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What began as a unifying queer-inclusive performance art and techno event in London back in 2019 has evolved into a sex-positive movement for all genders and sexualities that is shattering taboos. While it was built on the foundations of bringing together LGBTQ+ collectives from different scenes across the UK under one roof, HOWL is for everyone and is focussed on facilitating liberation through exploration. Ahead of next month’s HOWL QUEER CITY event and the launch of livestreamed mixes, LN-CC shoots the HOWL COLLECTIVE inside their second-home, the Colour Factory.
“The HOWL COLLECTIVE is an incredible roster of 6 resident DJs who play at our events and represent us when we are booked for external gigs,” filmmaker and HOWL founder Samuel Douek explains over email. “AllyXpress, Amphibian, Denis Muresan, MVCOKO, Tedesco, and TWANG represent HOWL and everything we stand for and I am proud to watch them take the stage under our name and have at it,” he adds. Self-styled in their pick of new season fashion at LN-CC and made in collaboration with CAMP Productions, photographer Francisco Gomez de Villaboa celebrates the superhumans that they are as Samuel talks us through HOWL’s evolution and why HOWL wants the entire world to have anal sex.
Today, HOWL is a movement driven by its growing, forever inclusive, sex-positive community but could you take us back to the launch of HOWL? HOWL started in 2019 when I decided to merge together 2 other queer events I had been running for a few years. First there was BUM.P, a fab RnB/House night at Dalston Superstore that I launched with stylist Nicco Torrelli, and then there was the CAMPerVAN, a travelling queer performance caravan on which I hosted some incredible events with the help of artists Zoe Marden and Fiontan Moran. After a few years of running these projects, I decided it was time to evolve into something new and combine these different worlds of dance music and performance art. For me, the queer community is often kept very separate from each other given all of its diverse sub-cultures. HOWL presented the opportunity to bring these collectives together for one night, under one roof, celebrating the entire community.
What did HOWL mean to you then?
I named HOWL after the eponymous Allen Ginsberg poem that was famously banned in the 1950s leading to a victorious obscenity trial that paved the way for a cultural revolution in literature and beyond. At the time we launched, HOWL very much embodied that unapologetically queer, rebellious spirit and still does today.
I never saw HOWL as being in competition with any other rave because the whole point of HOWL is that it is a platform for celebrating and supporting other collectives. For me, this is what HOWL represents entirely. There is room enough for everyone and people shouldn’t be competing with each other, especially from within their own communities. Let’s support each other by rebelling together.
As it brought together a multitude of queer collectives together, at what moment did you realise you had created something special?
I never really take a step back and think, ‘oh this is special’. On the nights specifically, you’re often consumed with making sure that DJs are ok, fielding a barrage of calls from friends who are asking to get them in etc. So there isn’t time to really stop and reflect.
I think the moments where I feel like we’ve achieved something are when I hear the party being mentioned or discussed positively by people who have no idea that I run it. Because friends will always shower you with love and affection, but strangers say exactly what they think. So it’s nice to hear that we’ve created a space that people enjoy and feel comfortable expressing themselves in. Honestly, i think we’re only just getting started so maybe when we’ve taken HOWL QUEER CITY raves global, i’ll stop and think, ‘damn, did we really do that?’
Given months on end of lockdown and physically distancing, to what extent did the pandemic encourage the diversification of HOWL?
Without the pandemic, there would be no HOWL lube. Well, there might have been, but it certainly wasn’t something that I had ever even thought about let alone considered if the world hadn’t shut down and all live events had stopped. In May 2020, when rules were very much in place but you could meet up in parks, I reunited with some old school friends who were in the cannabis industry and they said they wanted to go into business together; something to do with CBD and a sex-positive product.
HOWL jumped to mind immediately. It was an amazing, sex-positive, completely dormant brand that could potentially never host another event again. It deserved a reincarnation of sorts and this was the perfect opportunity to do so. So off we went and spent months developing a sex-positive CBD lifestyle brand. HOWL WORLDWIDE WAS BORN!
Can you talk us through the process and how HOWL provided the perfect platform to do so?
By the end of the year, we had developed a brand that I was really proud of. Looking at every other lube on the market, all they do is sell lube. They don’t engage with their communities, support their networks, collaborate with charities etc. It was time to do something different, something meaningful. So we developed an amazing CBD lube product that decreases discomfort and increases pleasure by enhancing blood flow to the erogenous zones.
But this was just the start. We wanted educational resources that broke tabboos around sex, a zine that celebrated and platformed queer artists and contributors, limited edition merch, and of course, we wanted to collaborate with different LGBTQ+ charities, showcasing the amazing work that they do. But most importantly, we wanted to go mainstream. Yes queer people, specifically gay men have a lot of anal sex, but around 40% of adults (43% of men and 37% of women) admit to openly practicing it. It is a big thing that barely anyone talks about and we wanted to break down that stigma and be the go-to brand for both seasoned pros and those curious to try anal sex for the first time.
Exactly! Today, HOWL empowers and liberates through online resources such as sex tips and virtual panels championing sex positivity. What does HOWL mean to you now?
Now, HOWL is a cultural movement with a mission. We might be at the very beginning of that journey but there is an end goal in sight and that goal is to MAKE THE ENTIRE WORLD HAVE ANAL SEX. And whilst that might seem silly if not unachievable, it’s what that mission represents more than the actual goal. For me, HOWL represents the fight to shatter taboos and give wider representation to queer modalities of expression. It represents an incredible community of free spirits and brave souls who are an example to us all, and demonstrate the kindness, compassion and pride of a nurturing group of people who take care of each other.
If the whole world was a bit more like the community at HOWL, then it would be a better place for sure.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the people. I am in awe of the guests that come to HOWL parties and the customers who buy the lube. I see the photos from the events and I see the social media accounts of the people who comment and tag us online and I bear witness to these incredibly bold, fearless people of all genders, races, ages, sexualities and ethnicities.
I think back to the queer community of Allen Ginsberg’s generation who lived in the shadows. I think about how a poem that simply made reference to queer expression and was criminalised and persecuted and I just think, ‘wow, look how far we’ve come’. This new generation of youth is an inspiration to me and I am honestly very proud of them as they should be of themselves.
For anyone reading this who somehow may be unsure if HOWL is for them, what would you say to change their mind?
In terms of the lube, whilst we position ourselves as being for anal sex, it’s an amazingly versatile product that can be used in foreplay or vaginally. I highly recommend testing our CBD products because it will be an orgasm you won’t forget, and for those of you who are interested in trying anal sex but dont have the knowledge on how to do so, please refer to our ANAL 101 guide that demystifies the preparation process and should set you on the right course to entering the bedroom confidently.
And HOWL QUEER CITY?
As for our parties. Whilst we make every effort to make the safe as space as possible for queer people, we are a party for EVERYONE. Everybody and anybody can come and enjoy the 3 stages and all of the collectives, just make sure to respect the space and the people, especially if this world is new to you. It’s important not to assume anyone’s gender, touch inappropriately or make comments that others might deem offensive. So as long as you look after yourself and your friends, you should be in the perfect position to have the time of your fucking life :)