DJ Harvey has been bringing a subversive, punk-rock attitude to disco dancefloors for decades. As a resident at Ministry of Sound in his native London, Harvey emerged in the early 1990s as an early champion of disco re-edits and genre-bending marathon sets. More recently, he has grown into a global ambassador for hedonism via disco sets and with his rock band The Wildest Dreams. He's an apposite icon for the joyous sleaze that is the glue of underground club culture.
In his adopted home of Los Angeles, Harvey—who identifies as "queer, but not homosexual"—has been leading a charge alongside the likes of pansexual party palace A Club Called Rhonda for a newfangled queerness that does not discriminate according to particularities of orientation, subculture, fetish, or perversion, but favors weirdos of all ilks celebrating life together on one dancefloor. Two weekends ago, a doubleheader of Harvey's own warehouse rager at Lot 613 in LA's Arts District and a Rumors party with Guy Gerber on the virginal pavement of Gin Ling Way in Chinatown exemplified this perspective. Both were queer as fuck, but not rigidly prescribed as such. They were prideful, but not officially Pride-related.
As the official Pride Week revs into its final weekend, we spoke to Harvey from his home in Venice about love, sex, disco, and what it's like to craft your own identity, sexually or otherwise, in these crazy times of ours.
THUMP: Your parties are more like discos-that-are-queer rather than definitively gay or queer discos.
DJ Harvey: For me, the best parties are mixed parties. The more mixed, the better. Some of the exclusively gay parties really can get a little stale. They just revolve around cock, and the music isn't so much better. The queens, they've seen it all before, and they can be a little jaded. And parties that are too straight revolve around vagina too much. And that can get a little creepy. With completely mixed––by gender, race, age, culture and everything––all the different groups have an opportunity to show out to the other groups. It makes a nice stew, a nice soup, with a lot more flavor. The more ingredients you can add, people-wise, the more flavor that you have at your party. As soon as you start counting people out—like, "This is men only, this is straight, this is for white people, or yellow people"—as soon as you start putting blinkers on a party, you start to confine what is possible. I think the more, the merrier!
What's the key to this inclusive hedonism?
Some people think you can just set up some speakers and a disco ball in a warehouse and you've got Flaming Man, but you don't. A lot more love and care and consideration goes into putting on a good party. We work very hard dressing the venue, putting a really nice sound system in, putting great care over the choice of the music and the DJs. When everything comes together, I think it's a beautiful thing. It's a special thing. And it transcends all the boundaries, all the racial and sexual and cultural boundaries. You reach this point of ecstatic abandon within the dance and within the celebration of life. It's such a beautiful thing. You don't have to be on drugs. You don't have to be dressed. You don't have to look like anything. You don't have to be anything. You just have to be part of it, to contribute. And then you get this payback, this free buzz, if you like. It's very hard to put into words. It's like a dream or a transcendental state or something that makes life worth living.
But you'd say, regardless of orientation, genitals are still the driving force of disco?
Yes, well, dancing is five-play. It's the bit that comes before foreplay. It's the first interaction, it's where you encounter, where you see how the person moves, how the person smells, how the person appears. If all goes well, you might go off and indulge in foreplay and three-play and get to first base eventually and fuck each other senseless. And then it's a great night! Wake up, feel guilty, and get the fuck outta there.
Do you encourage fornication on the dancefloor?
I think you've really got to be quite brave and quite an exhibitionist to have sex on the dancefloor. I always quite like to see it. It tickles me to see someone getting a blowjob or riding dick on the dancefloor. It does happen from time to time. Whatever turns you on. If that gets you going, then go for it! At my parties, you're more than welcome to indulge yourself.
Would you say that dance music always been intrinsically tied to sexual freedom?
In the modern age, with things like the legacy of Berghain with their [gay club] Lab.Oratory and the legacy of German electronic music, there is an association between dance music and perversion, but the kind of sexual activity that might be associated with techno these days was going on to orchestral disco in the 70s and show tunes in the 40s. The sex doesn't change; the music does. Anything you can possibly imagine has been done. And it's been filmed. And you can Google it. Sometimes I do see things that I hadn't thought of, like prolapse mashing. I'd never even imagined...That's not even something that I consider even particularly erotic. It's more like performance art.
"If someone wants to have sex with me, I'm very happy about that. If someone comes up and gives me their phone number, I'm very pleased that someone wants to fuck me. It doesn't matter who it is" — DJ Harvey
Yeah, sounding! There you go. Although, I dunno, putting things up your penis...It's like a tiny vagina, really. If that's what turns you on, fantastic! I think everything should be allowed, even stuff that's potentially dangerous. As long as it's got a code, a safe word....Like "Shostakovich" or something.
What's the key to approaching someone on the dancefloor?
Just give up. Maybe put yourself sort of in their vicinity and do a silly dance. I've got no game—absolutely no game at all. Usually the time when I've completely given up––Haven't showered for three days, haven't shaved, haven't got my lucky underpants on––I'm just standing in the corner having given up all hope, and the most beautiful person in the room will come over and be like: "Let's go."
Who do you normally end up going home with?
I'm queer, but I'm not homosexual. You know, I tried it, but I didn't like it. I'm completely safe in my sexuality. And to be honest, if someone wants to have sex with me, I'm very happy about that. If someone comes up and gives me their phone number, I'm very pleased that someone wants to fuck me. It doesn't matter who it is.
What's it like to be a queer, but straight-leaning person who has been so embraced by the gay community?
I just feel honored to be allowed to party with the people that know how to party properly. To be allowed to express myself in the community, as it were, and be appreciated for my deep passion and love for disco and dance music and club culture and gay culture and hedonistic culture in general. To be accepted. I'm honored to be allowed to be myself.
Do The States feel like a more liberal place than when you arrived?
I've only been here 15 years. I think America in general is very conservative. It's built on Puritanical values. There are really strange things like 2AM licensing laws, really strange gun laws, all sorts of odd, bizarre stuff. But then again, you have the [dark mystique and lore of] Hollywood Babylon, the reason I live in Los Angeles. Things like the movies, the porn industry, the Mansons. Surfing and hot rods, gangsterism, marijuana, hippies, the dark side, the Beach Boys—all these wonderful, terrible things that get my juices flowing. LA's fantastic for that. The word is getting out now, but for the past 25 years, LA has been a really well-kept secret in terms of hedonistic behavior. You don't go to a nightclub in Los Angeles. You go to someone's house that has a nightclub in it! That's where the action's at. That's where the dungeons are, the true hedonistic behavior.
C'mon. You gotta tell us an anecdote...
Not so long ago, I found myself in [legendary gay illustrator] Tom of Finland's dungeon. It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in my life. It was just powerful. It smells really bad, but it was just monumentally fantastic. I can't really divulge too much of what was in there. I'm probably not even supposed to say that it exists. Leather, rubber, more leather, more rubber, slings, rings...and things.
Is leather a particular fancy of yours?
People ask me what my perversion is, and I have a nice gimp mask that I got from Mr. S. Leather. I like to wear it around the house, but it's difficult to wear in public, because it really does what it's supposed to do. Sensory deprivation. You can't see anything or hear anything or even speak. Once in a while, I'll get someone to take me out on a leash and plonk me down. As long as a drink's got a straw, I'm okay.
If you had to give the archetypical straight-white-heteronormative, conservative male some life advice, what would it be?
Don't join the army! We love you. Everything's gonna be okay. Give us a hug!
Where would you have your magical unicorn dream party during Pride Week and who would play?
Somewhere there must be a beautiful ballroom, huge and ornate—somewhere like the Pantages Theater. I'd take over that entire place. The DJs I would have playing are all dead, so we'd have to have a seance. I'd have a live show from Sylvester, and have Larry Levan play, Rob Hardy, Frankie Knuckles, Francis Grasso. In the modern age, I would just have all the children that are keeping the faith: the Honey Soundsystems, the Horse Meat Discos, the guys out of Men's Room in Chicago—the new children who are holding the torch for real disco hedonism. I'd maybe have a drag ball with the classic houses coming and walking, have some categories. And it'd never end!
This weekend, Harvey will perform at the Born Free Motorcycle Show in Orange County with his band The Wildest Dreams. He might even ride his Chopper down there.
Jemayel Khawaja is Editor-at-Large of THUMP - @JemayelK