Manic at the Polysexual Disco
"DON'T THINK, JUST DRINK," reads one of the cheaply photocopied posters hanging on the wall. Another advises that "PAIN IS TEMPORARY, GLORY IS ETERNAL," while a third, plastered to the door of the men's room, reads, "FUCK FOR FUN, FUCK FOR MONEY."
The messages are meant in jest — more or less — serving to reinforce the scene here at El Cid, the self-described "Flamenco Dinner Theater" smack in the middle of Silver Lake's trendy Sunset Junction, where, tonight and on countless Saturdays over the past year, A Club Called Rhonda has been pushing the envelope for gay partying in Los Angeles.
There's just one thing, though. The night's promoters prefer the term "polysexual" — as in, incorporating all sexual orientations — which actually makes more sense. Sure, there are boys kissing in the corner and cross-dressers vamping on the patio. But Rhonda claims more than geographic distance from the muscle-mary scene in West Hollywood.
For starters, shirts are staying on despite a profuse pooling of sweat stains. Second, there's a gaggle of straight hipsters up in here, thanks in no small part to headlining DJ Juan MacLean, the DFA Records artist whose recent DJ-KiCKS mix disc is currently making waves around the polysexual-cum-lately dance world.
MacLean's latest release carries more weight than one might assume of a compilation. It puts on display the former indie rocker's obsession with 30-plus years of dance history, from '70s disco classics to '90s house gems, on to the modern blog bait produced by his DFA brethren — acts like LCD Soundsystem, Hercules & Love Affair and Hot Chip.
That panoply of four-on-the-floor music is quickly becoming the preferred sound track to L.A.'s gay-oriented parties — Mustache Mondays, Bears in Space and Cub Scout, to name a few. But what's fascinating is the unusually large influx of heterosexual patrons coming through the doors.
Unlike so many club scenes driven by mating more than music, it's the tunes that have fans fired up. The movement offers an out from the ruts currently pocking the clubbing landscape, whether the jackboot stomp of all-ages electro parties, or the pop-chart oppression of mainstream gay venues.
A quick survey of Rhonda's stage reveals just how in MacLean's sound has become, with local scenester DJs — Acid Girls, Dirty Dave, James Rockwell (87 Stick Up Kids), Turbotito (Ima Robot) — flanking the New York producer, competing for space with costumed voguers who throw shapes for the crowd when they're not bumping into the turntables.
It's a DJ's nightmare, but it's heaven for MacLean, who — bearded, with a tight yellow tee and clean-shaven dome — would make for a fantastic bear fantasy were it not for the fact that he prefers the fairer sex.
"L.A. has become my favorite city to play in the States," MacLean says a few weeks later, calling from the Dallas airport between tour stops. "Last night, for example, I had to work to get my set going, starting with something easy for everyone. When you play clubs like Rhonda, you just walk in the door and do what you want."
Says Henry Self, co-founder and resident DJ at Full Frontal Disco: "The idea was to try to pull together a couple of disparate communities within the club scene, all of which were unified by disco, but sorta separated by their demographics."
Another breeder behind the decks, Self started his monthly at Chinatown's Grand Star Jazz Club after spinning at the long-running goth-fetish night Miss Kitty's Parlour. Full Frontal began in June 2008 at downtown bar La Cita with the DJs pushing their own music-geek agenda: obscure disco sides, nu-Balearic tracks coming from Europe (Prins Thomas, Lindstrøm) and a bit of the glammy, sexy stuff brought over from Miss Kitty's.
Initial turnout was so-so, but Full Frontal kicked into overdrive when Self hung up his promoter's hat, passing the baton to gay professional organizers Mario Diaz and Ryan Heffington, who "opened their Rolodex." Shortly after moving to Grand Star, the sexually integrated crowd hit critical mass. The party even brushed up against the mainstream when Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears visited on the same night, much to the delight of celebrity bloggers and Rolling Stone, who had a field day with the club's moniker.
Self says the TMZ touch didn't hurt attendance, but that he's kept the music policy tight, knowing it's the alternative sounds that the regular customers crave, orientation aside. Plus, what DJ would give up the opportunity to spin his rare disco LPs — collected from Kansas City thrift stores when Self was a teen — to a packed house of appreciative fans?
"I love pop music, all that crappy Top 40 club stuff," Self admits. "But a lot of people are now seeking out disco, and have zero interest in hearing Lady Gaga and P. Diddy remixes. If you want to hear that, you go to the West Hollywood establishments."
The genesis of this city's polysexual disco is hard to pinpoint, but a few things are agreed upon. First, the scene is decidedly the product of the Eastside and downtown, where all of the aforementioned nights take place.
Second, the DFA catalog has had an inordinate amount of influence on the tastes of L.A.'s hipsterati.
And third, after a decade of watching homosexual culture go mainstream — whereby the brands of dance music preferred by WeHo bars and Jersey Shore guidos have become indistinguishable — an underground community is reclaiming the mantle for gay-friendly clubs as bastions of both sophisticated song craft and wild times.
"Everyone knew the best parties were the gay parties," says promoter Victor Rodriguez, referencing the bygone era of '70s and '80s disco soirees. He currently runs the Cub Scout night at Silver Lake leather bar Eagle L.A. With a club résumé that dates back to 1986, Rodriguez has seen several generations of parties come and go, both gay and straight, and he recognizes the give-and-take that exists between those patrons today.
"For about 10 years, it was the straight guys who carried the torch for us musically, while only a small crew kept that taste," he continues. "The rest flocked to Beyoncé."
On July 30, Rodriguez, along with DJ partner Chris Bowen, plans to restart Shits and Giggles, a party that graduated from an illegal loft space downtown to the three-level, five-bar, 2,000-capacity 740 Club last year. It is the same venue that recently housed Rhondavous, a one-off massive thrown by Rhonda that starred buzzing Belgian act Aeroplane and U.K. cult legend DJ Harvey.
Just how large an audience this scene can pull remains to be seen. Outsiders might be inclined to hold up June's 185,000-strong Electric Daisy Carnival as evidence that attendance is about as full as it'll ever get, but the ravey, mass-appeal beats peddled therein have little to do with the vintage sounds found on the floors of these clubs.
By MacLean's count, his world is still growing.
"The other DJs who were onstage with me at Rhonda, they weren't into this kind of thing two years ago," he says. "There's been an incredible resurgence of interest in this music. Some of those people came from the electro scene and just got tired of it."
So why wait 11 months out of the year to share the speakers with 16-year-olds dressed as cybersluts when there are some sexy, discerning party people waiting right now?
Gay, straight and/or disco, all are welcome.
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