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Emerge conference brings music, social issues together in Las Vegas

“This is not a safe space, y’all.”

So said the “drag terrorist” on the stage.

Not that anybody really needed to be told as much.

The scene: Bugsy’s Cabaret at the Flamingo, where rapper/performance artist Christeene was holding court last April — i.e. screaming himself hoarse into the mic as he challenged gender norms with a wink.

It was the second day of the inaugural Emerge Impact + Music conference, self-described as the “intersection of social justice, art and music.” It featured more than 70 up-and-coming acts and 50 sessions led by installation artists, academics, activists and more on multiple stages at the Flamingo, The Linq and Harrah’s.

Of all the performers, there was no one quite like Christeene, which was the point. From doe-eyed Latin bedroom pop to satirizations of World War II-era housewife cliches to earnest indie rock love songs directed at one’s cat, Emerge’s focus was on out-of-the-box artists and ideas.

Now Emerge is back, this time at the Hard Rock Hotel.

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Different spot, same aim: Emerge will again showcase numerous ascendant acts — such as female-fronted rockers Cherry Glazerr, “Mooo!” rapper Doja Cat and preternaturally chilled-out indie rockers Culture Abuse — as well as several speakers.

There will be a lot to take in, but here are five key sessions:

Conversations, 11 a.m. Friday

He was emo’s mascara-coated conscience back in the day, an unabashed rock ’n’ roll empath who’d frequently demand from the stage that women be treated with respect in the mosh pits his band was soundtracking.

That was back when Gerard Way was fronting goth-informed pop punks My Chemical Romance, a band whose ambitions were as sizable as their bruised hearts. Nowadays, Way is perhaps best known as the man behind “The Umbrella Academy,” the acclaimed comic book series that’s since been adapted as a Netflix series.

Way speaks Friday alongside singer-songwriter Julie Mintz, Las Vegas singer and actress Kiara and superstar producer Rob Cavallo (who was behind the boards on My Chemical Romance’s brooding 2006 rock opera “The Black Parade”).

Protest, 5 p.m. Friday

Feelings, words — neither get minced.

“So how many daughters, tell me how many sons / Do we have to put into the ground before we just break down and face it / We’ve got a problem with guns,” Brandon Flowers sings on “Land of the Free,” The Killers’ most unabashedly political song, released in January.

Addressing the topic at hand, the prison industrial complex and immigration issues, the emotionally charged, piano-based plea for change comes accompanied by a powerful, poignant video directed by Spike Lee that chronicles various families coming to the United States’ southern border.

Flowers, then, is a fitting part of the Protest session, which also includes firebrand rapper Talib Kweli and Parkland, Florida, school shooting survivors and gun control activists David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez.

Hope X Human, 9 p.m. Friday

They’re vocalists with a voice, one that extends far beyond the music they make.

Gavin Rayna Russom and Nancy Whang are the Ladies of LCD Soundsystem, contributing synth and singing to the dance punk prime movers. But they’re also advocates for causes such as RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the country’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, and PLUS1, a social change initiative that raises money for various nonprofits.

Together, Russom and Whang will help anchor the Hope X Human session, which also features fellow musicians Bishop Briggs, Marian Hill and Yoke Lore.

Self & Sex, 10 a.m. Saturday

The queen diva of New Orleans bounce music, Big Freedia has been moving backsides to the beat for two decades.

You’ve heard her on hits such as Drake’s smash “Nice for What” and Beyonce’s Grammy-winning “Formation” or maybe seen her popular reality show “Big Freedia Bounces Back” on Fuse TV. A 41-year-old gay black man who prefers the feminine pronoun, Freedia has little use for musical or gender boundaries.

As such, she’ll be one of the faces of the Self & Sex session, alongside comic artist AlecWithPen, sexuality researcher and podcaster Dr. Zhana and “femcee” Miss Eaves, among others.

Brave, 7 p.m. Saturday

“True Trans Soul Rebel” and Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace has wrangled with gender dysphoria in songs as fierce as they are fearless.

Since beginning her transition from male to female in 2012, Grace has used a punk rock platform to addresses issues of alienation, homophobia and sexism in candid, cutting tunes as unrelenting as Grace herself has proven to be.

On Saturday, she shares the stage with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and human rights advocate Jose Antonio Vargas, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, child abuse survivors’ rights activist Kristy Johnson and others who’ve backed up their words with action.

Contact Jason Bracelin at or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.