In 2018, it’s easy to feel as though western society is the victor over homophobia, however, in a scenario imitative of every war in history, fragments of the enemy have slipped through the cracks of our hasty rebuild. Note- Pop Music is not homophobic, but on that account neither is the education system. However, in the way that homosexuality is startlingly absent from modern British curriculum, it appears sparsely in the lyrics of the top 40. Although queer artists are and have always been prominent in mainstream music, there is a striking lack of overtly homosexual lyrics. It almost feels like it's being hinted at with a ‘cheeky wink’, hidden in innuendos rather than outwardly addressed. Artists such as Years and Years' frontman Olly Alexander has stated he felt the need to tone down their sexuality to sell records.

Experimentalism, however, has always been an outlet for those who are oppressed. Abstract art’s refusal to conform to rigorous standards of the masses mirrors that of the LGBTQ community. An embrace of contradicting the norm is a great asset for artists and people alike, as would a belief that if a conservative mindset disapproves, it’s probably a good thing.

In 1963, surrealist filmmaker Kenneth Anger released Scorpio Rising. A bizarre 28-minute delve into biker culture, the occult, and homosexuality. The picture in context is a puzzling one. Released 4 years prior to the decriminalisation of same-sex relations, it opens with a montage of the seemingly ritualistic biker’s morning routine before climaxing in a playful gay orgy intercut with scenes depicting the last supper. A grandiose satire or an audacious comparison, the film is made more provocative by its accompanying score which consists of '60s pop songs by the like of Elvis Presley and Ray Charles.

Early art which heavily references queerness is often deemed groundbreaking because of its leaning towards taboo topics. Nevertheless, the art itself is usually subsequently daring, the films of Anger would be just as bizarre without the elements of social rule breaking. Scorpio Rising artistically and topically splits opinions on which is its most transgressive aspect. These same descriptors apply to something as revered as Velvet Underground’s 'Sister Ray'.

Perhaps a more introverted and forlorn character pushing boundaries in 20th-century art would be Julius Eastman. The New York-based composer and pianist outwardly alludes to his sexuality and race with pieces like Gay Guerrilla, Nigger Faggot and Evil Nigger. His work is hard to ignore.

Julius Eastman ‘Feminine’ art

Eastman builds his art upon an early example of a gay aesthetic, appearing overtly effeminate at shows and openly discussing his sexual preferences. He further highlights this in a 1975 performance of John Cage’s Songbooks with the S.E.M ensemble, a divisive concert for the audience and Cage himself due to its displays of full frontal nudity and homosexual references. Eastman being more open about his queerness in his contemporary Cage.

The paths of two mentioned intersect at more points than one; in an infamous drama in which Eastman is giving a mock anatomy lecture entitled ‘a new system of love’ he undresses a male volunteer and toys with him sexually with Cage present, which has been called by some as an attempt to ‘out’ him.

Eastman would go on to provide the alluring baritone vocals on Arthur Russell’s 22-24 ‘music’ as Dinosaur L. However, by the '80s he had become reliant on crack cocaine and was eventually evicted from his home and lived in Tompkins Square Park before his death in 1990. His work tragically was underappreciated during his life, and still isn’t given due praise for his early fusion of minimalism and pop. A lot of Eastman’s recordings are lost notably masculine - the counterpart to the recently reissued ethereal piece ‘Feminine’.

By the time of the late '70s and early '80s, queer artists had successfully infiltrated the music scene. Although not at a stage of presenting gay lyrics in the charts, queer people enjoyed substantial success. Gay pop music of the times, particularly synth pop, was rooted in themes such as self-discovery and escapism, for example, hits like Bronski Beat’s 'Small Town Boy' or Soft Cell’s 'Tainted Love'. The music seems like it’s almost in the wake of Gloria Gaynor’s 'I Will Survive'.

On the flip side of the coin, underground queer music is cold murky and mechanical. Industrial music was a relatively new branch of the avant-garde pulling from musique concrete, futurist noise composers and punk. Throbbing Gristle (industrial’s phase one) are deeply embedded within the queer underground. From the phallic name to the employing of transvestite security guards to the connections with William Burroughs. While exploring it greatly, TG at the time only had one openly gay member Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson who would go on to form one of the most confounding groups in modern music.

Coil’s seed is planted when Sleazy briefly meets Geoffrey Rushton during the live recording of Throbbing Gristle’s 'Heathen Earth'. What would follow would become the core foundations of Coil as well as a relationship that would span three decades.

Rushton, or John Balance - as he’s more commonly known - and Sleazy would become one of the first gay couples making music together. Thematically they were focused on magick, drugs and death but most relevantly the band were infatuated with graphic homoeroticism. From tracks like 'The Anal Staircase' and 'Sex' with Sun Ra, to the bare buttocks that adorn the cover of their debut record Scatology, to the strangely erotic image on their last, male sexual chemistry is quintessential element of Coil’s music.

It’s interesting to look at tropes associated with gay music and how they’ve evolved over the decades. Leather-ridden, German techno or colourful club anthems - this decade has seen the rise of a more disquietude form of queer music. With the rise in relevancy of artists like Arca and Perfume Genius, partly down to the fact homosexuality is more accepted, has given gay lyricists room to express more complex emotional issues.

A prime example of this would Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart, whose lyrics are implanted within self-satire and bleak imagery. The cover of the highly acclaimed sophomore record from the group, A Promise, features a male prostitute naked grasping a plastic doll, which Stewart photographed in Vietnam. Artwork aside, the record deconstructs sexuality in a unique fashion from the obvious moments of angst in lyrics like: “I’m the dumbest bitch on the planet”, or “Ian Curtis Wishlist” to dramatic irony within lines like, “my leather daddy, hurting my butthole like a sweetheart.”

Xiu Xiu – A promise (artwork)

Stewart addresses queerness at times from an outside perspective. 'Dr Troll' is one of the most traumatic cuts from Xiu Xiu’s debut Knife Play. The track follows the narrative of a transgender woman suffering from having the sole aspiration of belonging. Easily one of the most harrowing moments in the band’s back catalogue, homing lyrics like: “Thinking about her dream makes her feel Like it’s stupid,” and “the preschool students ask her what she is, she thinks I don’t know she says what do you think?” Words that are painfully relevant to anyone suffering from gender dysphoria, whilst brash distorted instrumentation serves as a sonic accompaniment to the matter.

The many forms queer music has taken over the decade is parallel to the connotations the word itself has held. Once a slur, now taken back as an identity tag that some may find progressive others the opposite. The modern-day marks an opportunity for the move into a direction of universal recognition of both the art and the artists themselves.

A celebration of art produced by any marginalized group is pivotal in a progressive society, whether it be in a singular or as a collective. For all the tropes implemented upon gay music, it may feel fitting to ask whether the artists in question are connected in ways other than being queer. This would bring to the table another discussion on how big a part of someone’s sexuality really is. For sure artists like Arca and Yves Tumor subvert masculinity and both happen to be gay and happen to produce off-kilter music. However, we live in an age in which wearing associated with the opposite gender need not correlate with sexual preferences.

The commercialisation of pride events and the introduction of gay culture to the masses sets the subsequent LGBT film and music movements on a trajectory closer to the mainstream than ever. This could lead one to believe that queer music could eventually become homogeneous with everything else.