Little Bastard asks where all the alternative clubs have gone. Where can the Soho gay crowd who don’t want to listen to music that’s had its very soul remixed out of it go now?
Being gay and not “conventional” is hard. It’s always struck me as odd that a subculture that is based on non-conformity could be so … well … conformist.
When wandering the streets of Soho any night of the week you can usually expect to hear the latest charts hits pulsating in many bars and clubs in the area, along with the odd piece of house music. Pop music and gay culture have long gone hand-in-hand, and I can understand why so many gay men and women find comfort in the frivolous and joyful nature of pop music as an antidote to their own sorrows or the drudgery of everyday life.
However, some of us dance to the beat of a different drum. I love Girls Aloud like the next gay, but so much of my music taste comes from the anger and angst I experience in my every day life, and the desire to express my individuality. I don’t always find this in mainstream pop music and culture.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with pop music – anyone that has read my reviews will have noted I’ve got a taste in music wider than Mr Creosote’s waistband – but that doesn’t mean that every time I go out I want to listen to ‘Single Ladies’ and ‘Call Me Maybe’.
Months ago, I started writing an article about my journey to a provincial gay club and the hideous ear-rape I was subjected to during my time there. My main problem with the club in question – Plush in Oxford, if anyone is interested – was the DJ’s taste for that awful brand of “house” music that has become so popular in modern gay clubs, where a poor unsuspecting pop song is mutilated on an Amiga 500: only the vocals remain and the whole thing is given the same looped house beat until each song melts into the other, for lazy mixing.
I heard nothing but this shit for hours, until we were rescued from remix hell by Lady Gaga’s ‘Judas’ (and ironically I would have played a remix of that!). It made me think seriously about clubs I’d been to in the past 13 years, both straight and gay, and whether I’d ever experienced this type of music anywhere else.
And so I researched Almighty, the record label who had coined this strange brand of house music in the ‘90s, starting out remixing ABBA songs for the gay dance floor. I wondered if you’d ever be subjected to such tripe anywhere else – if, for instance, you’d go to Tiger Tiger on a Saturday night (surely the straight equivalent of G.A.Y?) and hear Bimbo Jones remixing all the angst out of P!nk, or the Freemasons stripping the hell out of Beyonce. In my many years frequenting both straight and gay venues, I had never come across these nasty types of remixes anywhere else. It feels like people such as Bimbo Jones and Tracy Young are remixing things purely for the pink earphones of gay DJs.
I couldn’t find a focus for my musings on the subject, and wondered if anyone would actually be bothered enough to read a rant about gay culture and music, as even that night at Plush I seemed to be in the minority. Then, I saw this status update from Gay Rock night Stampede on Facebook: “Hello my sexy bunch of clubbers tonight is return of stampede with DJ’s Laurence Rene and Alex Bandagos Brown playing the freshest pop, dance and R&B around … With amazing drink deals on the night …. Peace love and sausage rolls ;-)”.
I was dumbfounded, and without thinking typed a comment as quickly as I could, questioning their music policy. When the night had started, it was a gay rock night – something we all would have seen as a risk in Soho, never mind at dingy (but not in a good way) bar Escape!!. With a resident DJ from a prominent Metal band its seemed to have enough rock credentials to be the Next Big Thing. The response I got to my question about their sudden shift into chart fodder? That “Soho wants what it wants”.
Once upon a time – well about ten years ago – London was almost awash with polysexual alternative nights. Underground club Ghetto – ironically underneath The Astoria, home for many years to the G.A.Y I so despised – was my personal favourite. Nights ranging from trailblazing electro clash club Nag Nag Nag, metal night Red Eye, alternative club night Noise one of the first clubs to have weekly live bands, lesbian Indie night Misshapes and pop trash Wig Out, drew a slightly different crowd, from the skater to the fashionista, but it was all brought to you with a dose of downtown New York unpretentiousness, and no one was ever made to feel under or over dressed. It was the sort of club where you’d catch Peaches hanging out by the DJ booth, or Simon Amstel tearing up the dance floor.
Its sister bar, Trash Palace, with its Twin Peaks inspired Red Room, was a similar haven for the strange and unusual, hosting Glam Rock, Indie, and easily the best R’n’B gay night I’ve ever been to.
After the tragic death of owner Simon Hobart, Ghetto carried on as normal, but seemed to lose direction somewhat. When it was forced out of central London by the Crossrail bulldozers demolishing the Astoria and everything around it (including my favourite chip shop) it migrated East, taking Trash Palace with it, and became just another weird East London club. Its doorstep appeal of Soho gone, it crashed headlong into a sea of multisexual and electronic freak clubs. Ghetto became a small fish in a very big elitist pond and finally closed its doors.
Over the years, Ghetto had managed to commercially eclipse most of the competition, nights like Marvellous and the brilliant Rebel Rebel. So when it crashed and burned there was nothing different left. Simon Hobart’s long standing Friday night Indie rave Popstarz had moved from the delightfully dirty Scala in Kings Cross and had pitched its tent at Sin in Tottenham Court Road. But it had changed from being something interesting and alternative to G-A-Y Bar with Kings Of Leon.
Although Popstarz is still going, despite having several homes over the years, it’s not the same as it once was, and is now full of the dregs of pop lovers from Soho’s bars. You’re more likely to get smacked in the face by somebody emulating Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ dance than you are to injure yourself moshing in the mostly empty Indie room.
For years I’ve been trying to start a club night. Not somewhere to replace Ghetto – that can never be done – but to act as a haven for the people that went there, and an entire generation of gay people who don’t want to be defined solely by their sexuality, that want to hear a wide range of music, not just the same thing they could hear everywhere else.
What I discovered is that many bars and clubs aren’t willing to take a risk on an alternative night. There are, apparently, not enough gay people that want to go to “alternative” bars (which amazes me when, over the past few years rock and alternative music has been more popular than ever) to warrant starting a night dedicated to that sort of music. Quite where all the people that used to frequent Ghetto and Trash Palace and the like have gone baffles me, but there apparently simply isn’t the “call for it” anymore. When London is the most diverse city in England (or should be) it amazes me that there is no longer an alternative gay scene, especially with the success of regular nights Bollox in Manchester and Psychodrama in Bristol. Surely if smaller cities have successful, well-marketed alternative nights, a city like London should have a place for it too?
I am sexually and romantically attracted to men, which identifies me as gay in today’s society. This doesn’t, however, mean that I want to wear a feather boa, cover myself in glitter and dance to Kylie on a regular basis. I do not think Kylie was at her artistic best when dressed in gold hot pants, and I do think that Lady Gaga was more interesting before ‘Born This Way’. I don’t really like Beyonce, but I do know that the Freemasons only made ‘Green Light’ and ‘Ring The Alarm’ worse. I like Madonna the artist, not Madonna the gay icon. I think that Marilyn Manson is one of the greatest artists of the past 20 years, and Slayer is one of the best bands I have ever seen live in my entire life.
I’m not one of these people who wears my alternative taste like a badge, just as I don’t with my homosexuality. I simply don’t understand why people still perpetuate this myth that gay men only like pop music and dance music. If anything, I’ve always found that a gay audience is the most open minded, and I’ve heard some of the most diverse music under one roof in gay clubs and bars.
One of the reasons I love writing for Polari is that I can introduce people to things they might not normally listen to, from Ke$ha to Cradle Of Filth, and surely it’s a DJ’s job to do that too? If gay clubs and bars spend all of their time pandering to the stereotype and only feeding gay men and women ‘Just Dance’ and ‘Single Ladies’, then of course there would never be call for anything else. But I promise you, give them something different, and do it intelligently, and you too could start a movement. And we’d all thank you for it.