club culture

What's Happening to London's Gay Clubbing Scene?

We visited a club trying to resuscitate alternative nightlife.

by Thomas Hibbitts
22 April 2015, 10:10am

Luxxor

It's a sad time to be alive. Everyone's skint, everything's boring, and as we edge closer to election day, UKIP's ever rising popularity proves that people are more enticed than ever by fascism disguised as common sense. In an increasingly sterile city, the closure of another venue that openly celebrates difference and diversity is a hammer blow. Pubs like the Joiners and the Black Cap have shut and others look to be heading that way. Culture and communality are being replaced by luxury flats and tapas bars where you're served expensive food on ironic paper plates. Capitalism 1, gay nightlife 0.

The city's dying gay scene is clearly worth of comment, and more importantly action. There are complaints and protests. They might not have worked in the way we'd like but they prove people care, that a uniquely gay nightlife is worth fighting for, worth saving.

What if our protestation comes to nothing, and the scene recedes into the shadows of memory? Where are we meant to party until sunrise? Well, there's still at least one place you're guaranteed to have a good time. I'd heard of a new night kicking off at the mothership of East London gay clubbing: Eastbloc. The Salon, run by Silver Summers, star of Drag Queens of London, was that night. Summers and the team had recruited fellow drag queens Smiley Vyrus and Fifi La True to put on the kind of A-Grade night that proves we've still got the right to party. And what a party it was.

After leaving The Glory — a gay pub in the Kingsland Road — I ambled down to Eastbloc. As the cab crawled closer I saw platforms, short shorts, and the bobbing heads of the night's three hosts. Eventually landing in the smoking area, I wished both Silver and Smiley a happy birthday. It was the first time Silver had put on a club night. "'I'm shitting myself," she said.

Having reassured her that everything would be fine I descended down the stairs through a mist of sweat and perfume. It was time to face the music. Literally. While I can appreciate camp as much as the next person, the idea of a gay night sticking to Madonna, Kylie and Britney has been done to death. The Salon have shied away from that, employing the likes of Scottish stud Andrew Moore and dreadlocked god Ben Jamu, who both know their way round a record box.

The main room thudded to the sound of classic early 90s house with the odd bit of campy soul and disco thrown in to keep everyone happy. Silver herself had asked for a smattering of garage throughout the night and the selectors duly obliged. There were even a few guilty pop pleasures thrown in towards the end of proceedings.

Photos by LUXXXER

It was a sea of shufflers and strutters, a room full of twerkers and prancers. When I caught up with Silver it was obvious that despite being a little worse for wear, she was pleased with how the night was going and relieved it was that way. We covered politics, drinks tokens and club closures in our quick chat.

"It's terrifying." she says. "I've personally lost four venues that I worked in which means I'm down about £800 a month on average."

It isn't just Silver finding herself out of pocket. Other seasoned performers are finding their places of work vanishing. Which makes the success of the Salon even more important. Silver wants to mix "West End glamour with East End edginess." She's looking to do this by mixing lip syncing with live singing, dancing and hair-doing. "Our aim is to give you that weekend feeling on a Wednesday. We're not poncey exclusive queens here, either."

You get the feeling that Silver is heavily invested in the sense of unity that exists within the gay scene when do come together and fight a common cause. Everyone knows that some gay clubs are very particular about who they let in — and more importantly, who they don't. You won't find table service or Grey Goose in this Salon.

After his killer set, I stumbled over to Ben Jamu to give him a slurred, but congratulatory, speech. He was nice enough to listen and then gave me insight on what he'd been expecting after Silver invited him down.

"I thought it'd be a fresh and social new night on a Wednesday that was fun and relaxed. As it turned out, everyone was bouncing off the walls. Which was pretty cool."

I cut to the chase with him, aware of his status as a pretty positive bloke. Is gay nightlife dead?

"'For me gay nightlife right now is happening on so many platforms, and bleeding into so many unusual and exciting places. Of course the decimation of so many venues in London and elsewhere is a massive issue, but its forcing people to come together and create their own situations where they can party and have fun, and from personal experience I can say thats it's happening everywhere, at any time!"

The Salon seems to be a good example of this and long may it continue. No one's saying that one new party is going to solve the crisis, nor that the experience offered there is representative of what all clubbers are after, but it does offer a little hope and a little solace to a community who're seeing their haunts vanish into the ether.

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