Medusa: The glitter-soaked Shanghai party shares an exclusive playlist
Crack Magazine is marking Pride season with a series of specialist mixes and playlists dedicated to LGBTQ+ club nights and promoters. From the iconic parties of bygone eras through to the emerging events breaking through in 2022, we’ll be highlighting the sounds of these parties and the artists that shape them.
Medusa is more than just a figure in Greek mythology. It’s also an incredibly popular party typically hosted at a cosy venue called Elevator in Shanghai.
An appetite for theatrics, silliness and proper good fun saturates the queer-centric gathering, which is headed up by resident DJs Michael Cignarale and Mau Mau – who is also part of the Elevator team – alongside its host, Sky. Cignarale, for instance, is a classically trained singer who cites the likes of Barbara Tucker and Jocelyn Brown as influences. His belting voice is as much a feature of the glitter-soaked event as its music or its vibrant pink and purple-hued visuals – both of which take cues from 90s-era New York.
Though the future is equally as important at Medusa, where queer history and culture come together with the artists and performers shaping them today. When Medusa launched in 2016, its co-founders hoped to platform the city’s next generation of drag talent in a space where electronic music led the charge. (As is often the case, the party’s launch also stemmed from a desire to break away from the norm. In Shanghai, that norm was a more mainstream style of LGBTQ+ clubbing and events that weren’t as focused on underground music.)
Over the years, these founding desires have continued to inform the Medusa way of partying. In 2021, the event launched its very own label Medusa Records with a release from co-founder Cignarale. At the time, the team described the venture as a chance to “connect the emerging Chinese queer community with a global audience”. A year on and in the face of border closures, travel restrictions and lockdowns – which, among other things, have temporarily shuttered venues like Elevator – this kind of connection feels more vital than ever.
The team nurture their bonds with past party favourites here, too, as they curate an exclusive Medusa playlist centred around sweat-inducing tunes by Octo Octa, Chrissy, The Carry Nation and more. Read an interview with Cignarale and Mau Mau below and scroll down to listen to their playlist.
One of the largest queer underground parties in Shanghai, China. We started the party in 2016 with an aim to create an event that could bring a queer dancefloor together with house music, and give the city’s new drag queens a space to strut, twirl and pop.
How does this aim influence your musical direction?
Medusa is driven by old-school house – it’s very 90 New York. Musically, the resident DJs are inspired by the Sound Factory, the Roxy and other legendary queer clubs from a bygone era. You can expect house anthems, disco, tribal and glittery soulful divas all night long. Our co-founder Michael sings live spontaneously mid-set, covering his favourite divas and testing out original songs. Mau Mau, the other co-founding resident, brings a crate of deeper and more techno-leaning sounds into the mix when the nights go late. It can get very sweaty on that dancefloor.
Who is involved in the event?
The three co-founders are Michael Cignarale and Mau Mau – the resident DJs – and Sky, who plays host and really nurtures all the drag talent in Shanghai. Enema Stone is the newest member to join our crew. She is the resident drag queen and programmes Medusa’s drag shows. She and Michael also design the artwork for Medusa (our iconic party visuals are VJ’d by 解读(丸).
We also have an amazing house of queers: Big Daddy Kev, Nama Lily, OFFSKII, Frozen Lolita, Huan Huan, Dai Nasty, Go See, Fantasia, Erika Assdika, Alice on Fire. Then there’s the team at CinemQ as well as so many others who constantly contribute to this party.
What did you want attendees to takeaway from Medusa?
Medusa asks her children to contribute. Whether that’s on the dancefloor – by really engaging in the music – or by making an effort to dress up, beat their mugs and turn it out a little. The night is campy and over the top; we are always trying to bring that energy out of people. Despite all the draggory and tszuj, our heart is still in the music. That’s what keep bringing people back.
How does Medusa differ to other queer nights currently operating in the region?
Medusa is one of the most music-driven queer nights in Shanghai, and our dancefloor is certainly the glitteriest one in the whole country. Michael, who is almost always painted in full glitter drag, leaves a little bit of himself everywhere. We’re lucky because Medusa has a really strong queer community that has grown up around this party. Ultimately, it’s about the energy of our core community.
Could you expand on that a little?
Well, it’s them who help to transform the club spaces into a whole atmosphere, from the decorations to the visuals to the spontaneous voguing battles. Also, our drag shows are just so stupid and exciting.
"The night is campy and over the top; we are always trying to bring that energy out of people"
What does Pride mean to you?
We’re obsessed with queer history at Medusa, especially queer history through the prism of entertainment and nightlife. So Pride is always a huge opportunity to remember those who came before us and share their stories within our platform and community. Pride is a celebration of our identity, but we hope it can also be a time to reflect on how our community got here and where we need to go next.
And what was the inspiration behind your playlist?
Last year, Medusa started a record label. It allows us to share the talent coming out of our party and China with the rest of the world – and vice versa. So, our playlist features music from our first release by Michael. It also music from guests at Medusa, including Knopha who has an amazing edit of a Chinese pop diva track. We also want to share some of the music from guests who’ve come from abroad to turn our dancefloor out before the borders got shut down.
What memories do you have of these tracks at past Medusa nights?
Michael singing live is something else; he has a big voice and is an unpredictable performer. In 30 seconds he can take over the whole room and people really lose themselves – his album tracks capture a bit of that.
We’re always trying to connect with the global queer scene and so we love working with other queer party organisers and residents. That said, we are also aware of how far China is. This means we’re more than grateful when anyone deals with all the visa paperwork to get on that fourteen-plus hour flight; arriving completely jet-lagged before taking our dancefloor to another dimension. Big shout-outs to Chris Cruse, Ouissam, Eris Drew, Octo Octa, Nick Monaco and The Carry Nation, with whom we’ve had some unforgettable moments.