The re-queering of the dancefloor
The 2010s saw the LGBT+ community stage a reclamation – and reconfiguration – of club culture. The result? Some of the most innovative music of the decade
Words: Jake Indiana
Illustration: Jude Gardner-Rolfe
Picture, if you will, what ‘clubbing’ entailed in 2010. For a vast majority of the nightlife-going public, hitting the club meant grinding, bottle service and a melange of the pop and hip-hop tracks dominating the charts. A pivot away from the manic energy of 90s rave culture (and an even further cry from the hedonistic pleasure dome of the 70s and 80s in which it was born), clubbing had become sanded down into something overtly palatable to the mainstream: straight, sanitised and accessible.
If any broad stroke narratives emerge of how clubbing has progressed over the course of this tumultuous decade, the resurgence and reclamation of the dancefloor as an explicitly queer space stands out as the most viscerally realised. The schematics of what constitutes a queer party – from the music and artists to the patrons and codes of conduct – outgrew subcultural status to become crystallised as the utopian ideal of partying. In other words, queer club culture has gone hella viral.
queer club culture has gone hella viral
Manifesting as the soundtrack to spaces that were literally the only outlets for freedom of expression for the LGBTQ+ community, club music’s origins are inherently queer. And yet it is small wonder that it has taken until the 2010s, arguably the most important decade for gay liberation since its inception, for this operational shift to take place. The importance of moments such as the US Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on same-sex marriage in 2015 can’t be overstated, but it is the unprecedented rapidity with which the discourse on gender identity and alternative sexualities entered the public lexicon (and evolved in their own respects) that bears the most weight on this repositioning.
With precious few outlets where many of today’s trans and non-binary queer folk can express themselves and explore their identity without fear of persecution, the dancefloor has become the nexus of this discourse
With precious few outlets where many of today’s trans and non-binary queer folk can express themselves and explore their identity without fear of persecution, the dancefloor has become the nexus of this discourse. “It’s really important that we understand that [partying in queer spaces] is ultimately still, if not a form of leisure nightclubbing, a cultural practice and a temporary community,” says Wanda Gaimes, a self-described “post-academic” specialising in international politics and co-founder/organiser of the femme-focused Berlin party Lecken. “It is a way to realise your politics in a way that’s much easier than activism, for instance.”
The tenet Gaimes outlines can easily be used to ascribe the merit of any designated LGBTQ+ space, but in the context of her work with Lecken and the countless other organisations in cities around the world striving toward similar goals, it pinpoints what distinguishes this decade’s developments from those of eras past: namely, that the struggle to create these queer spaces is coming from within the confines of the gay community itself in addition to the world at large.
By definition, a venue or event that is only available to cisgender men is not a queer space, thus making the parameters of a traditional gay club antithetical to the radical potential of queer club spaces. Equally problematic is the widespread use of the term ‘queer’ to designate areas that are decidedly not. The Berlin institution Berghain for instance, unanimously agreed upon as the Mecca of the nightlife world, is widely regarded as the ultimate arena for queer expression, yet it began as a strictly men-only venue and tips its infamously discriminatory door policy heavily in favour of men.
To build a truly queer club environment this decade meant either a reclamation of a given space or a comprehensive construction of an entirely new space
To build a truly queer club environment this decade meant either a reclamation of a given space or a comprehensive construction of an entirely new space. It meant repurposing what Gaimes refers to as the “Berghain-model of a dancefloor and a dark room inspired by gay cruising subculture and practices” along with the tried and true combination of “quantised beats and chemical substances” and reconfiguring it to better suit the needs of a fast-growing community without alternatives. It meant compressing the lessons of years of club culture and innovating it beyond what had ever been attempted.
Naturally, this quest yielded some of the most innovative music, events and ephemera of the 2010s, resetting the boundaries of what club music can be, or what occurs at a queer party. Collectives like NYC’s GHE20G0TH1K upended notions of how fashion and nightlife intersect in addition to reimagining the city’s rich heritage of ballroom and vogue culture, while artists like Juliana Huxtable centralised such mediums as performance art and spoken word into the sphere of the party. Parties like Lecken are at the forefront of a movement prioritising femme/femme-friendly patrons while agencies like Discwoman stand as a sharp rebuke to the male-dominated world of electronic music.
An uninhibited sense of exploration permeates these spaces
An uninhibited sense of exploration permeates these spaces, and it is clearly what has made them so infectious and desirable to the point of widespread public recognition. It also works both ways; artists like SOPHIE have rocketed to pop superstardom while espousing the aesthetics and allures of the queer club world, while DJs like Honey Dijon incorporate documentation of this world and its history into their sets, educating as they entice.
The 2010s have been a stern reminder to us all that ideas of progress are not nearly as linear as we once thought, that battles won may need to be fought over again before all said is done. Even so, the remarkable revitalisation of the dancefloor as a force of queerness feels like nothing so much as a Pandora’s box of possibilities for the next decade and beyond.