keeping the queer scene alive
In a time when our identities are pushed from public view via the closure of our LGBTQIA+ mainstays, we speak to the founders of some of London's queer parties to see what drove them to keep the scene as throbbing as ever.
Photography Holly Revell
Over the last three years the fight for the future of the LGBTQIA+ clubbing scene in London has felt like fighting a losing battle. Every week our diaries fill with protests to try and stop the closure of yet another important or historic gay space, almost all of which are completely ignored.
For the LGBTQIA+ community these spaces are more important than a drink, a dance and a hook-up: populated by people who experience a plethora of shared oppressions, these clubs and club nights are an emergency room for people who can't otherwise express their sexuality, their desire, their gender, and their dance moves anywhere else in the world.
There are so many reasons for the closure of LGBTQIA+ spaces, from the rise of Grindr and the change this has brought about in gay male sociability, to the apparent 'acceptance' of LGBTQIA+ people in mainstream space meaning we aren't in need of our own, separate spaces anymore. The main reason is of course the gentrification of London's centre, and its plastering over of any non-lucrative, transgressive, positively exclusive spaces. Our spaces are bought, or the rent hiked up, and alas pub and club landlords can no longer pay the rent on their properties, thus a once thriving gay bar, queer club, or lesbian pub is deleted, and a culture removed.
The most iconic and important spaces in our heritage have come from the desperation to find a space, take it over, and make it as a safe as possible.
As marginalised people, the LGBTQIA+ community have spent generations responding to society's disapproval of us, and like many oppressed communities it has been through these closures that you can see how resilient gay and queer people are. The most iconic and important spaces in our heritage have come from the desperation to find a space, take it over, and make it as a safe as possible. From the Slide, to Polly's, the Stonewall Inn, Fangs, to every sauna and meeting house out there, the LGBTQIA+ community are no stranger to moving on, in and out of new spaces.
And in response to the continual cycle of closures of our permanent spaces, London's gay scene has become somewhat nomadic. Some of the scene's most iconic nights have been born from a distinct lack of iconic nights. In a time when our identities are pushed from public view via the closure of our spaces, i-D spoke with the founders of some of London's queer parties to see what drove them to keep the scene as throbbing as ever.
Amrou Al-Kadhi, founder of London based drag troupe, and night, Denim told i-D, "because we live in an age where social spontaneity is becoming quickly obsolete, the magic of the chance encounter and its promise of diversity and Collectivity is fading. This is what I love most about throwing Denim; like the universal fabric of Denim, our aim is to bring people of all ages and walks of life into one room to have a collective and uplifting response to drag. We also like to keep our show nomadic, moving from space to space. In this sense, we are hoping to keep alive the importance of chance and spontaneity that is fading in London venues."
From the Slide, to Polly's, the Stonewall Inn, Fangs, to every sauna and meeting house out there, the LGBTQIA+ community are no stranger to moving on, in and out of new spaces.
Hakeem Kazeem of 'Batty Mama'—a new night specifically for QPOC (queer people of colour) by QPOC—is centred upon taking over available spaces for one night at a time, and prioritising the experience of QPOC. "Batty Mama is nomadic: we love the idea of a complete take over for the night. Finding people who can't get to central London or afford to go to bigger clubs, along with art, photography, fashion, theatre… and bringing it to them." Hakeem continues, "the focus is to support and promote Queer People of Colour's creative work and art, as well as being able to support them financially. It's important that we strive to create an immersive experience, and to have Black and Brown bodies occupy queer and black spaces! Celebrate and support Queer and Black culture, art and artists. We are community driven, we engage with people we aim to reflect. One of the frustrations was how specific gay/queer club scenes can be, so it's also important to engage with queer people of colour who might not typically go to a club night."
Flo Perry, co-founder of the thriving lesbian night 'Aphrodyki' set up the night to "create a space for queer women to dance to Beyonce in and hit on each other. It seems that people have really struggled to make the lesbian bar a profitable business. Aphrodyki is very much a side project for us, we all have full time jobs. Our aim is to have fun! You could go to a lesbian night every weekend if you wanted to! And it's so easy to set one up: Facebook means you don't have to have money to print posters or anything, all you need is a couple of hundred quid scraped together for your venue deposit, and you can run a club night."
Incredible fashion designer Charles Jeffrey told i-D that his impetus for setting up the renowned club night Loverboy was all about dressing. "When I first moved to London there was Boombox and Ponystep, and the practice of dressing up for other people was exhilarating. But when they closed, I saw a decline in those kind of club nights, and I just had a craving for them. So when I got asked to put on a night for my birthday—which is how Loverboy started—at Vogue Fabrics Dalston, I wanted to make it about dressing up: and it just stuck! It makes me so happy to see how much effort everyone puts in to going out, it really validates people. When people express themselves through dress and are met with a positive response, or a 'YAS QUEEN', it's amazing. It makes my heart flutter."
Despite continual closure of our LGBTQIA+ mainstays, the queer spaces and people who club here manage not only to thrive, but to progress in their experimentation and the development of their identities, in most cases.
Someone who has opened a permanent space is East London icon Jonny Woo. "We decided to open The Glory before the closures began. My partner Colin wanted to invest some money and wanted to expand on his 'party shed', and I wanted a space to make and present shows. We then partnered with Zoe and John and off we went. Quite simple, then things started closing and that became a thing! The Glory became a sort of queer, arts, social, mixed up sort of space quite organically. We have eclectic tastes and we like to take risks. We like to see people making use of our space. We're all a bit old fashioned and like an old school gay boozer. Music, dancing, shows, cruising, booze! Its a tried and tested concept. The gay scene is always developing and tons of people are putting on nights and the girls are doing more stuff too. East London especially is still really vibrant."
Despite continual closure of our LGBTQIA+ mainstays, the queer spaces and people who club here manage not only to thrive, but to progress in their experimentation and the development of their identities, in most cases. As so many signifiers of our culture are popularised into the mainstream audience, perhaps it's this 'take-over' mentality that is the next step in conserving our identities and visibilities. Whether we have our spaces or not, society at large may well enjoy the idea of 'gays' but when it comes to our presence in actual, physical space it's no question that we are still unwanted. The occupation of otherwise straight, or gay spaces set up for a singular faction of the LGBTQIA+ community, allows us both a place to go and find sanctuary as well as a means by which to remind people that we still exist for us, and not them. As spaces will continue to close, there's comfort and joy to be sought in the fact that our scene will continue to thrive: because of both want, as well as need.
Text Tom Rasmussen
Photography Holly Revell