Neil Tennant of The Pet Shop boys discusses WOTAPALAVA, their ill-fated traveling gay music festival

By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 2001
Pet Shop Boys

NOTE : This article was written when preparations were underway for the WOTAPALAVA tour in 2001. With tickets already on sale, the tour was canceled, reportedly because a suitable replacement for Sinead O’Connor could not be found. We’d had the opportunity to ask Neil Tennant a few questions, and decided to keep this article online despite the tour not happening.

Created by The Pet Shop Boys and their management, WOTAPALAVA represents the biggest openly gay pop music festival to tour the US. It’s also notable because it marks the return of one of the finest synth-pop duos – Soft Cell.

“It’s really exciting,” says Neil Tennant of The Pet Shop Boys. “When Chris and I met in 1981, one of the things we used to talk about a lot was Soft Cell. We particularly like their record ‘Bed Sitter’ and I think they were really the first of the great synth duos, and maybe we were the last of them [laughs]. They were a really big influence on us when we started, and I think their music is brilliant, the way Marc Almond gave his incredible voice and personality against the beautiful electronic musicscapes of David Ball. I know they’ve been making a new album, so I’m very excited to see them.”

Besides The Pet Shop boys and Soft Cell, the main stage at WOTAPALAVA will also feature The Magnetic Fields and Rufus Wainwright. Sinead O’Conner had been slated to perform but backed out shortly before the full schedule/lineup was officially announced. A replacement has yet to be named. There will also be a dance stage with such DJs as Danny Tenaglia, Junior Vasquez and Paul Oakenfold, and some dates will feature such special guests as Village People and Gloria Gaynor.

“I think it would be great if it became an annual event, that is our aim at the moment,” explains Tennant. “It’s quite interesting because our initial idea with this was to put together out gay performers; people who we feel in the past have had a big gay audience, or made a gay statement. Like Village People. It’s surprisingly difficult to put together a bill like that. We have some names on hand for next year, but it’s quite interesting that in North America, how few out gay performers there are. For instance, [in Britain] you could think of George Michael or Boy George, or Erasure or many other people. In America, there doesn’t seem to be too many at the moment. We hope this will help to bring about a climate where this sort of thing is normal. The reason we’ve called this festival WOTAPALAVA is ultimately that is our attitude towards sexuality – ‘what a fuss about nothing.’ When we’ve achieved the goal of equal rights for everyone, sexuality is only one facet of our lives. It shouldn’t rule it, it shouldn’t define our culture, it shouldn’t restrict us. This is one of the things that WOTAPALAVA wants to put forward. And we want to put it forward through the music business first.”

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