Gentrification is hurting the city's cultural diversity - we take a look at a scene that's being inexorably altered by redevelopment
Listening to dancehall was a massive part of my upbringing. Watching Passa Passa on Channel U and sharing mixes we found on LimeWire was something my friends and I did. I was always aware of the politics of the dancehall, and the rules to abide by. Separate dances were practiced for boys and girls, and anti-homosexual lyrics made the thread of homophobia sewn into Caribbean culture all the more evident to me.
Being the only boy dancing to Tony Matterhorn's "Dutty Wine" at my school prom was a rare occasion for me to make it known I didn't give a shit about the rules that excluded me from dancehall culture. Soon, the LGBTQ dancehall underground became a platform for me to further express those feelings. Boys in tracksuits would wear wigs to the raves, girls could take the assertive role in dances, and homophobic lyrics in songs were simply laughed about. For me, the parties were an opportunity to celebrate the music I loved, and not to feel like the only person doing it.
LGBTQ parties have always been elusive and available exclusively to those in the know. Private functions are promoted between friends via text or on Facebook as opposed to mainstream websites such as Resident Advisor or Shoobs. Unlike heavily promoted large-venue nights playing bashment and soca like Bad Bitches at Fire in Vauxhall, the black LGBTQ underground is discreet.
"For some, if you know that a group of straight guys are coming down to the rave, you're not going to feel as comfortable as you'd like," says DJ Chillz, who has a residency at LGBTQ night Bootylicious in Brixton. "There are a lot of people who are not out, and if someone turns up who knows your cousin, before you know it you get home from the rave and someone has already told your family that you've been there. You can be one person to your family and friends, but when you come out to the scene you can be who you want to be. For a lot of people that can take a while to achieve, and you can't always do that at an event where you think someone might spot you."
The scene was a life outside of a life. People went by different names than in their everyday lives. You could be good friends with someone despite never seeing them without a wig or a pair of sunglasses covering their faces. You were whoever you told people you were, and you could give away as much or as little as you wanted. You were defined by what you made of yourself, not what you left behind.
The parties were definitely a space frequented by the young. Door policies were never strict, and 'youngers' were sometimes no older than 14. If you did get stopped for ID, knowing the promoters granted you access without it. The scene played its part in raising kids who were disowned by their families or felt disenfranchised by the area they lived in. For those living in London’s gay youth hostels, especially, the scene was all they had. "When I was with Stonewall Housing it was a constant party," says Jeremy, a club regular. "We all had so much energy and optimism, but nowhere to put it. So we opted for clubs, and who wore the best outfits. It was an event and an occasion."
"When I was with Stonewall Housing it was a constant party," says Jeremy, a club regular. "We all had so much energy and optimism, but nowhere to put it. So we opted for clubs, and who wore the best outfits. It was an event and an occasion."
Wearing the best designer clothes won respect, but those who couldn't afford them found other ways to compete. Many would steal or find sugar daddies to buy outfits for them to wear to the bashments. Partygoers who uploaded photos to Facebook with receipts and original boxes to prove they weren’t stolen got top ratings.
"We used to go Selfridges a lot," says Alex, another regular on the scene. "We never had any cash to buy nothing, but we used to just crapes (steal). Anything really – perfume, small bottles of vodka from food hall, whatever. I heard stories about some girls just running in, grabbing bags and dashing out."
As this generation eventually moves on, the increasing lack of LGBTQ-specific parties representing Caribbean music is making it difficult for a new wave to frequent the underground scene. As more venues are sold to make way for flats and other such building projects, rent is rocketing and the number of club venues has plummeted. Club managers are increasingly prioritising events that cater to the majority. Unless it can be sold, diversity is becoming something that is typically bad for business. Throughout the clubbing scene in London, diversity and its people are victims of social cleansing.
Societal change is inevitable. What is unfortunate, though, is the influx of vulnerabilities it has brought with it. These clubs offered people a platform to meet one another. The decline of LGBTQ nights has squeezed the community into smaller bars. Longer queues, less space to dance and late-night licenses being revoked are all factors that are making LGBTQ nightlife less enjoyable and ignoring the needs of the community. As a result, a new generation of gay clubbers is increasingly doing its partying at home.
'Chill-out' culture is fast becoming an alternative to clubbing for gay men. The trend has its roots in social networking apps such as Grindr, Hornet and Black Gay Chat (a favourite among young men on the underground dancehall scene), but has been embraced by a wider audience in recent months. Group sex and the use of drugs like GHB and crystal meth are commonplace; such activities being far more easily accommodated when partying at home with no bouncers around.
A worrying development, since studies have shown that the rise of chem-sex has paralleled a rise in HIV transmission. “Its really sad to see how the scene works now and how it has changed," says a partygoer called Bamby. "People take drugs more now, and because some of the new generations are too young to work you see them sucking dicks for a bump... You laugh and joke about it, but when you get home and think about it it’s just sad.”
"People take drugs more now, and because some of the new generations are too young to work you see them sucking dicks for a bump... You laugh and joke about it, but when you get home and think about it it’s just sad.”
Nightlife has played a fundamental part in the growth of many LGBTQ people. For young men and women seeking space to explore, the decline of clubbing scenes means that 'chill-out' culture is increasingly seen as the best option. Substance abuse and risky sex is a big part of that culture, and its emergence is a dangerous consequence of the shutdown of clubs for LGBTQ minorities in London. These cultures need space.