Tag Archives: disco

Gay History: The Gay DNA Of House Music

The dance scene owes much to gay culture…

Earlier this year, Lithuanian producer Ten Walls was riding on a wave of global love with his big-room smasher ‘Walking With Elephants’. Then, in a strange move, which in the future will be seen as a case study for career sabotage, he wrote a homophobic rant on his Facebook page. 

The post compared homosexuals to paedophiles and referred to the LGBT community as “another breed”. His bigotry sent chills down the spine of anyone with an open mind and memories of less liberal times.

For many, reading such hateful views can be frightening.

While the UK’s an apparent bastion of tolerance, Stonewall’s national figures suggest eight in 10 LGBT people have been verbally abused or harassed and one in 10 has been physically assaulted. There might be gay characters in Hollyoaks, but it’s not all rainbows out there. LGBT acceptance is still fairly fragile and far from certain outside city centres.


Ten Walls’ comments revealed an embarrassing lack of historical perspective. House music (and all its subsequent forms) wouldn’t be the phenomenon it is today if it wasn’t for the major contribution from an underground scene on both sides of the Atlantic that was black, queer and fabulous.

Frat boys, R&B stars and TOWIE types are fist-pumping to EDM with a gusto that’s cheering, but also quite depressing. The musical narrative that led us to where we are today began over thirty years ago. Electronic music emerged from a scene that was alternative, diverse and mostly, very, very gay. Ten Walls? You listening at the back?

As with any cultural phenomenon, there are many threads which merge to make a fine tapestry. The LGBT contribution to the dawn of house isn’t the whole story, but it’s the backbone, glitter and colour that often gets overlooked. The unsung influence of gay culture may not stem from conscious discrimination, but when a major contribution isn’t celebrated, that oversight can allow homophobia to flourish.

The roots of today’s dance music are definitely disco — be that EDM, dubstep, house or trance. Disco spawned the driving kick-drum and epitomised the escapism, abandon and release that should be at the heart of any decent dance tune.

David Mancuso’s parties at The Loft in NYC were the ground zero of the disco movement. In 1973 Vince Aletti wrote a piece for Rolling Stone documenting the covert scene of, “After-hours clubs and private lofts open on weekends to members only — a hard-core dance crowd — blacks, Latins, gays.”

The much missed DJ Tallulah (1948-2008) span at Studio 54 in New York, but in 1974 took London by storm as the resident DJ at Bang on Charing Cross Road. When asked about dance music culture, he sniffed: “The rave lifestyle of Ibiza in the late ‘80s was just a vanilla version of the New York gay lifestyle of the ‘70s.”


In 1981, when ‘house’ was something you might shout while playing bingo, but certainly wasn’t a ‘feeling’ or a genre, Marc Almond from Soft Cell pioneered a poetic take on queer sex, low life and ecstasy. Yes, you read that right — 1981.

The band mortified middle England with ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’, then in ’82 forged electronic mixes and MDMA approval with ‘Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing’, a remix album that featured a rap from Cyndi Ecstasy, a notorious New York MDMA dealer.

Almond is a deserving national treasure now, but back then, he attracted vicious savaging from both the press and public. The mainstream may have been hating on him, but Marc was ‘loved up’ long before Ibiza became a byword for Mediterranean indulgence.


Marc Almond wasn’t the only one to enjoy chemical hedonism in NYC and bring back the vibes (and drugs) to the grey shores of England. Promoter Steve Swindells recalls visiting Paradise Garage and Studio 54: “I got to visit the ultimate VIP room, the manager’s office, and yes *sniff*, it’s all true!

What many people don’t know is that there was a heaving, largely gay orgy in the capacious basement every night! Paradise Garage, however, was something else entirely. That vast space with its incredible soundsystem! The largely gay, black and Hispanic crowd were totally off-their-tits — mostly on Quaaludes (known as ‘Ludes).”

Inspired by Paradise Garage, Swindells returned to London in ’82 and opened The Lift at the Gargoyle club. Susan Sarandon attended the opening bash and the club was immortalised as ‘The Shaft’ by Booker Prize winner Alan Hollinghurst in his first novel The Swimming Pool Library.

The Lift nodded towards New York’s disco palaces, but its roots were in South London’s largely black, illegal, gay house parties (or ‘Blues’ as they were known). Lift resident DJ Mel, of the KCC Sound System, found his feet at those illicit Blues parties and is regularly cited as one of London’s foremost black and proud DJs.


In 1983 Philip Sallon opened the Mud Club, a Friday nighter, with DJs Tasty Tim and Jay Strongman. Mark Moore launched his DJ career at the club, when he was promoted from carrying Tim’s records to stepping in when she took a night off.

The club’s clientele were a mix of queens, b-boys and fashionistas. The music was equally eclectic, ranging from hip-hop to show tunes and ‘trash’ — such as the theme tune from kids TV fave Rupert The Bear. The more leftfield and cheesy the tunes were, the crazier the crowd went.

Jeremy Norman opened Heaven in 1979 and by the early ‘80s, it was at the top of its game, giving gay London an epic club that rivalled anything New York (or the world) had to offer. Thursday nights were Asylum, run by Kevin Millins and hosted by Laurence Malice (the infamous Trade supremo).

Asylum and its successor, Pyramid, may get overlooked as acid house incubators, possibly because the crowd didn’t look like the smiley-faced, baggy-togged ravers that came to define the Second Summer Of Love. At Pyramid, die-hard leather clones inhaled amyl nitrate with nuclear goths and industrial transvestites. It was dark, cruisey and very weird. Heaven on any night could be unhinged and alarming, but it really climbed the walls midweek.

Mark Moore became resident on the main floor and as the mid ‘80s approached, he was characteristically experimental: “We were playing a lot of alternative electronic stuff; Cabaret Voltaire, Yello, DAF, New Order. They slotted in with the imports that were coming from Chicago and Detroit. We didn’t know what they were. It was just an extension of the electronic stuff I was already playing. Nobody settled on ‘house music’ for quite a while.”


Those imports from Chicago were largely produced by and made for the city’s queer and black clubs, such as The Warehouse and The Music Box — where DJs like the late Frankie Knuckles were making a name for themselves. Initially, the tunes were a fusion of Italo, Euro-pop and funk. When producers started dabbling with the Roland TR-303 synthesiser, a style emerged that was sparser, spacier and was later dubbed ‘acid house’.

At Pyramid, the freaks ruled and nervy straight boys grudgingly gave respect to the cutting-edge sounds, with their backs firmly against the wall. It was a twitching, bitching melting pot, but it wasn’t loved by everyone. The commercial LGBT scene wasn’t entirely enamoured by the club’s electro beats and Dadaist fashions. Mark Moore regrets mentioning this schism.

“The mistake I made was recounting how the mainstream gay scene kind of rejected it — calling us the ‘black sheep’. In the eyes of most journalists, that makes it seem like it wasn’t that important. But everyone who went to those clubs has told me off for that. Of course it was important. It was JUST as important as the 30 people who saw the Sex Pistols in Manchester. It was MORE than 30 people. It was over 1,000 people, packing out at Heaven, midweek.”

As someone who attended Pyramid religiously, I can confirm that it was both seminal and heaving. My heroic 90-minute nightbus journey home, followed by a half-hour stagger through sleeping suburbia, was always worth the pain of crawling into bed at dawn, covered in glitter, fag-ash and saliva.

Attracting a much smaller clique, but equally wacky, was Leigh Bowery’s Taboo at Maximus in Leicester Square, launched in 1985. Immortalised in Boy George’s musical of the same name and hailed by the style crowd, there’s a chemical aspect of the club that’s often forgotten.

“It was very hi-energy and Italo,” remembers Mark Moore. “But what made it beautiful were Jeffery Hinton’s mix tapes. They were completely druggy and amazing. It was definitely the first place in London where there was mass ecstasy taking.”

Regulars at Taboo, such as Hot Gossip’s Mark Tyme and DJ Mark Lawrence (RIP) would spend hours at home perfecting synchronised dance routines to perform at the club. There was also a fad for formation ‘falling down’.

Basically, all those on the dancefloor would collapse in unison, often as a response to the floorshow. Taboo was demented, messy, short-lived and quite elite, but people have said the same of Danny Rampling’s Shoom. And that was two years later.


Luke Howard is resident DJ at Horse Meat Disco and played Queer Nation for 14 years. He agrees that the gays were raving long before it had a name.

“Pre acid house/rave culture, you’d hear house music in many gay clubs in London. The DJ at the Prince Of Wales in Brixton would play house tracks like ‘House Nation’, and the first time I heard ‘House Music Anthem’ by Marshall Jefferson was at a venue called Traffic on York Way [in Kings Cross].

I went straight to Groove Records and bought a copy on import the next day. The biggest night that played loads of house music was Pyramid at Heaven where Mark Moore and Colin Faver were residents.”

On a less alternative tip, but fiercely serving the LGBT black community, was Jungle at Busby’s on Charing Cross Road.

The Monday nighter ran from ’83-86 and again, Steve Swindells was at the helm. He ponders its influence: “The DJs were Colin Faver (Kiss FM) and Fat Tony (his first regular DJ gig — I think he was 15!). In ‘86 they started drip-feeding a new genre of US imports in with the otherwise largely black music they were playing. Jungle hosted, I believe, the first-ever house music PA in London. That was Darryl Pandy singing Farley Jackmaster Funk’s ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’. The crowd went crazy.”


Mark Moore became quite militant in his refusal to play anything BUT house. This took shape in ’87 at Planet Love at The Fridge, run by Nicky Trax.

Moore declared a musical war: “We put a sign on the door saying, ‘We play house music — if you don’t like it, please don’t come in’. There were a lot of locals who wanted to hear rare groove and we used to worry they’d come in and shoot us. So we put that warning on the door. And two years later those records DID become classics.”

There’s another aspect to this story that may explain why the LGBT contribution to UK house isn’t documented in a detailed fashion. As the Second Summer Of Love dawned in ’88, the UK gay scene was in major crisis and London was the epicentre of this battle. HIV/AIDS was cutting a swathe through our community, instilling tabloid panic, a rise in homophobia and widespread fear.

In 1988, we were nursing loved ones, fighting bigotry, attending floods of funerals and trying to stay alive and chipper. The edgiest innovators from a wild period of creativity were dying, or had turned to activism in response to a grim pandemic and a ruthless Tory government.

The age of consent for same-sex sexual activity was 21, so at this time, I was effectively jail bait. My boyfriends faced prison if we were caught together. The absurd laws didn’t stop passion, or inhibit love, but it was far from agreeable.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 prohibited local authorities in England and Wales from “promoting” homosexuality. It also labelled gay family relationships as “pretend”. The Second Summer Of Love emerged against this background of oppression and prejudice.

The gays had been integral to getting the house party started, but by late ‘88, the community’s focus had switched from MDMA to AZT and HIV. Quite frankly, we were busy.

We lost a lot of people. AIDS savaged clubland like a rusty scythe. DJs, drag stars, artists, designers and go-go boys either died or went below the radar.

Of course, HIV didn’t single out creatives, but the clubs were fuelled and populated by that crowd. The club kids and older gay men who’d ruled discos in the ‘70s suddenly became thin on the ground. Between ’88 and ’93, I was either raving or grieving.

Or both. I should have been studying, but I spent more time lost in dry ice than in the books on the syllabus. On more than one occasion, I dropped ecstasy while attending a funeral wake. It wasn’t disrespectful. On the contrary, the common refrain, as we gurned over yet another coffin, was: ‘It’s what they would have wanted’.


The party continued. It always does, but it was really picking up on the illegal rave scene. The energy that sparked the flames of house music in subversive gay clubs exploded elsewhere as the Second Summer Of Love (1988-’89). If you weren’t dead or too sad to pop pills, you threw yourself into the cultural phenomenon that was loved-up, initially optimistic but totally anti-establishment.

James Horrocks, co-creator of React Records, remembers the shift in thinking. “More young gay people were looking for something new and more vibrant, and had already frequented fashion-orientated clubs that embraced the mixed message,” he recalls.

“This was fully realised with the arrival of acid house and E-culture. Vast swathes of the scene migrated to warehouses to join the raving masses. It was such a sweeping change for the LGBT scene, it was forced to throw out the rule-book.”

My personal party habits in ’88 reflected the uncertain mood of the times. My straight mates (God love ‘em) were cracking AIDS jokes, dissing ‘bum bandits’ and dropping acid while dancing on the forecourt at Heston Services. We were a gang of sorts, our catchphrase being, ‘We put the E into Ealing’.

This much was true. We were regulars at a club called Haven Stables in Ealing (where Brandon Block got started). When the club threw us out, we’d dance on the green outside, to the bemusement of daytime shoppers and commuters. Despite all the pill-fuelled love and empathy, I still didn’t feel happy ‘coming out’ to them. In fact, I was terrified they’d find out.

With my straight mates, we’d go to Nicky Holloway’s Trip at The Astoria, Paul Oakenfold’s Spectrum at Heaven and the RiP raves in Clink Street. On the sly and on my own, I’d let my hair down at the queer parties, such as Jimmy Fox’s Daisy Chain (The Fridge, Brixton), Troll (The Soundshaft) and Pyramid. It was a dual life of double-dropping and downlow habits. Occasionally, the two lives would collide under the lasers. When I saw queens at the big, straight raves, I’d steer clear and spurn recognition — the dancing gay Judas with dilated pupils.


My dwindling studies took me to Liverpool in ‘89 and much to my southern surprise, the north was embracing rave culture with characteristic passion. Liverpool took to rave in a big way, but Manchester pipped it to the post and became the darling of the music press. ‘Madchester’ was thrilling.

The city buzzed off its renaissance, but it wasn’t just the scallies and the wide-boys getting ‘on one’. Manchester boasted a booming gay scene that was cocky, hip and ready to ‘ave it ‘til dawn. As it was a short drive from Liverpool, that’s where yours truly spent most weekends.

DJ Dave Kendricks explains the city’s LGBT heritage: “Manchester’s musical history is full of gay signifiers, from Pete Shelley singing ‘Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have?’ to New Order openly imitating the sound of Bobby O on ‘Blue Monday’.”

The No.1 Club on Central Street was a small carpet-and-chrome club that became THE queer rave destination in Manchester. Tim Lennox played feel-good piano house on a quadrophonic sound system, to a rocking clan of devotees.

Previously scared to come out to my straight mates, the cat was now out of the bag and the No.1 was where I took the boys. One night, a bunch of them cheered when I snogged a drug-dealing gangster. I couldn’t have been happier. Not only had they accepted my sexuality, they were applauding it. Times were a-changing and E was fuelling the evolution.

I paid £25 for an acid tab at Mike Pickering’s Nude at The Haçienda and while it was a boss night, when Paul Cons opened Flesh at The Haçienda in 1991, THAT was mind-blowing.

Resident DJ at Flesh, Dave Kendricks also remembers it fondly.

“That monthly gay night at The Haçienda was the greatest night I ever played. It was raucous, hedonistic, totally Northern and felt like a city turning its back on prejudice, towards acceptance, in the most thrilling way.

Just a few years before, Manchester’s chief of police James Anderton said the gay community was ‘swimming in a cesspit of its own making’ after he raided the gay club, Rockies. It was a direct reference to AIDS. Flesh was the biggest fight-back to that.”

I used to get so excited at the prospect of going to Flesh, I couldn’t eat for two days prior to the event. The club ran a coach from Liverpool to Flesh and back again. It was a demented mess on wheels. God-knows what the driver made of the transvestites in K-holes and topless lesbians dancing on the seats.

As a fledgling DJ, I’d set up decks and a soundsystem at home, in Toxteth. On more than one occasion, when the coach returned from Flesh, it would stop outside my home on Elwy Street and the tripping, screaming contents of the bus would pile into my cottage and the party would continue for days.

The epic post-Flesh socials in my Liverpool latty were known as Club Lovestretch. We painted the house in UV graffiti, installed black lights and removed the bannisters, so people could rave on the stairs. I was living in Liverpool, partying in Manchester and returning to London at every opportunity. I was very busy.


In 1990, Patrick Lilley opened Queer Nation at Covent Garden’s Gardening Club. “I’d run the first soulful house and garage club in the UK, High On Hope at Dingwalls,” Lilley tells DJ Mag. “Queer Nation was just the mutated gay version. For the authentic black heritage of house (the music that sees no colour), there’s no comparison or competition for QN. We came straight from the founding fathers.”

The brilliant Luke Howard and Princess Julia were the resident DJs at Queer Nation and I spent many a Sunday night in Patrick’s VIP ‘cupboard’ with his hash pipe and secret booze stash. Due to the Sunday trading laws, there was no alcohol served after 10pm, but where there’s a will…

While Queer Nation kept it funky, other London LGBT clubs were picking up the pace and breaking ground with tougher sounds. “React (myself and Thomas Foley and later Steven React) took over promoting Garage at Heaven and Troll at The Soundshaft in the summer of 1990,” James Horrocks tells DJ Mag.

“The New York house and Detroit techno we played at Garage and Troll had morphed into a much harder sound — a mix of techno and new beat. It immediately found popularity on the scene and along with the soulful house and garage sound of New York, became the soundtrack of our lives.”

Blu Peter, resident DJ at Garage, enjoyed success as both a DJ and a producer. “Garage integrated gay and straight crowds and became more about the music and less about the sex at the end of the night!” he tells DJ Mag.

“The ‘Reactivate’ series produced tunes that were tried and tested there. Mrs Wood and I were the first international DJs to play South Africa after Apartheid, and also after the hand-over in Hong Kong. Both gigs were massive honours.”


In 1990, another club launched in London that made the debauchery of Studio 54 appear tame and a bit lightweight. Laurence Malice (and Tim Stabler) launched Trade at Turnmills and unlike any club before, it started at 4am on a Sunday morning.

Plugged as the ‘original all-night bender’, the club stayed open ‘til way past Sunday lunchtime and was a deranged cocktail of sex, drugs and house music. Trans beauties, supermodels, international DJs, muscle boys, East End gangsters and A-list celebrities rubbed shoulders and partied en masse, every week, like their lives depended on it. It was full tilt at 8am.

It’s impossible to convey both the lunacy of the club and the obsessive allegiance of its regulars. Entry wasn’t guaranteed, even if you were gay. The door policy was vague, but sturdy: “You don’t have to be gay or a member to get in, but your attitude and look will count.”

Me and my mates used to party at The Curzon, Jody’s or Quadrant Park in Liverpool, then drive all the way to Farringdon as dawn approached. We’d stagger out of Trade at 2pm, then drive all the way back to Liverpool. Some of those journeys, swerving along the motorway, were a little bit scary.

Trade launched the DJ careers of a number of big players who’re still rocking it today. The original line-up was Martin Confusion, Daz Saund, Trevor Rockliffe, Smokin’ Jo and Malcolm Duffy. This stellar cast was later joined by ‘Tall’ Paul Newman, Alan Thompson, Steve Thomas, Pete Wardman, Ian M, The Sharp Boys, Fat Tony and Fergie.

The most celebrated Trade DJ remains the late, great Tony De Vit (1957 –1998). Tony’s mixing skills and ability to spin an overwhelming symphony of hard house led to him being venerated like a god.

Tragically, Tony died at 40, due to AIDS-related bronchial failure. One only has to listen to his single ‘Burning Up’, or his remix of ‘Hooked’ by 99th Floor Elevators to get an idea of his sound. However, to really understand De Vit’s magic, you had to be there, under the lasers, as his galloping wall of sound inspired joy, disbelief and amazement.

I moved back to London after (barely) completing my studies, and after a chance encounter with Laurence Malice, wound up working on the door of Trade for five years. I’d already decided it was the greatest queer club in the world, long before I became part of its rude family.

My enthusiasm for Trade’s hedonistic spirit never waned. I’d finish on the door at 10am, then get on the dancefloor ‘til the club shut that afternoon. Like Ice-T says in the NRG classic, which became a Trade anthem, ‘He Never Lost His Hardcore’.


Lee Freeman’s Sunday afternoon party started in ’93, as a post-Trade knees-up, at an Italian restaurant in Holborn called Villa Stefano. In order to get round the Sunday licensing laws, an enormous buffet would greet the still-buzzing gay ravers as they trooped in from Turnmills. I never saw anybody eat anything, except for the odd pill.

Over the years, it moved, first to Bar Rumba, then The End, and finally, it did a major eight-year stint at Fabric on Sunday nights. Many of DT’s residents, such as Smokin’ Jo, Alan Thompson and Steve Thomas, were regular Trade DJs, but DTPM honed a funkier, deeper groove which helped establish the club’s unique brand.

I had my very own pillar at The End (in between the two dancefloors, next to the toilets), where you could find me, every Sunday, grinning and clinging onto it for dear life.


The Fridge in Brixton hosted the first huge, women-only club night Eve’s Revenge in the ‘80s, followed by Venus Rising in the ‘90s. It regularly attracted over 1300 lesbian clubbers. A special mention must go to the awesome Vicky Edwards, who span at Jungle, Venus Rising and Bad at the Soundshaft. She’s still an excellent DJ.

DJ Smokin’ Jo used to sashay through Trade with a hunk hefting her record box, and the crowd would gawp at her sass and beauty. More importantly, she’d take to the decks and totally rock the place. “Trade gave a platform to that real US house style of music,” she tells DJ Mag. “It felt cutting edge and of course, it brought techno and harder sounds to the forefront.”

Jo was a regular in DJ Mag in its early days and her relationship with Skin from Skunk Anansie proved a powerful and gorgeous fusion of rock and house sovereignty. Hearing Skin rap over Jo’s DJ set at the DTPM tent at Gay Pride in Brockwell Park remains, for me, a gobsmacking and pivotal point in black girl power.

One could argue that female DJs suffered less sexism in LGBT clubs than elsewhere, but lesbian raving really hit a peak when clubs such as Pumpin’ Curls and Kitty Lips shook up London in the mid ‘90s. “We, Vikki Red and myself, were DJs first and foremost,” Queen Maxine tells DJ Mag. “Individually, we played to varying audiences over the world for many years.

We set out to offer something unique, yet boutique; a forward-thinking space for women (of all sexual persuasions and their gay male friends as guests) who appreciated the harder side of dance music and wanted a space without getting ‘put on’ by straight guys.

“It certainly worked. We promoted two very well attended and respected nights; Pumpin’ Curls and then Kitty Lips. These clubs ran alongside Trade at Turnmills, as the little sister club. Laurence Malice was very supportive and helped open many doors for us.

The secret to our success was keeping ahead of the pack and offering something different and daring. Because of this approach, we were able to attract a very diverse crowd, who believed they were a part of something that hadn’t been done before.”

In ’94, Suzie Kreuger arrived in London. With her NYC Clit Club experience, she launched the notorious Fist. A woman, promoting a gay fetish club, was a novelty in itself. The real revolution was that Fist welcomed S&M lesbians, who joined the leather men under one roof, all united in a passion for kink, pills and techno.

It was very queer, often shocking and musically brutal. Prior to Fist, I’d never seen lesbians having sex or watched live shows that were so graphic, punters fainted, fled or vomited on a regular basis. Lesbian techno mistress EJ Doubell span fearsome sets that only added to the demonic and highly-charged vibe.


Trade, Garage and Fist weren’t the only LGBT clubs serving up nu techno and ‘hardbag’. The truly wayward headed to FF at Turnmills on Sunday nights. Launched in ’89 by Mark Langthorne and Nicholas Timms, it was a dark and uncompromising night that featured Suzie Kreuger on the door and a crowd who were happy to be bang at it ‘til 5am Monday morning.

Mrs Wood and Blu Peter were the celebrated residents. Having spent my Sunday morning working at Trade, FF was where yours truly went to let off steam and feel the joy and terror of manic techno and hard trance.

The club wasn’t very welcoming to those who weren’t LGBT, and it certainly wasn’t for the faint hearted. The creative team behind FF also produced a satirical fanzine (also called FF) that was militantly gay and so near the knuckle, it eventually got shut down by a law suit. 

Asked about FF, Blu Peter admits to, “Special and often bizarre memories. On the whole it was a night when you could expect anything. The audience loved to be pushed and challenged. I aspired to play there above anywhere else. The legacy is that people still talk about it, though it ended 20 years ago.”

While Peter is right, it seems that straight, white, mainstream culture prefers to tell another account when it comes to electronic music. Dave Kendrick, DJ at Flesh, isn’t surprised at the selective story telling. “Unless you’re talking about hairdressing, airline stewarding or musical theatre, the LGBT contribution is overlooked in almost all UK cultures,” he says.

“We only reached full legal equality [in the UK] last year and within that, LGBT people will always be a minority. The dialogue about what we’re due is only just beginning. You have to shout to be heard when you’re in the minority, but that doesn’t mean the amazing gay nightlife culture incubated in the British gay night-time isn’t worth shouting about. It’s an inspirational story of underground culture directly informing the mainstream.”

It’s perplexing to note that sexual diversity appears to have almost vanished from electronic music media and the wider conversation. Largely straight, white middle class crowds are embracing a genre that was birthed by working class, queer, black and Latin people over three decades ago. The young seem especially ignorant of the struggles those communities endured then and, in many parts of the world, continue to experience now.


For a new generation, whose first experience of house music might be Avicii or David Guetta, this seems especially pertinent as they enjoy the party, but are blind to LGBT battles being fought in places like Russia or the Middle East.

Twenty years ago in the USA, it was rare to hear house music except in black or LGBT clubs and on very few radio stations. Currently, there’s a colossal mainstreaming of dance music, not just in America, but worldwide. It’s brilliant that these newcomers, commercially defined by pumped up boys and blonde party girls, get to feel the shared joys of house music. But it’s all a bit hollow if they don’t appreciate the roots.

Strides have been made and for many in the wider LGBT community, life is less fearful than it was 30 years ago. However, if ‘Music Is the Answer’, one can’t help but wonder what the question was? One thing’s for certain, as electronic music continues to dominate popular culture, we’d do well to remind ourselves of the diversity, political struggle and sheer queerness that was so fundamental to the very DNA of dance music. Joe Smooth once sang, ‘Brother, sisters/One day we will be free/From fighting, violence/People crying in the street’.

Top tune, lovely message, but we’re not there yet.


Tambourines, Whistles and Fans

“What an irrational, ecstatic, erotic, silly, FUN thing dancing is.”1

In 1977, I wandered into a record store in Granville, and discovered, hidden to one side of the female vocalist long-plays, a small selection of the, until then, unheard of 12” singles. I walked out of the store with a copy of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” – at the exorbitant price of $2.99 – under my arm, and thus started what has been for me, a continuing love of dance music.

Around the same time, I started to frequent the city’s discos, usually starting my night out at “Downunder” in the Hyatt Kingsgate in King’s Cross. Then, if I was feeling adventurous, I would wander down to “The Zoo” in William Street or over to “Jools” in Crown Street. On odd occasions I wandered down Darlinghurst Road in the Cross and passed by a gay disco called “Zig Zag”. How I longed to enter that glitzy, glittery doorway, complete with camp spruiker, but fear always stopped me just short of a grand entrance. A lesbian friend of mine, who my father thought was my girlfriend – and he hoped that I would marry – had taken me to Oxford Street on a number of ‘dates’. Even though we never went into any of the discos situated there (a gay friend of hers owned a coffee bar in Bourke Street called “Nana’s”, and she went there primarily to socialise with Nana, and his friend, Cupcake). I can still remember all the exotic names. There was “Patchs”, “Flo’s Palace”, “Tropicana”, “The Barrel Inn”, “Tina’s Bar” and “Capriccio’s”, not to mention a street teeming with male sexuality – at least, as sexual as the 70’s were able to get.! I would wander back home on my own at 6.00 in the morning, depressed and with the dread that I was, eventually, going to die a virgin. Fortunately, my luck was about to change.

In late 1978, my father killed himself. This act on its own would not have been enough to prompt my ‘coming out’, despite him being the main cause of all my sexual repression, but it did imbue me with an immense feeling of freedom. A national retail company that I worked for at the time asked me, in late 1979, if I would like to spend some time in Melbourne to troubleshoot their two retail stores there. Two days after they asked, I found myself on a plane to Melbourne. I also found myself, blessedly, far from friends and family. No observers, no critics. I was answerable to nobody but myself. I ‘came out’ – definitely with a bang, not with a whimper! As a means to an end – in that it would give me contacts on the gay scene – I joined a collective of gay Catholics, becoming a member of a group called “Acceptance” and after that there was no holding me back. I was 25 and damned horny, and any male that was half decent looking and capable of walking was my prey. I was free at last!

The first gay disco I attended which taught me the meaning of ‘cruising’ – and that you had on occasions to say no to someone’ – was also the place I picked up my first man. Or more correctly, he picked me up – and I discovered that I liked older men of a certain type – he wasn’t the type. No worries, there were plenty more nights, and plenty more men, to come. I also discovered around the early 80’s a huge discrepancy in the way 70’s music was being historically treated. All of the music documentaries I saw that covered that period stated that disco music had died in 1978, with the temporary closure of ‘Studio 54’ – it rather unsuccessfully continued its existence until 1986 – and with the advent of ‘New Wave’ music. How misinformed they were! Disco music never died. It did, however, undergo a huge shift in sound to Hi-Energy, and style (the advancement of drum machines guaranteed a continuous, accurate beat, and provided a heavy drum/percussion background to modern dance music), then moved itself underground to the care of the sector of the community who could love and cherish it the way it deserved. It became a gay icon!

So started my life as a gay male. Like Sydney, Melbourne had its own underground gay press, and its underground gay scene. It wasn’t hard to get the local gay rags, you just had to know where to go. It was often a bit more difficult, however, finding the gay venues. The people may have been ‘out’, but the venues weren’t. Through the press, I started reading about a disco in St. Kilda called “Mandate”. Deciding that I liked the sound of any disco with the word ‘man’ in it, I decided on a night out there. Friends had already introduced me to places like “The University Club” in Collins Street in the city, where after 3am all the gay cabbies were on the prowl, and only too willing to give you a free ride home in return for a ‘favour’. There was also the young trendy “Smarties” in North Melbourne, the very butch “The Laird” hotel in Collingwood, “Ryders” in Fitzroy, and the drag queen haven of “Pokies” in St. Kilda. But they were nothing compared to “Mandate”! The gay scene was spread over a wide area in Melbourne, unlike the gay ghetto that eventuated in Sydney – and I now think it may be the one reason why the gay scene remained ‘gay’ in Melbourne, long after it started turning straight in Sydney. I was often less afraid to go to gay venues in the southern city, because if the straight boys wanted to go ‘poofter baiting’, it would have cost them a fortune in petrol, and it was too much of a hassle to drive from suburb to suburb, so one usually went unmolested, no matter which venue you went to.

The first time I went to Mandate, I walked past the entry door about six times. It’s not that a door wasn’t there, it’s just that it wasn’t wide open and there was no sign telling me to knock. I suddenly realised, after watching others enter, that I had to announce to the ‘door bitch’ that I wished to enter after being ‘checked out’ through a small covered window in the door. If I passed muster, which wasn’t a problem, being young and pretty, I got straight in. And I walked into another world! There was a small ticket office at the bottom of a flight of stairs. After paying the couple of dollars it cost to get in, I climbed the stairs, ignoring the sexual exploits going on under my feet. I then entered male paradise! The bar was set up directly to the left of the entrance door. If I turned to the right, I headed toward a huge cruising area, with a dance floor at the far end. There was a narrow, ‘L’ shaped area running around the dance floor filled in with metal bars, and it was in the cruise area behind these bars that I had my first experience with public sex. And enjoyed it! But that really wasn’t why I was there. It was the copper dance floor spread with a layer of talcum powder – to give it slip; the incredible light show; the constant, primitive driving beat of dance music that kept me riveted there; boys stripped down to the waist, covered in sweat; the ever-circling amyl bottle, and the blast of whistles to tracks like “Rock Your Body” by 202 Machine, “Hills of Katmandu” by Tantra, “Don’t Stop the Train” by Phyllis Nelson, “You Can” by Madleen Kane and “Hit ‘n Run Lover” by Carol Jiani. I would take a huge whack of amyl up my nose, spinning out on the floor for a few seconds. I would inevitably end the night in somebody’s bed, usually not my own. If I was lucky, they might speak to me again and if I was really lucky, I might fall in love for two weeks. That’s all it was about! The lights; the dancing; the naked flesh; the sweat and the sex. It was intoxicating! I became a clone and revelled in the tribal symbolism of ‘belonging’.

The Aussie gay clone could not have happened anywhere else except in the sub-cultures of the gay community. No.1 or no.2 haircuts, handlebar moustaches, ‘Bonds’ tee shirts or singlets, flannelette shirts, Levi ‘501’ Red Tab jeans and boots, “King Gee” shorts. It was a uniform, and it was gay. After years of stereotyping gay men as effete, arty, and poncey, we fought back with a macho extreme. By day, I was a mild, well-mannered retail manager, with a somewhat extreme haircut, and a pierced ear – its extremism reaching even the upper echelons of power in Sydney and almost costing me my job. But by night, I came into my own as a nightclub clone – the term nightclub was preferred to disco by this time. Many adopted the ‘Village People’ look of hardhats or ‘Akubra’s’, and as far as most of us were concerned in the nightclubs, all this type of regalia was totally acceptable and part of the clone persona. The gay elite – read: old and conservative – were aghast at this new, unabashed sexuality, writing tomes into the gay rags about how we were adopting straight stereotypes to exhibit our own lack of masculinity. I wrote a letter into “Campaign” newspaper – it had not achieved magazine status at this time – accusing them of being ‘cloneophobes’, sadly locked in their tired, conservative, in-the-closet- sexuality, listening to their Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand records, unable to express themselves as gay men, as the new, younger generation were doing. This new generation of gay was no longer content to have circuit dinner parties, or arrange nights at the theatre or the opera. They had a new freedom, which was being expressed, with revelry, through our nightclubs. Nobody wrote back to argue with me. The battle for the rights of clones was won!

In early 1982, news from overseas was filtering through via the gay press that rare forms of pneumonia – called PCP – and a cancer called Karposi’s Sarcoma, were killing gay men – seemingly very selective diseases, only picking on a minority group who were sexually ‘different’ – who frequented the baths and backrooms in San Francisco. Like everyone else at this time, I thought “Oh yeah, another STD to worry about. Can’t be any worse than the crabs, or a dose of the clap. They’ll find a pill for it”. It didn’t turn out quite that way. At the same time, I decided I had had enough of Melbourne. I couldn’t have coped with another winter down there. I was homesick for the beautiful harbour. News from the Sydney gay community was of boom times, a scene very much tied into what was happening in Melbourne. ‘Capriccio’s’ caught fire, ‘Patchs’ caught fire, and ‘Tropicana’ caught fire. Sydney was literally burning. It didn’t sound like a thriving scene if one relied on reports in the ‘Sydney Star’ newspaper, but visitors from Sydney raved about the new venues replacing those that had been incinerated, especially the ‘Midnight Shift’, which had risen like a phoenix out of the ashes of ‘Tropicana’.

I yearned for my birth city. I fell in love with a ‘bear’ from Waverton who was visiting Melbourne, and decided to move back north. The bear turned out to be a psychotic, but that’s another story. I fucked him off, moved into a unit – with harbour views – in Neutral Bay, flatting with a radio announcer from 2SM a a plutonic relationship, I can assure you – and proceeded to get on with life. I joined the soon to be defunct Gay Rights Lobby – defunct because we obtained gay rights. We gained the right to have sex with another man without being arrested, and anti-discrimination laws were set in place. I decided to be apolitical from then on – until HIV came along anyway. The gay ghetto of Oxford St – ‘The Golden Mile”, or “Vaseline Alley”, depending on who you were talking to – was a seething mass of depravity, deviancy and sexuality. I automatically felt at home, joining in with gusto. It was also wall-to-wall clones. I felt doubly at home. Like most people in Sydney, I had my regular haunts. Not for me were wasted hours of hot, steamy sex in the baths, or the cravings for anonymous sex in the gloryholed back-rooms and sex clubs like Club 80, that many frequented. I had only visited the baths once, and that was to get off with a friend of the ‘bear’s’, who I met while I was still living with him. Don’t get me wrong, I never wanted for sex! But more on that later.

Until The Oxford hotel opened in 1982, my Saturday night out always started at The Albury. In some respects, The Albury has never changed. Clientele would be spilling out onto the footpath by 10 PM, and drag shows are synonymous with the place. If you were into the leather scene, your haunt would be The Beresford, but a fire in that hotel around ’84 changed its character forever, and the leather brigade moved on. I met my third long-term lover at The Albury, really a substitute for the guy I was actually after – his flatmate John. I hoped that by having a ‘thing’ with Frank, perhaps, by some perverse stroke of luck, I might eventually be screwed by John. It never happened, though John and I ended up good friends. However, Frank’s reign as my partner was only to last until I realised that there was a world of men out there for the taking. I was missing out on too many opportunities and his bleached hair and tinted eyelashes became too artificial for my liking. I dumped him!

So, as I said, The Oxford opened in late 1982. It became a clone haven overnight, and was my regular watering hole for the next fifteen years. I survived two of its reincarnations, but the third was just too much, a little too trendy for its old clientele. But in 1982, it was heaven, a paradise of the latest dance music, and the hottest, sweatiest men. One thing I will always say about gay men – it doesn’t take much encouragement to get them to start removing their gear. It was also home to several Oxford Street institutions – well, institutions at the time, anyway. Dexter was an idea stolen by one of the pub managers after visiting the States. It was an electronically controlled penis that sat on a trapeze hung from the ceiling toward the back of the pub. Underneath the ‘head’ was a mouth, the entire apparatus being controlled from the dj’s box, tucked away against the west wall of the main bar. At designated times during the night, some popular dance track like “Maybe This Time” by Norma Lewis would start playing, the trapeze would start swinging, and Dexter would go into a full mime routine. Very camp. Dexter’s demise came about after some Yank visitors to our fair city went back to the States and dobbed us into the copyright owners. They threatened to sue if Dexter didn’t hang up his balls, so the next thing we knew, he was gone. As far as I know, he is still packed away with a heap of other props in the roof of The Oxford.

Regular Saturday night visitors to The Oxford were ‘The Planet Sluts’. These guys were really over the top as far as gutter drag goes, being the models that I eventually used to put Cleo, my own gutter persona, together. They would appear from nowhere, often accompanied by the blessed Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. There would be frocks for days, wigs backcombed to within an inch of their life, make-up and moustaches that were totally over the top. They would barge their way through the front door, climb up onto the bar, and mime to whatever dance number happened to be going at that time. I always wanted to be a member of that troupe, but as with all these groups, it was all very cliquey. I did have the privilege of fucking with Carl, out of ‘Carla and the Cosmetics’; a drag trio who used to perform at ‘The Honest Irishman’ at Camperdown. It is a claim to fame that probably only I and Carl remain alive to remember. So that would be how most nights started out.

However, this wasn’t just how things started out on a Saturday night, or Saturday and Sunday night for that matter! In those bad, bad old days, I went out every night of the week. I didn’t work to live, and I certainly didn’t live to work. I worked to earn enough money to dance, party, and play the game hard. I went out seven nights a week, often not getting home until 3-4am, getting up at 7am to get to work, then going back out again at 10pm to repeat the cycle. There were many mornings that I turned up at work straight from some piece of trades home. But every night, the pub was just a prelude to what was to follow at The Midnight Shift. If I had enough sense, I’d leave The Oxford at 11pm to go to The Midnight Shift. I would always walk down the left-hand side of Oxford Street, as walking down the right-hand side meant I had to pass “Frenchs”, which was a skinhead hangout. They had a reputation for harassing gays passing by on their own, so I avoided it as much as possible. Being an observer to a number of punch-ups right outside its doors, I had no desire to have my night ruined by any such carry-on. The Shift, as it was affectionately known, had been a pinball parlour in the early 70s, became Club 85 (its street address) in the mid 70s, then Tropicana from the mid 70s up till the fire in ’82, soon after becoming what it still is – The Midnight Shift. It was the nightclub of the clone/macho set.

If I arrived at 11pm, I’d be able to walk straight in. If I left it any longer, which I often did if the alcohol was kicking in early, or the DJ was playing a string of favourites, I queued. Not that queuing was a problem. It gave me a chance to start the night’s cruising, the street being a good place to get in the mood to party. Standing in line with the others, usually with friends, we’d stare blankly into the display window of the manchester store, situated at the left of The Shift’s staircase. The queue more often than not would go back as far as Crown Street. To the right of the staircase was a supermarket, and from 11pm onwards, you could hear its glass doors rattling from the bass of the music upstairs. Like everybody else, I would eventually find myself climbing the long, steep staircase, my senses being assaulted by the music pounding through the walls. Then I would be at the top, ready to pay the entry fee, and enter the inner sanctum. The Shift had a very strict dress code – you either looked macho, or like a clone, or you were banned from entry. We had fought so hard for acceptance of this image, even from our own peer group, that we basically encouraged this sort of stereotyping of The Shifts clientele to maintain the image. This was no world for the well-dressed businessman or the city trendy in Hawaiian shirt and pleated pants. People only got in wearing denim jeans – preferably 501’s – “Bonds” singlets or tee shirts, or flannelette shirts. This and leather! Nothing else was appropriate. We all had the obligatory no.1 (street hardened boys who worked and lived in the ghetto), or no. 2 (guys who had to work, and couldn’t risk being too out) haircuts, nearly everyone having a moustache of one description or another. Back pockets of jeans usually carried a bunch of keys; in the left pocket if you liked to fuck guys (active) or; in the right pocket if you liked to be fucked (passive). Preference was often for a coloured handkerchief or bandana in the respective pocket, the colour giving others a coded invitation as to what you were into – Navy blue-straight sex; red-fist fucking; yellow-water sports; black-S&M; grey-B&D; khaki-uniforms; and white-masturbation (though this later came to signify safe sex). As for me, well, I wore navy blue, and my keys were always in my right pocket. Some guys also liked to carry small teddy bears in either pocket, signifying that for that night at least, they were into either cuddling or being cuddled. There was a strength in that clone sameness, that stripping away of ‘straight’ stereotypes, a feeling that everyone in the nightclub was equal, and male. The Shift only allowed men to enter its hallowed walls…

Seeing as I have managed to get you to the door- you must have had the regulation uniform on, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered getting you this far – feel I should give you a quick guided tour before leaving you to your own devices. To the left of the doorway is the main bar, named ‘Charlie’s Bar’, at least up until Charlie died, early in the AIDS epidemic. It is ‘L’ shaped, and dominated by the dimly lit bar, which is packed. There are four barmen behind the bar, all going flat-strap serving drinks. In an alcove to the left of the bar a guy is smoking a joint, and another sniffing a line of speed from the bar’s corner. As we wonder through the bar (cruising) we come to another doorway on our left. Music is roaring out of it, and as we push our way through the crush of sweat-soaked men (cruising), we find ourselves on a large platform, which overlooks the dance floor. There are rails around it, with several sets of stairs leading down to the extravagantly lit dance space. I pull you to the left, then we wonder along a narrow corridor to one side of the dance floor. This is called the ‘Meat Rack’, being where guys stand if they are not dancing, and are definitely available to be picked up. Unfortunately, it has gained something of a reputation for only having desperadoes as its clientele, those who have little chance of being picked up in the better lit areas, feeling they might be luckier in the dimmer zones. I take you past the dj’s box (cruising), glancing in through the huge glass window. Steven Cribb is playing. No wonder the floor is packed and raging. He is the current supremo amongst our disc jockeys, having earned himself a reputation as a dance floor God. His beat (continuous) mixing is flawless. He can mix a 118BPM record into a 128BPM record, and you would never know a mix was happening until the track change. His music has made The Shift THE place to be on the weekends. However, I am going to keep you off the floor for a while until we finish our tour. We go down several steps, and we find ourselves in a barn-like area, set up with long tables, and benches. There is a bar at the back, but not a lot of people use it. The area is very dimly lit, and it doesn’t take much straining of the ears to deduce that the place is humming with sexual energy. If you glance into that corner, you can see a guy giving another a blowjob, with a similar activity going on only several feet away from them. Instead of taking you up the back for a more intimate look, I will drag you through this door to the left. There is a toilet to the right of us. This toilet is actually used as a loo, or you want to share some drugs around. A corridor is to our left, leading us past the DJs box, then back to the main bar area. As we exit the corridor, you will notice another corridor to the right. This corridor leads past the cloakroom, then the manager’s office – do you want a bottle of “Rush”? I know the owners, so it won’t be a problem – then around a corner to the ‘other’ set of toilets. These are the ones that are used for sex. Don’t confuse the two! Nothing will piss a queen of quicker than having to have a piss, and finding someone getting off in the wrong loo. Now that you know where everything is – you’re going to THOSE toilets, eh – well I guess we’re here for different things – I’m going to love you and leave you. The dance floor calls (cruising). Steven has just put on Yvonne Elliman’s “Love Pains”. Have beat, must dance!..

On most Saturday nights, you could stand in the bar and listen to Steven taking us into a different world with his often impossible mixes. He would mix from “Love Pains” to Eastbound Expressways “Primitive Desire” as people headed onto the dance floor. With its growly under-chant of ‘You Tarzan, me Jane’, it was a dance floor favourite; a definite floor filler. I was often entranced by the lighting technicians, as they started the strobes flashing, and filled the floor with fog. Overhead, eight various sized mirror balls would be clustered together, reflecting multi-coloured flashes of light from the sate-lites and vari-lites situated nearby. A techie would start the sate-lite whirling and flashing through the fog. Suddenly, I would find myself in another world. Stephen would mix “Primitive Desire” into Miquel Brown’s “So Many Men, So Little Time” (This morning, I open my eyes, and everything is still the same. I turn to the guy who stayed last night, and ask him “what’s your name?”). There would be whelps and yahoos from all corners of the room. Suddenly, I would find that I cannot move on the floor. Somebody might hand me a bottle of amyl, and I would take a huge snort of it, placing my thumb over the top to stop the liquid from spilling as we dance around. For a few seconds, my head may spin, the dance beat would become all pervasive, driving everyones feet into a frenzy of sleazy dance. I would find that some guy next to me had stripped off his sweaty tee shirt, and is sharing an ethyl soaked handkerchief with another dancer, also stripped to the waist. More fog would be pumped onto the floor as Miquel is mixed into Hazell Dean’s anthemic “Searchin’ (I Got to Find A Man)”. More hoots and hollers – this is something everyone related to – (Searchin’, looking for love, every place I can, searchin’, looking for love, I got to find me a man). On the speakers at two corners of the dance floor, guys in Speedo’s are dancing with 3’ gold fans, rotating, spinning, and intertwining the fans to the beat of the music. Hours of rehearsal in front of the mirror at home are paying off! Guys standing within range either duck to avoid the spinning fans, or move completely out the way. Steven has the floor ultra hot! God only knows how long it will be before he puts on something to give everyone a break. He has had me on the floor for two to three hours at a time without a break before tonight. This is the magic that a good DJ can spin. He will then mix in the huge anthem of Norma Lewis’s “Maybe This Time” (Maybe this time I’ll be lucky, maybe this time he’ll stay), and the whole dance floor will turn handbag, at last a short break from the endless, relentless beat of Hi-NRG. Often you would find a couple of guys have stripped down to jock straps, and are weaving their way around the floor, their butts glistening with sweat. The pervasive odours are of sweat, testosterone and amyl. This is a domain only male animals can love, and we do! Steven will go for the pull of an oldie with Shirley Lites “Heat You Up, Melt You Down” (I’ll heat you up, I’ll melt you down, let’s do it, do it, do it, come on baby, I’ll heat you up, I’ll melt you down), and I may yell at the memories the track invokes. Oh Romeos “These Memories” (These memories, these memories haunting me) follows, then Earlene Bentley’s “Boy’s Come to Town” (When the boy’s come to town around midnight, I’m gonna find one, take him home. When the boy’s come to town around midnight, I won’t spend the night alone), following this with Divine’s gay anthem “You Think You’re A man” (You think you’re a man, but you’re only a boy. You think you’re a man, you are only a toy. You think you’re a man, but you just couldn’t see. You’re not man enough to satisfy me) then brings the beat down to Princess’s “Say I’m Your Number 1”, which gives some of us an escape route to get to the bar to replenish our drinks before he builds the beats up again.

I would often cruise a guy on the dance floor. He would, hopefully, stand next to me at the bar, and glance at me out of the corner of his eye. My taste ran to navy blue ‘Bonds” singlet, thus anybody who had one on, a greater stimulation if they are so old and well worn that they are more indigo than navy, and worn with a pair of 501’s. If nobody else comes along, you both have already created a frisson. I watch him as he picks up his drink. He smiles at me as he turns from the bar. I check out his butt as he walks back towards the dance area. Nice! Denim-clad. Right up my alley. I have this thing about mid-thirties to early forties guys (I’ll never be that old!). Being young and pretty, I have no problems getting picked up by anyone I fancy.

If I want a break from dancing, I will pull up a stool to the doorway between the main bar and dance area. Just sit, looking like a real sleazy, cruising slut. It works every time. I find older men much sexier than guys my own age, they are more confident than my own peer group. They also don’t throw you out on the street five minutes after you cum, preferring someone to cuddle up to during the night, and usually cooking you breakfast the next morning. Gay life can be a very lonely life sometimes, especially as you get older. They have a network of guys in the same age group, and if you have been good sex – and who my age isn’t! -, the word is passed along, which makes picking up an easy job for a while.

I get my drink, then move to the corner to speak to some mates. They offer me a line of speed, but tell me I will have to go to the toilets to take it. The manager has warned them that the cops are doing one of their token raids on the place, but the right amounts of money have been placed in the right hands, so provided nothing obvious is going on, things will be fine. I disappear into the toilet with one of the guys, and we sniff speed off the top of the cisterns through a rolled fifty-dollar note. This should keep me going for a few hours. He says he will have some MDA next week, maybe with a bit of luck some crystal meth. I tell him to keep me some MDA. The fucking stuff makes me so horny I could fuck my way through a football team.

Just after I returned to Sydney, I went out with some friends one night. I was a bit of a drug ‘virgin’ at the time, always having a slight fear of them. One of the guys gave me a ‘moggie’ (Mogodon), and said if I had plenty of alcohol to drink, and forced myself past the sleepy stage, I would have the best time. Yeah, sure! I sat down just for a little minute and got woken up by the doorman several hours later, telling me the place was closing. I have never done that again I can assure you. If money gets a bit tight, I will wonder up to “Rely’s” pharmacy in Oxford Street, and they will sell me a bottle of pseudo-ephedrine tablets – under-the-counter, of course – for a few dollars. I can get a cheap thrill very much like speed from these. It is better than nothing for a night out, despite playing hell with the water-works.

I return to the dance area, and my eyes are like stoplights. I sort of hope for a quick pick-up, like I had last week. A guy just walks up to me and says, “Do you want to go home and fuck?” This is the entire intro I get until we get back to his place in William Street. I find out I have seen him in an ad on TV. I wish pick-ups could always that easy. Beats sitting around playing games for hours. Suddenly, there is a break in the music. There is the soft ‘hiss’ of smoke being pumped onto the dancefloor, the soft hum of sate-lights and vari-lights being manipulated into position. The strobes start a soft pulse. There is a quiet squeak from the mirror-balls as they start to revolve. The air is electric. Something major is about to happen! From the 20,000 watts of speakers spread over the four corners of the dance floor issues the voice of Gloria Gaynor, an almost whispered “I am what I am, I am my own special creation, so come take a look, give me the hook, or the ovation. It’s my world that I want to have a little pride in, my world that’s not a place I have to hide in. Life’s not worth a damn, ‘til you can say – I am what I am”. Chaos reigns. People run from everywhere in a mad frenzy. We are all on the floor for the biggest gay anthem of all time. Poppers are going from hand to hand, and everyone prepares for the explosion of sound, indicating that the track is about to rage. The lights all go up at once, rainbows of brilliant colour reflect through the smoke. Guys with tambourines circuit the borders of the floor beating them on the palms of their hands to the beat – the first time I took a tambourine onto the floor, I came home with a bruise from the top of my arse, down to my knee. God, it hurt! – the fan dancers take up their positions on the speakers, and everyone starts to blow whistles. It is a wonderful insanity. It is a song about our own lives, the pride and freedom we are still fighting for, the exhilaration of being what we are! We are all as one for the duration of this one track. Gloria Gaynor is Goddess! Steven mixes the heavy drum beat intro of Dee Martin’s “Lover Why?” into “I Am What I Am”. A frenetic pace is being set for the next hour. This will be a long tiring night.

But then the guy I have been cruising joins me on the dance floor, and I think that maybe I’m not so tired after all. At 3 AM, there is another sudden stop with the music, but only for a change of beat. Wind-down is about to start. Everyone is tired and sweaty, though those on speed and MDA sweat for reasons other than dancing. The beautiful low-beat guitar strums of Chaka Khan’s anthem “Ain’t Nobody” throbs through the silence (Ain’t nobody does it better, makes me happy, makes me feel this way. Ain’t nobody does it better than you), then mixes into the fabulous choir styled “Life In a Northern Town” by Dream Academy. The opening notes of Brenda Starr’s “Tonight I’m Gonna Make You a Star” gets the two-hour wind down off to a slow, sleazy start.. Those who were here for just the Hi-NRG leave to go home, or perhaps to traipse up to the Taxi Club for some gambling and drag acts. The die-hards like myself, and my potential evening’s trade start to sleaze dance to the slower beats of the music. It gets a bit more commercial with The Thompson Twins “Hold me Now” being followed by Spandau Ballet’s “Gold”; Patti Labelle’s “Oh, People” – all too soon to become almost a funeral anthem- and “On My Own”; Gazebo’s beautiful Italo sleaze track “Masterpiece” are concessions to gay romanticism. My friend grips me on the butt, and pulls me in close. Most people have left The Shift by 4am, though my trade and myself don’t leave till 5am.

I find it is a bit of culture shock finding yourself on an almost empty Oxford Street in the early hours of the morning. Before I get him home, the sun will be rising, but it is Sunday morning, and I only need a couple of hour’s sleep before I start to get ready for tonight. Sometimes, especially at this hour, I wonder if this is not an addiction, like my cigarettes. But like my smoking, I’m not yet willing to give it up. I am young, and I just want to party, and party! If I have my way, this will never stop, and neither will I.

FOOTNOTE: Just after I returned to Sydney in 1982, I contracted a mysterious illness, very flu-like, but much more severe than any flu’s that were around at that time. Doctors were mystified, and the symptoms disappeared as quickly as they had begun. I never gave it another thought, and it wasn’t until 1985 that it was recognised as sero-conversion illness for HIV.

Timothy Alderman C 2003 @ C2013

The world of the clone - West Brunswick, Melbourne circa 1980 The world of the clone – West Brunswick, Melbourne circa 1980