Beyond the obvious horrors associated with all mass shootings, there was something particularly resonant and heartbreaking about the tragedy of Sunday’s shooting at an Orlando gay club.
The intersection of LGBT communities and club culture in the US over the past four decades or so led to some of the most thrilling, euphoric and deceptively progressive music you’ll ever hear. Beyond that, the likes of David Mancuso’s Loft and the spiritual home of Larry Levan, the Paradise Garage, transcended the idea of mere ‘safe spaces’. These places weren’t just a retreat for those facing persecution at home, in the street: they were positively celebratory. The oft-notorious hedonism could essentially be boiled down to a sequinned salute to cast off inhibitions; a chance to revel in the glorious diversity that makes humanity such a rich and wonderful thing at its very core. It’s easy to forget that at this time, but take a look at the still-growing queues of prospective blood donors to see just how much that means to people from all walks of life (and how powerfully they outnumber that One Lone Gunman).
The U.S. took way too long to acknowledge and take action when it came to the AIDs crisis that cut short the lives of so many that made the scene what it was. You can’t help but wonder how much worse things have to get before the country finally begins to tackle its gun crisis in a meaningful and long-lasting way.
Muhammad Ali’s recent death reminded us all just how powerful the combination of love and defiance is. With that in mind, below are some of the most life-affirming and brilliant anthems to have emerged from the gay club scene. If you’re at all familiar with disco they’ll probably be pretty familiar choices, but these are songs to remind you that despite everything, there is so much more that brings us together than divides us and that will always be the case. To paraphrase Gonzalez’ 1979 hit: we haven’t stopped dancing yet.
How could I not start with this? Arthur Russell co-produced with Steve D’Acquisto but its those earworm lyrics penned by Russell alone that encapsulate the unabashed sexual tension at the heart of so many great dance floors. It’s undoubtedly a universally loved track, but with an inherent queerness to it. It’s partly why I’ve chosen this version rather than Larry Levan’s better known remix with female vocals, even if I don’t necessarily agree with unattributed quote from one of Russell’s original collaborators that claims Levan “made it into a boring straight narrative.”
Patrick Cowley was the producer responsible for the hypnotic, never-not-incredible ‘megamix’ version of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love.’He also wrote mind-blowing soundtracks to gay porn movies with titles like School Daze and Muscle Up. Long out of print and highly sought after, we can thankfully hear them much more readily now thanks to recent reissues from the excellent Dark Entries record label. Zygote is a pretty perfect slice of cosmic disco taken from School Daze, that probably slotted seamlessly into old Daniele Baldelli sets, a vibrant blast of spacey synths that somehow swirl and bounce at the same time. It’s a textbook example of the way Cowley acted as a bridge between 70s disco and 80s hi-NRG, though if you delve deeper into his discography you’re gonna find way weirder (and way more wonderful) tracks.
Whereas many gay disco producers would employ female ‘divas’ to deliver their paeans (they were either being slyly subversive or hiding behind conformity, depending on your reading), Carl Bean was much more straightforward when it came to his anthem, ‘I Was Born This Way’: “I’m happy, I’m carefree and I’m gay, I was born this way!” he sings on the chorus. Gleeful as the original is, I’ve always preferred Al Kent’s edit: a no less exuberant but more dancefloor-ready track that basically loops the best part of Bean’s track over and over for five minutes.
As alluded to above, a lot of great disco gained iconic status when either gay producers or gay audiences meant a re-contextualisation of songs that appeared to possess straight narratives on the surface. Whichever way you look at it, the direct lyrics and forceful delivery of Leonore O’Malley are stridently empowering. The lyrics take on a whole other (often hilarious) dimension when applied to closeted gay men gaining the courage to truly express themselves however. If you ever longed for a record to replace the similar sounding ‘I Will Survive’ (which nobody needs to hear ever again, right?) then here it is.
A personal favourite from the sub-genre of ‘morning music’ (also known as sleaze, somewhat oddly given its propensity for songs with over-earnest and innocent lyrics). These were the songs that typically got played as the sun was coming up, as lovers new and old came together to steel themselves for a return to reality and/or each other’s arms. Generally more downtempo and prettier in tone and sentiment than the brashness of peak hours sets, the former Abba singer’s track here is exemplary of the form. Luke Howard, of the infamous Vauxhall-based Horse Meat Disco devotes his soundcloud page pretty much exclusively to mixes of this sort – can’t recommend it enough.