The LGBTQ Guide to New Orleans
From warehouse raves to waterfront rituals, the Big Easy has it all.
Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz
This month, THUMP honors Pride with a celebration of LGBTQ nightlife all across America. Follow our coverage here.
Mark Louque's journey toward being a crucial promoter and DJs in New Orleans' DIY scene started in what he describes to me over the phone as "a small swamp village where they grow sugar cane," on the outskirts of the city. He began going to raves as a teen in the mid-90s, both in the city "and in the middle of Cajun country, like in barns in the middle of nowhere." Hundreds, he explains, would dance on top of hay stacks alongside cows to the the best DJs he'd ever heard.
Years later, Louque—who DJs as Father Figure—and his Trax Only crew are trying to "revive that spirit" with the wild parties they throw at warehouse spaces around the city. Louque has tried to live in other cities, including New York, but he's still in love with New Orleans.
"It's still very dangerous and gritty and edgy in a way that no other major city is," he tells me. "Despite Katrina, and whatever else you throw at it, it's never going to change."
Louque points out that, unlike in American party centers like San Francisco and New York, gentrification hasn't yet choked the life out of New Orleans. "People are really fucking lazy here and the vibe is so chill that some things, like gentrification, are slow processes," he explains. "We've still got some interesting spaces, and as we get booted out of one, there's always something else. Everything's pretty centered around downtown and the French quarter, but as people are being forced out of those areas to find places to live, then we just find more."
Still, things are changing in the city. "Lower income people, largely POC, are getting pushed further and further away, and most getting pushed out of the city all together," Louque explains. "This is dangerous because historically these are the people who make the good food and the good music that everyone here loves to experience."
As for parties, Louque adds that in the wake of Ghost Ship, "there's a lot of eyes on nightlife." Cops have been shutting down events in unlicensed spaces and as a promoter who wants things to be "be super gritty and super raw," that puts him in a tough spot.
"I want everything to be chaotic, because I think that if you get away with it, it's the most magical event you can attend." He explains. "[But it needs to be] a little bit legal so that we can invest money in these things and not lose anything. We can still make magic moments happen here."
The parties that Louque and his Trax Only crew throw take place in sprawling, colorful warehouse spaces around the city. He's proud of the diverse crowd they draw. "We get a real variety of sexes and sexualities and genders that come to our functions, so that feels really good," he explains. "That's something I really wanted. I like faggots; I like fairy queers, and I like anyone who is a supporter of these communities. I definitely want to keep it a little bit of everything."
Below, he takes me through the LGBTQ-aligned crews, institutions, people and spaces—from drag queens and synth-punks to lounges and warehouses—that make New Orleans what it is.
When I moved back to New Orleans I linked up with these guys down here—my DJ buddy Bouffant Bouffant, and Kathi, who's husband Joey Buttons runs the record store and label Disko Obscura. The three of us have been throwing ragers wherever we can since then. We just kind of came together and it's taken off. We've done these parties in every gutter and every ditch, and finally, people are kind of understanding what we're doing and trusting what we're doing, so we've been able to get into better art spaces and better warehouses that aren't totally illegal.
One warehouse we've used lately is Castillo Blanco. It houses all these Mardi Gras floats for all this really DIY, neighborhoody crew called Chewbacchus. It's a parade that's based on honoring Chewie from Star Wars. It's a huge hit in town and a really crazy parade. This building where we're throwing the parties is the workspace for that crew, so we're basically throwing these raves with all these wacky pieces of art around. It's great for us because we don't have to set anything up. We just flip the lights on and it's ready to go.
The drag scene down here is pretty inventive and super raw and gritty. You kind of never know what you're going to get. I feel like ever since the success of RuPaul's Drag Race, every drag queen wants to be on that show, whereas here, they just don't give a fuck. Their wigs are untidy. Their faces look like someone put the makeup on with a shotgun. But who cares? It's representative of their personality. That's what the missing thing is in the drag scene right now, so I really appreciate the drag here as far as queer stuff goes.
Most events happen typically at the Allways lounge. Totally raunchy, gritty. Right on the edge of the French Quarter, but still in a scary enough area that you have to be really fucking cool to go there. It's awesome. It's always been a great place. Trax Only did a lock-in there where we had 10 DJs and you couldn't leave and people brought sleeping bags. It was great because in New Orleans, the luxury we have here is that we can serve alcohol all night long. Nothing has to shut down.
Vinsantos, drag queen extraordinaire. She does drag workshops. What she's doing is teaching people how to be drag queens, and not mainstream drag queens. She's teaching people how to find themselves and learn how to put that onto a stage. She does this six-week course, it's like going to drag school. At the end of it, she does this huge performance event where everyone gets their chance to perform on stage for the first time. That's a really respected institution she's been doing for eight years. I think that's a fucking great idea.
Neon Burgundy [pronounced Bur-GUN-dy] is a product of Vinsantos, I think. She's gone through several aliases but she's sticking with Neon Burgundy because there's a street here that's spelled 'burgundy,' but everyone pronounces everything differently here. It's a funny word, because you can tell if someone lives here or if they're just visiting by how they pronounce 'burgundy.' She snatched that name and made it her own.
She does a drag show called Gag Reflex, and she also does Jockstrap Lube Wrestling, a spring break kind of situation in Panama City beach. They do it naked, first of all, which is awesome. A lot of queer and gender-fluid people, they pack out this place. There's a kiddie pool with lube in it, and she matches people up and they do a little performance and jump into the pool. It's pretty great.
There's this other performer who is called Delish, and she's a lesbian POC, her music is kind of bounce and hip-hop, but kind of house. She's doing awesome shit. She lives like two hours out of the city. She's just making all of this incredible music in her apartment. We book her a bunch.
There's this really genderfluid, queer person called Psychic Hotline, who's really kind of turning me out. It's definitely really punk, goth, but techno at the same time, so there's an overlap between this person and our scene. It's a live act, a one-person thing. They get on stage with this MC303 roll-in drum machine from the early 90s and it's just that and a vocoder and a microphone. Fucking incredible.
Southern Decadence is a festival over Labor Day weekend. It's a 3-day weekend so a lot of people come from out of town. We usually throw parties Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It's actually a 41-year-old leather festival. It's older than Folsom Street Fair, the oldest one in the country. It's really incredible. A lot of people who come in from out of town, around 80,000 people come in.
It's not all about parties or functions, and nothing's really organized. It's so weird. Everyone just hangs out in the French Quarter on St Ann's st and Bourbon St. There's sex in the street. It's not corporatized in the way that Folsom Street Fair is. It's only people trying to get fucked up and get their dick sucked on the street.
END OF THE WORLD
There's this place called the End of the World. It's where the ritual stuff happens. It's with good reason. It's not an actual venue, it's just an outdoor space that everyone calls the End of the World. At all the homegrown parades and during Mardi Gras there's a lot of sunrise things that happen to evoke this or that spirit. There's always a procession to End of the World, and we all watch the sun come up over the river. There's a canal that runs right into the Mississippi River, which is a really powerful waterway.
All the shit in the country drains out into the Gulf of Mexico from all over the US. It's this really powerful place energy-wise, and we always take our processions out to that area. Sometimes it's really somber, and sometimes it's really witchy, but there's always fire and everybody's just hugging and doing a bit of Santeria or voodoo witchery. That's a really fucking interesting place. They're about to take it away from us, too. They're trying to connect one neighborhood to another over this canal. They're building a walking or biking bridge there, which is great because we all want access to that area, but it's going to take away that space for us.
There's an institution in uptown New Orleans called the Saint, and the guys from the Saint purchased a place in the French Quarter called Santos. Now we have a really cool venue owner who's really flexible with us. He lets us do whatever the fuck we want. Plus, it's in the middle of the city. It's kind of like a large bar with a back room area. They're soon to open up a second level where we'll be able to potentially host bigger acts on a more consistent basis. It feels good to be attached to people who are in the process of growing as we're in the process of making a scene here.
Poor Boys is amazing because it has an amazing outdoor area. It's amazing because we can do whatever the fuck we want there. It's amazing because all the queer people all over the neighborhood like to hang out there. The problem is, I'm a sound nerd, so we have to bring in our own sound, and our own this and our own that, and once I do that, why didn't I just take over a warehouse and illegally bring in all the booze myself and then we can make actual money?
If you want a bunch of daddy dick, come in September for Southern Decadence, but the definition of New Orleans is Mardi Gras. Now, there's different Mardi Gras' that are happening in the city. There's the mainstream, rich people, society Mardi Gras, which is interesting and really beautiful. Then there's our Mardi Gras, which is really DIY, really community-minded, really witchy, really ritual-based. I would say come to Mardi Gras and hang out with us for that kind of Mardi Gras. But only come to Mardi Gras if you have hella stamina.