by Helen Thomas
I meet Seth Corbin on a Saturday in July. He is performing at Trans Pride Brighton; a mini music festival following a 1,000 strong march through the streets of the seaside town. To my shame, it’s also the first time I’ve heard his music. The buzzing crowd tells me that he’s popular here, and my ears prick up when someone starts a conversation with a stranger by saying: “I didn’t know Seth Corbin was playing! I’m so happy!”
I soon learn why it’s easy to like Seth Corbin. His “anarcho-folk” hooks latch onto neat riffs and clever lyrics. The crowd gets cosier as they close the three metre gap between them and the stage. Corbin manages to deliver songs about depression, alcoholism and losing one’s best friends with a personal humour that delights the audience and compliments the sunny, cheerful day in British summertime. He agrees to an interview just as soon as the hub of fans buying CDs off his beer crate merchandise stall disperses. Whilst relatively unknown outside of queer music circles, this primarily Soundcloud-based musician’s DIY popularity is undeniable, and even after we both sit down, Corbin is still happily interrupted on multiple occasions by people saying ” cool set, dude.” I comment on the fandom that he has collected in the past half an hour. “I don’t really know what happened there,” he replies. “I was pelvic thrusting at the camera.” So why have I not heard of him before? “Trans Pride Brighton is the only pride event I’ve performed at,” he explains. “As far as pride events go, Trans Pride is the one for me. Not only because I’m trans, but because it’s a community-run event. They don’t take any corporate sponsorships or get money from dodgy organisations.”
I mention a couple of vodka companies that are known for ‘rainbow-washing’ (using LGBTQ imagery to promote their product). Corbin, who speaks about his issues with booze openly in his music, is unimpressed. “All those companies can go get fucked in my opinion. One of the great things about Trans Pride is the fact that it’s a grassroots protest and festival run by the community, for the community. It’s about people over profit – reliant on the passion and activism of the volunteers.
” I hear arguments being made that the ‘big pride’ festival would be ‘unable to function’ without the money it receives from corporate sponsorship, but it’s total bullshit. The first ever pride was a small protest march through the streets of London. It was political. Now it’s all about getting wasted, and charging extortionate amounts of money for people to access certain areas of the street and public parks. It’s not about community at all. Big pride has become inaccessible to queers who lack the dollar to afford a ticket. Where does that leave them?”
Brighton is still relatively new for Corbin, having lived here only a few months since moving down from London. “People are a lot more chilled out here,” he says. “The air is cleaner, you’re by the sea, and that makes a huge difference. Brighton folk still have a lot of their soul intact. In London your soul just becomes this brown sludge, which is shit. Londoners are so angry about spending two hours on public transport each day that they don’t give a shit about stuff like independent businesses. They need everything fast. ” But I think even in Brighton, there aren’t as many queer events as I think there could or should be, what with there being so many independent music venues and that kind of thing. The LGBTQ community here seems to have a more political slant.” I ask if songwriting feels like a good environment to explore personal issues of gender. “I think a lot of the musicians at Trans Pride would say yes, but it’s not a big deal to me. If you make a good riff or something the words just flow, although of course the words mean something. It’s more personal; people who have annoyed me, relationships that have gone to shit and things I feel sad about. I don’t know how far being trans has affected my music because I was making music before I had the realisation.”
Corbin uses his own experiences to write music that not only taps into personal experience, but is universally relatable (and hilarious). The ‘OkCupid song’, for example, goes like this:
I’m a man who doesn’t dress to pass
Which sometimes means
Cisgendered men will ask
Would you like to see my cock?
Sorry mate, I’d rather not
Because I didn’t bring my magnifying glass
Corbin tells me about the first song he recorded aged 15, intended as a mothering Sunday gift. “It was awful. I recorded it at my granddad’s house and called it ‘Remedy’, because it was about drugs. Which is bizarre, as I’d never even taken anything. And then I made it weirder by giving it to my mum to show how much I loved her.” He explains how the creative process changes as an unsigned artist: “I do try to make music everyday, but as you get older stuff like working full time becomes a distraction,” he admits. “When I go home
tonight and there’s no audience, I’ll get a post-gig downer. It’s embarrassing to admit you want to be a full time musician when people constantly ask what you ‘actually do’. I ‘actually do’ music. I’m not going to tell them about my crap telemarketing sales job, am I?” He laughs, before adding: “I don’t do that job by the way; I quit it. It was really depressing. But for now I just feel glad I can be here making music.”