Thursday, April 24, 2008

House Music/Gender/Sexuality

Great post on house music and masculinity from a Jamaican in New York perspective at (and interesting comments from a similar perspective by DJ Ripley). From the original post:

'I would go to mostly to Red Zone to hear DJ Dmitri from Deelite spin. It was a mostly people of color crowd, and people would just be there to DANCE their asses off, go to the bathroom to wash their faces and gulp water from the pipe, then go back and dance some more. Then there was the dancing itself. Gender became a blur. Drag queens would go from voguing to uprocking and breakin. Girls in baggy pants and baseball caps would do the same. There was a large diversity of gender. And men who i knew were hetero would have fun busting into a runway strut and a fierce vogue... After living in Jamaica, to see such a celebration of gender fluidity was stunning- and more importantly, liberating. Judith Butler theorizes gender to be performance, and we all tried it on, supported and ritualized fluidity, away from the gender police. It gave me permission that i had never had before as a hetero man to try on various masculinities, to be more comfortable being andro, and trying on movements where i could explore being more butch or more femme. I had officially escaped the confining box of hegemonic masculinity, and wore my fluidity naturally with pride' (there's also some interesting stuff about invoking Orishas on the dancefloor, but that's another post).

Obviously my perspective as a white man in London is different, but certainly the gender/sexuality fluidity of techno and house music parties/clubs was part of what made it so exciting when I first submerged myself in that scene. A lot of the squat techno parties I went to in the early/mid 90s were androgynous in a fairly masculine way - i.e. men and women all dressed in jeans/black clothes/combat gear. Then there were the glam house clubs I frequented where there was much more of an emphasis on dressing up, but still in a very playful way, boys and girls with glitter, sparkly clothes and make up. There was a mixed gay/straight vibe and many straight clubbbers were going to gay clubs like Heaven.

I recall the feeling of this beginning to freeze over from the mid-90s - in the culture there was a resurgence of 'blokeism' with lads mags extolling a lowest common denominator masculinity of football, cars and breasts. On the dancefloor more and more blokes were turning up in nobody-could-mistake-for-camp Ben Sherman shirts. For women the playful adoption of a 'glamour' look became more like a compulsory 'club babe' dress code. It was no surprize that within a few years, cliched boys with guitars rock had began to push dance music back to the margins.

And just to prove this trend wasn't just in my imagination, here's a letter published in Mixmag in 1995:

"I am becoming increasingly aware of and concerned about promoters insisting that women (babes) should be dressed to thrill. I think that women (babes) are being pushed away from the dancefloor by these essentially male promoters and treated as a commodity, by which I mean that a better looking female crowd induces a greater number of men, more media attention and a hipper status... to get into a venue we are told not to be geeks, to glam it up and to look gorgeous. Does this mean I have to wear high heels, restrictive clothes, a wonderbra and to visit the hairdressers for the latest stylish hairdo? I like to dress up, it gives you a sense of occasion, but I can't dance in high heels, I need to wear comfortable (which does mean drab) clothes, and just tie my hair back. So far I've had no problems entering clubs, but the way clubland is heading how much longer? Is it soon to become a distasteful sight to see a woman (babe) out of it and saying fuck off to all the men, she's here for herself" (Elizabeth, Hastings, Mixmag, June 1995).

Thanks to John at Uncarved for alerting me to this discussion.


richard said...

nuff respect and gratitude for re-blogging my piece! thanks! i am definitely feelin the rest of your posts on house music as well. appreciate it! bless up.

Anonymous said...

yep, makes complete sense. trash in sheffield, vague in leeds, flesh at the hacienda. all seem to have withered by about '96 with the rise of loaded culture, lad rock and big beat (the only dance music trend that made more sense with a pint of lager in hand on the dancefloor).

Transpontine said...

I guess the London equivalent was places like The Cross and Movimento at the Aquarium (a club with a swimming pool which I will post about another time). It was at places like the Leisure Lounge, Ministry of Sound and Club UK that I observed the gradual rise of the Ben Sherman checked shirt counter-revolution.