Photo Credit: Collage by Okayplayer
From GodIsMikey’s quick-witted lyricism to Alto Moon’s all-encompassing pop star persona, these are the artists defining Atlanta’s underground queer music scene.
With decades of LGBTQ history at our disposal, we have been restored individual autonomy to know of the vastness of a demographic that has been nothing short of imaginative. Cities such as New York and San Francisco have had a resounding amount of coverage to document the profoundness of the community members of said respective cities. Documentary films and television series such as Pose and Paris is Burning has given insight into the queer subcultures that are perpetually shaping pop culture as we know it. Rarely have the efforts and ingenuity of Atlanta members of the community at large seen coverage that champions their expansive legacy. Their contributions have often been left to the public to tabulate, to summate, and to sometimes reduce.
Nearly a third of LGBTQ people reside in the South and this bustling creative sector of the community is often met with deliberate exclusion from the widespread narrative, despite exporting a number of influential and pioneering Black queer artists throughout the 20th and 21st century. From the “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey to contemporary figures like New Orleans’ Big Freedia and Atlanta’s Lil Nas X, Black queer southern musicians have — and continue to — add to the musical landscape of the United States, both on mainstream and more local and regional levels. This is the case with the crop of artists that are defining Atlanta’s contemporary underground queer music scene: GodIsMikey, Noel Niks, Oliver Twixt, Zé Taylor, Alto Moon, and Matisse Petite.
Each is different from the other — from GodIsMikey’s quick-witted lyricism to Alto Moon’s all-encompassing pop star persona, these individuals wield the charisma of Atlanta juxtaposed with the eccentricity of their wholeness. Despite some of these artists being transplants — both Petite and Moon are from elsewhere — all of them share a similarity in that Atlanta not only helped them find themselves as artists, but a queer community they can feel a part of.
“One of the reasons why I chose to move to Atlanta was because of how beautiful and diverse the Black queer community is in the city,” Petite said.
“Artists in Atlanta are genuine and the South feels like home for me,” Zé Taylor said. “I’ve worked with a couple of artists down here and they are really eager and creative.”
But it’s also a city that has proven to become a cultural export of Black musical talent, especially as it pertains to rap. Lil Nas X has become the biggest star to come out of Atlanta recently, thanks to “Old Town Road” and “Montero (Call Me by Your Name),” the latter of which found him proudly embracing his queerness. As a superstar, Lil Nas X’s impact as a queer artist is global. But for queer Atlanta artists, his impact is arguably felt even more.
“He is an inspiration to many, myself included,” Oliver Twixt said. “I appreciate that he does not have any stupid butch queen drama going on. You never hear about his business or drama in his personal life. He makes his money and goes home. I respect that.”
GodIsMikey also spoke on X’s impact, simply saying: “He makes the dream of becoming a mainstream Black Gay rapper seem attainable.”
For now, these artists are focused on building a scene in Atlanta while establishing themselves as artists, with a crucial part of that being live performances. Prior to the pandemic, both Zé Taylor and GodIsMikey served as openers for the Atlanta date of Rico Nasty’s The Sugar Trap Tour in 2017, while the following year saw Oliver Twixt open for reality TV personality Ts Madison as a part of her Queens Supreme Court Tour.
“Performing at The Sugar Trap Tour gave me confidence, and helped me see that I do have real supporters,” GodIsMikey said. “The crowd knew my lyrics and even motivated me when I got nervous. I truly think that after that performance I got the push I needed to see that I was going in the right direction.”
Although the pandemic postponed and stalled live events throughout Atlanta — and the rest of the country — this year has seen these events return gradually, with some of them making sure to cultivate a space for the city’s queer musicians. In April, Queer designer Donte Renfroe held a circus-themed exhibition called The Big Top, which included performances from queer artists Noel Niks, T Dollaz, and others.
“I created the space to take back and to alter the stage that had already existed for queer people and those of alternative lifestyles, and to showcase the many talents of those individuals and to depict them in a brighter light,” Renfroe said. “I believe that people think that you have to create a platform for yourself before inviting others to the table. However, I reversed the scheme.”
The Big Top served as a preeminent stage for a handful of Atlanta’s underground queer artists, including Noel Niks.
“Truly performing in a queer space is always pressure. The vibe was everything and it’s always a humbling experience when you can showcase your talent and people are loving every minute, because of the way I commanded the room,” Niks said. “I was amazed, because I was a nervous wreck, and in my head, I was hoping I didn’t mess up or look crazy. Who knew I had such stage presence? It was a blessing and I am forever thankful.”
Despite the accomplishments these artists have made in the city’s queer music scene, there are still challenges they face, like queer people of color not being given the same support as their white counterparts.
“There is definitely a divide between the different races in our community with people of color often getting the shorter end of the stick, especially us influencers,” Twixt said.
That lack of support and opportunity adds to the challenge of being a financially comfortable — let alone financially successful — artist. And although some of these artists have gained opportunities through alternative means in the age of social media — Twixt got social media deals from Sephora, McDonald’s, Amazon, and Lyft last year — it’s understandable that others are working toward a record deal that’ll support their personal — and creative — life.
“With finances being a helicopter matter that persists to tug at the coattails of these artists, the possibility or impossibility of signing to a label in the future is a constant thought,” Zé Taylor said. “I just really want financial freedom. Me really wanting to be signed will come.”
For the members of Atlanta’s underground scene to break free from the restrictions they face from the the queer community at large, along with mainstream gatekeepers, these forces have a responsibility to center the strides that they’ve made in the previous years. Their contributions have birthed genres and have also been instrumental in shifting the paradigm forward. Queer people shouldn’t require permission to create in a way that is reflective of their wholeness and Atlanta is leading the charge in this initiative.
Glendon Francis is an Atlanta-based writer, editor, author, psychology student at the formidable Georgia State University, and a native of Antigua & Barbuda. He is a zealous LGBTQ rights, gender equality and immigration advocate.