The queer roots of dance music and club culture

When we look at the history of music, many elements of every movement and subgenre, from visuals to sound, generally date back to gay culture. Even long before LGBTQ+ was in the cultural zeitgeist, many rock ‘n’ roll pioneers were black blues musicians who happened to be queer, like Little Richard and his ancestor Billy Wright as well as Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton. But one of the biggest subcultures involved in music with an extremely rich history was the underground club culture that paved the way for dance music, even if it doesn’t enjoy the same cultural reverence as rock. or punk. Larry Levan was a gay black DJ who worked at Paradise Garage in downtown New York and he is considered responsible for the ancestry of nearly every genre of current electronic music as we know it today.

The 80s were obviously a culturally complicated time. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the Iran-Iraq War, Chernobyl and above all the AIDS crisis which tormented the community and caused unprecedented levels of tragedy. One of the ways Queer people dealt with trauma was to go to clubs, but these clubs were more than just places to dance. In New York in the early 1970s, many queer people of color and allies came together with the intention of creating safe spaces where they could be themselves and be with others in ways not allowed in the world. day-to-day, rather than adapting to adapt. heterosexual notions of nightlife. And music was obviously an essential part of those gatherings, and the sound of those events eventually turned into disco.

One of disco’s descendants was new wave, which also incorporated elements of post-punk and synth pop, and the genre’s ties to gay culture extend far beyond that as well. Arguably one of the most well-known stars of this camp with many ties to gay culture is Blondie’s Debbie Harry whose ties to the New York club scene and underground Queer nightlife date back to Studio 54 and collaborate with Andy Warhol. Frankie Goes To Hollywood, often seen as the butt of a joke when talking about the 80s, was also one of the pioneers in his own way. Their songs “Relax”, “Rage Hard” and “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” were decidedly gay with sexually hedonistic undertones.

Another new wave band that rose to queer icon status relatively quickly despite none of the members being queer themselves was British synth-pop rock band Depeche Mode. One of their biggest hits “People Are People” quickly became a gay rights anthem and was widely played at many clubs in the 80s and 90s. Martin Gore’s signature leather ensembles were, without any doubt, something he got by visiting weird leather bars and underground dungeons. And let’s not forget the B-52s and their iconic ode to boys and bikinis: “Rock Lobster.” The B-52s were one of the first bands as influential as Blondie, and they just straddle queer culture. A few of the members were also gay themselves. Frontman Fred Schneider told’s Michael Martin:

“’Rock Lobster’ was played on college and independent radio, but the bigger stations were told not to play us. No one had come out then. I mean, our friends knew [we were gay], and we weren’t trying to be shy. One time we were on stage and someone shouted, “Is this a group of queens? I think they thought Kate [Pierson] and Cindy [Wilson] were drag queens. So I said, ‘Yes, we are a group of queens!’ What really upset us was performing the song on Saturday Night Live in January 1980. After that, our album took off the charts.

Released in 1984, “People Are People” served as the first single A great reward and became Depeche Mode’s first hit single in the United States.

Over time, queer culture and dance music have become largely synonymous with each other. The genre was not only popularized and even produced by the community both behind the scenes and in the forefront, but the songs themselves resonated with the understanding of what it meant to be gay and reflected a burning desire to being seen. It inspired a movement for inclusivity and accessibility, and although it’s widely seen as hidden by the mainstream media, it’s only hidden if you’re not ready to watch because it’s always been there. .


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