Last year the Italian fashion house Fendi released a campaign video celebrating club culture across the world. Why did it do this? Most likely because we are going through a time when nightclubs are being threatened with closure on a near daily basis, mostly due to the gentrification taking place across cities worldwide. In the UK all manner of nightclubs, from mainstream venues to ones that champion LGBTQ nights are similarly being penalised – the country’s once iconic nightlife is being diminished at a rapid rate, replaced by the twinkling lights of high-rise apartment blocks and, as acclaimed DJ Jodie Harsh puts it, “great clubs are now Pret A Mangers”.
As thrill seekers will no doubt be privy, British clubs are met with closure every month, but nothing can quite match the increasing shut down of LGBTQ venues, most evidently across London. While Heaven and G-A-Y still stand, the city’s real gems have had their night-lights dowsed. In Vauxhall (or VOHO as it has previously been labelled) – London’s second LGBTQ hub after Soho – venue closures have become second nature; last year the famous Royal Vauxhall Tavern (yes, the place Freddie Mercury took Diana that time) was threatened with closure and its future is still uncertain after being bought by Austrian property developers.
Meanwhile venues such as Bagleys, Candy Bar, Blitz and Black Cap, to name a few of the iconic establishments across the city, have long become a thing of the past. Why has the LGBTQ community been hit particularly hard? Let’s not forget that, although it is growing, it is still a minority in this country and LGBTQ clubs stand as vulnerable counterparts to more mainstream places such as Infernos and Mahiki. They were once where people could go and break free from the norms of society, yet now they appear increasingly sparse.
Until now. Whilst it is undeniable that London’s LGBTQ+ scene in particular has been hit with a wavering number of places to go (as Harsh explains, “it’s shrunk – a lot of iconic venues have shut across the UK, a lot of the best venues across London have shut”), there seems to be a new optimism brewing in the capital and across the rest of the country. A new rise in LGBTQ parties –
such as Charles Jeffrey’s Loverboy night in Dalston, Jonny Woo’s venue The Glory, and an increase of all things drag at Metropolis (Saturday night’s ‘Savage Disco’ is described on its website as a combination of “glorious music with an army of pole dancing drag queens”). It is an undeniable truth that the gay community does not back down and with regards to venue closures and a threat to the community’s culture, the case is no different.
Where once drag nights and gay nights were held in secret, often in the cellars of so-called ‘straight’ clubs (prior to Heaven’s opening in 1979, most gay nightclubs were a secret phenomenon), LGBTQ nights are now being brought into the mainstream. The voice of discontent is being made obvious, whether it be through protest or just the reinstating of nights that dismiss the status quo – the London scene is being catapulted to a position that rivals the New York of yesteryear.
One such night is promoter JJ Clark and Harsh’s set at the aforementioned strip club Metropolis. It’s one of the leading club nights in London, attracting an array of characters who are all in defiance of one thing – the disillusion of LGBTQ venues. In attendance on one Friday night, it was clear that Dollar Baby is one of the few events staying true to its roots and defying many clubs need to transform into more mainstream offerings.
“Anyone is welcome – it’s a place where people can just come together – we’re giving the weirdos a place to go out,” Harsh tells us. A stalwart on the LGTBQ scene, the DJ has taken it through the most desperate of times. “When we began Room Service the recession was going on – we were right in the thick of it when people had no money, but people wanted to escape from it and escape on the dance floor.” Now the same appears to be happening – rather than accept nightclubs are in decline, part-goers appear to be attending more than ever. Add to this equation the fact that the country has pretty much gone to pot, and you’ve got a jam-packed club on a Friday night, full of men and women in drag and costumes aplenty.
“Club people get scared when times are going down, with recession – but you can’t think like that,” Harsh further explains. In other words, the party must go on. “I feel like Dollar Baby itself is a place to have fun – when times get tough throw a bit of glitter on and go and have a dance.” When asked what they think of London’s current clubbing scene and how they think Dollar Baby is shaping it, an anonymous regular explained that “it’s a great mix of visuals – people come here to mix with other creative people. This is the core of the party.”
Once upon a time drag was very much an LGBTQ exclusive arena. It’s a historical fact that straight men and women were less inclined to go to a drag night, whether it be because of their personal taste or the social norm. Now however, things are changing; thanks to a 21st century outlook, a discontent with mainstream clubs and a ‘never back down’ attitude found in the community.
One reveller in the weekly jaunt’s smoking area confessed that as a straight man he doesn’t “even think it should be called a gay night or a straight night – it’s just a night out.” Wouldn’t have heard that ten years ago, would you? Why now though, and at Metropolis? Harsh explains, “Drag is influencing popular culture so fucking much – the Kardashians are a bunch of drag queens, you don’t have to be a man to be a drag queen – there’s no rule book really. Lady Gaga is a drag queen. Drag influences every aspect of pop culture and everyone is interested in it. Around the UK there little pockets of greatness – everyone is obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race and I feel London club culture, and things like Instagram, has opened people’s eyes.”
So while contemporary culture is facing troubled times, nightlife is in an exciting moment of change. And the future of clubbing? “I am the future of clubbing,” suggests Harsh, “lol.”