Photos courtesy of Michael Mendoza/A Club Called Rhonda.
On a recent night at A Club Called Rhonda, a statuesque drag queen named Phyllis Navidad guarded the door, carefully curating the VIP line. Inside, the bacchanal was in full swing. Rising local DJ/producer Urulu banged out Leon Vynehall's classic house-influenced "Brother." Shirtless dancers gyrated beneath the raised DJ platform. Sweat drizzled from the ceiling. One of the club's founders, Gregory Alexander, pranced around in a makeshift spacesuit in keeping with that night's "Female Frontier" theme—a mashup of space age and feminist motifs.
Meanwhile, Italian duo Tiger and Woods hunched over their gear preparing for a live performance. It's just another night at A Club Called Rhonda, a carnival of debauchery that descends once a month on a bi-level club (and former Salvadoran restaurant) called Los Globos on Sunset Boulevard.
Over the last three years, the anything-goes, Dionysian throwdown has drawn hedonists of all stripes to dance their asses off to DJs like the house legend Farley Jackmaster Funk and the hotly-tipped newcomer Daniel Avery. Even though the self-described "pansexual party palace" regularly plays host to antics that would make even veteran club kids like Richie Rich blush, Rhonda's bookings would also satisfy the most ardent vinyl archeologists. Recent guests include Todd Edwards, James Murphy, Moodymann, Omar S, Dimitri from Paris, Chez Damier, Bicep and Morgan Geist.
At the heart of this heady stew is "Rhonda," a fictional, faceless muse who is perhaps the most salaciously intriguing mascot in clubbing history. Rhonda speaks on behalf of the party's organizers, issuing sharp-tongued communiqués like "AWAKEN YOUNG SODOMITES! THERE IS WORK TO BE DONE!" to her growing flock of devotees on Facebook, and posting photos of the best-costumed revelers on their website, snarky commentary included. Rhonda is the golden calf to the fete's sinful Israelites. And you can always find her above the dancefloor—she's the set of legs doubling as a custom mirror ball.
Behind the curtain, best friends Loren Granic and Gregory Alexander debate every aspect of the long-running party. "I think of what this fictional person would want," says Alexander, "That's the way we end up making decisions." He goes on to sum up the division of labor: Alexander is in charge of Rhonda's visuals, while Granic, who doubles as Rhonda's warm-up DJ GODDOLLARS, works with Echo Park Records founder Alexis Rivera on everything related to audio.
The first Rhonda was held at "the sleaziest legal place we could find," says Alexander—a dilapidated salsa club called El Guatelinda. The party had a stylized take on the classic rave infoline. "We had a hotline that people could call… we'd hand a card out that said 'For a good time call this number,'" says Granic. When they did, Rhonda would pick up, assuming the persona of a phone sex operator crossed with the DJ from The Warriors.
Granic and Alexander created Rhonda as a raw alternative to the velvet rope douchiness that Hollywood dance clubs often cultivate. "A lot of what turns people off about nightlife is how frivolous and lazy it can be," Granic says. "But when you put some thought into an event, you start attracting more interesting people." For these two former hard-partying club kids, the devil is in the details. Themes are culled from their encyclopedic knowledge of high art sleaze. But most interestingly, a scientific precision dictates the crowd flow and energy levels of an entire evening.
"Globos can fit up to 1,200 people, but it still feels intimate because it's so split-up," Alexander says. "We're influenced by clubs in Japan where different rooms can be opened up throughout the night." When Rhonda begins, early birds fill the tiny bar at the front of the venue. As more guests arrive, a red leather-bedecked, disco-focused space upstairs is unlocked. Eventually, the club's main room and large patio open to receive the throngs.
Alexander works with designer Trevor Tarczynski and a small team to build on the club's cheeky, gender-bending visual themes. He refers with glee to a recent theme presenting Rhonda as "warm, wet and inviting," where fliers and party projections featured lurid, pastel impressions of the female form and huge condom shaped balloons hanging from the ceiling. Though Alexander is gay and Granic straight, the fiercely hypersexualized Rhonda is a decidedly queer-friendly character. "It's not hard to get a straight man or a gay man to go out to a party… we want women and trans people to feel safe and expressive within our environment."
Rhonda's growing reputation as a Valhalla of decadence has lent the party remarkable staying power. Now, Alexander and Granic are working to establish an international presence. Rhonda has already been presented a Metro Area North American tour, thrown several (in)famous Coachella parties, and been invited to London, Paris, Tokyo and Beijing. In 2014, they'll also launch a record label that will release 12-inches by Rhonda regulars Cromie, James Del Barco, and Newbody.
Whatever the future holds, Granic hopes that Rhonda's raw and seedy glamor will prevail. "I always want to have some club kids, some people that have never been to a dance music club, and some people who have never heard disco, sitting alongside the crazy trannies, drag queens and hardcore music nerds that are in the back trainspotting all the records," he says with palpable enthusiasm. "We want them all to be there."