts people to me.

You've been in the scene for a minute. How have you seen attitudes shift around diversity and being yourself in nightlife?

I remember when I first got into the underground and I was like where are all the queer people? DJs, managers, agents, it was bizarre the lack of them. I think it’s just important to help create community, our message is actually a really simple old school one - bringing people from all genders, sexualities and races together through music. Things just got lost a bit with the industry being too heavily dominated by straight white men. They are not the problem, the problem is the lack of diversity in general, and that’s what we address and bring straight white men with us. I think a lot of promoters/clubs/festivals want to be more inclusive they don’t know how to or are scared of doing it wrong and being cancelled. To be honest, if you try and do the right thing authentically you’re very likely to get it wrong, and we all make mistakes, just admit and learn from them. Don’t be defensive.

HE.SHE.THEY keeps building steam. What does the future look like for this community? Any game-changing collisions on the horizon?

I think it’s just more of the same. The goal is to get to the point where our brand sells the show itself and then we get to make the experience even more weird and wonderful, because bigger stages allow you to do more things. We want to give women, nb, trans, queer, black and brown peeps into more slots too that they may not have traditionally been getting this side of the Millenium. We’ll be partnering with others on the label side to allow our artists to reach a bigger audience. That particular excites me.

From beats to threads—what led you to extend the brand into fashion? How do these elements amplify each other?

We were actually a fashion brand originally - our first party was part of London Fashion Week and the pandemic knocked a lot of things off course because some supply chain peeps and others went bankrupt and the UK factory we had clothes in was furloughed entirely so we had no access to garments for a year pretty much. You’ll be seeing a refocus on fashion by the end of 2024 and much more by 2025 if all goes to plan.

What new future projects or experiments can we expect next from the HE.SHE.THEY?

The biggest new thing we’re doing is being able to go to more regional places and new countries to spread the message as well as the ones we’re presently in, like Cardiff, Libson, Athens but also we’re trying to sort dates in cities like Oklahoma and Tucson in USA as a lot of these communities don’t have parties like this on a scale that we do.

What does “Be Nice” mean to you? (not us specifically but the term itself)

It’s how I live my life. Be nice to people. I’d rather be proved wrong than always doubt people. It’s truly nice to be nice. I get a buzz out of helping people that’s a big part of HE.SHE.THEY. ethos.

Share with us your favourite “Be Nice” life moment. Something either you have experienced or have done for someone else?

When I managed Maya Jane Coles at the start of our career together I had to split 20 quid with her so we could both eat. Years, later she secretly saw me trying on a coat I loved but couldn’t afford and she bought it for me, kept it until my birthday and said “happy birthday, and thank you for splitting the £20.” It was so unbelievably nice and thoughtful. That’s just the person she is. There was no audience just her and I.

And lastly, what’s your favourite print? And where would you hang it?

HAPPY by ABDI IBRAHIM - is my favoruite. I have so many paintings around the house and I think that one would be on the wall in front of where I work to remember to keep on smiling through all the shit even if you have to push yourself.

Interviewed by Nicole Albarelli

Image shot by Anais Stupka