What did you do last weekend? We went to the Drake Hotel to go hard with Los Angeles polysexual jam A Club Called Rhonda.
What a crazy-ass weekend, eh? Happy Canada Day! Happy Pride! Happy Sports Something! If you were seeking the craziest party weekend of the year, ladies and gents, you just missed her. (Unless your speed is more Cottage Kid than Club Kid. Shut up.) And yet, outside of all the backyard house parties, and the street dancing, and the parading of all the pits and bits, A Club Called Rhonda was conspiring to lure the masses back a few years, or, well, decades. Rhonda’s not so much a woman as she is a Club with a capital C. She’s a deity. She’s a diva. She’s designed, and inspired. She’s anything you want her to be. But she’s only real if you let her exist. When I first plugged A Club Called Rhonda in last week’s Night List, I got an unusual number of curious callers inquiring about the disco brouhaha stomping and sashaying through our streets on its (unofficial) North American tour.
So, let’s rewind. At 11-something p.m. on Saturday night, I descended into the Drake Underground to meet L.A.’s polysexual high priestess in all her guts, glamour, and glory. The first thing you should know is that Rhonda is a mythological creature, birthed circa 2008 to proud parents Gregory Alexander and Loren Granic (a.k.a. GODDOLLARS), two best friends who wanted to recapture the spirit of unity, rebellion, and music in the face of the urban sprawl that continually threatened to separate their social circles. (Seriously: L.A. commutes can be a bitch.) At its core, Rhonda is theatre. It’s performance. It’s about feeding an appetite for culture, community and a national anthem of pleasure that doesn’t require bottle service or buckets of cash. The motto is simple: House, Disco and Polysexual Hard Party. If you look through Tumblr tags, Rhonda looks like a collision between yesterday’s dreams and tomorrow’s most twisted nightmares. From afar, the party looks fueled by a concoction of fashion you don’t see in this town, a kind of fiercely unapologetic self-expression—like, I keep waiting for RuPaul to pop up in one of those Tumblr blogs. Over the years, the night has grown to attract over 1,500 guests, and touched down all over the City of Angels in a flamenco club, a Guatemalan social club, a Korean MTV-style joint, and a Mexican dance club.
I’ve seen my share of shit in the Drake Underground, but there’s never been anything—in recent memory—as auspiciously brash and beautifully dark as Rhonda. From the second you touch down, the Club and its message take on prized roles as your chaperones through debauchery. The posters—sexually charged, painfully coy images—line every single inch of the space, from the doors to the stage, engulfed in a blood-red jam hue. It’s a set-up that takes an entire day, at least. (Back in L.A., the parties can take up to a month to organize, with custom stage designs and layouts.) A few of the night’s slogans: “Enter her plasma”; “Live your obsession”; “No rules, just right”; “Bad decisions, sexy people.” It’s hard to gauge how Toronto will react.
There’s Rhonda in every drop of this place; her trademark is a pair of legs with heels. She has no face, and I like it that way. All of this is conceived and crafted by Alexander and Granic. At their recent SXSW jam with DJ Harvey, he dubbed the pair “professional disco lunatics,” a moniker they’re now going to throw into official rotation. For this special Toronto Pride edition, the Drake invited them to mount their semi-traveling evening for the first time north of the border on the strength of its following, hopefully ushering a new era that sees Rhonda not just party hard, but tour hard. Alexander works the room as the evening’s host, rushing from corner to corner in all white with a mangled commedia dell’arte mask that’s working overtime; Granic, who I meet for five seconds, handles the tunes.
For this 416 edition, the boys teamed up with Horse Meat Disco, a party straight out of London that goes down on Sundays at The Eagle, a gay (leather) bar that—FYI—also has a port in our Village, too. An entry on Resident Advisor describes Rhonda’s British allies: “Horse Meat Disco is without doubt the most important disco club night in the world. The night’s wide-ranging music policy, focus on production details and an outrageous polysexual crowd have made HMD the darling of the music press and switched on clubbers alike.” The two entities make a powerful pairing, judging by last week’s party back in LAX. (Again, see Tumblr or here.)
When HMD shake the Underground, my skull throbs. And then the voguing happens, as it does nowadays, almost on cue, because every gay worth their weight has re-watched Paris Is Burning in the last six months thanks to, like, everything happening in the ongoing LGBT history right now. I think about that line, you remember? “Get your library cards out! Reading is fundamental.” And I think about how gay has now become about schooling the demimonde itself about why we should care about more, and about others outside of our own—you know, the “P” word. And how the challenge is not just teaching the history, but getting people to appreciate it. And then I think about how Stonewall, as an incident and a revolution, is at an apex in pop-cult appreciation (again, RuPaul honey). Suddenly, the history of LGBT rights, and our (future) responsibilities, has become a cause to be championed since—and I’m a textbook case—it’s so easy to take your rights and responsibilities for granted when, even growing up in most-liberal Canada, it’s like no one needed to teach you.
But when you see a bunch of kids dancing openly, and not being conservative in their anything, and smiling about it, and being cheered on by the boys and girls who got whisked away by Rhonda on their way to the bathroom, you affirm what you’ve known all along. You remember that admitting and accepting, or writing and thinking about, or being and saying that you’re “gay” is a political act in and of itself. That when you walk outside and present yourself however or with whomever you want, that is a political act. That is living your life. That you won’t live in fear, even if the fearful may befall you one day. That is political. That is proud. And eventually, you realize the goal is to leave no one behind. That the work isn’t over until everyone is able to dance.
Five minutes with A Club Called Rhonda’s host, Gregory Alexander
How did you conceive Rhonda?
My business partner Loren is straight, and I’m gay, and we come from two totally different worlds, but we’ve been friends forever. And sometimes we’d go out partying together, but it was hard because we’d go to a strictly straight place, or a strictly gay place, or a bear place, or a house place. We just came together to try to unite the sub-sects of L.A. under one common thread of partying.
So I guess Rhonda’s mission is to bridge the gap not only between gender and sexuality, but parties in general—and geography?
We consider ourselves polysexual in nature; we just want everyone to come together all at once and have a great time. Our motto is, “house, disco, and polysexual hard partying,” which is what we tag everything as. We go hard, and we go all night.
What is the L.A. definition of “go hard”? I’m sure it’s pretty different than the 416.
[Laughs] I’m pretty sure it’s different, but legally you guys are allowed to do different things. I wish we could legally be allowed to go until 4 a.m. at any night; we just aren’t, not even for big holidays. [Editor's note: last call in California is 2 a.m.] There’s also a big resurgence in warehouse parties, which is where we started out in, which vary from super legal to, well… And last week we did Horse Meat Disco and went until 5 a.m.
This isn’t the first time Rhonda’s gone on tour, is it?
We’ve traveled, and done a few music festivals as well. We’ve been to Miami, New York, San Francisco, Austin.
Do you get a lot of straight clientele?
Surprisingly, not as many gays seem to know about the larger acts that we bring in, but they still come because they know it’s a great time. A lot of the community that comes doesn’t really know what they’re in for when it comes to music, but they know that it will be good and house/disco oriented. And a lot of the straight people come basically for the acts. As far as the vibe goes, it’s a dance-and-wear-as-little-as-possible-and-make-out-with-whomever night and the gays really go for that. Dress up and do anything crazy.
Horse Meat Disco, in your own words.
Horse Meat is a legendary party that they’ve been doing for about eight years now. They’ve just been doing strictly “disco sleaze” since they began. They’ve helped bring back that sound after it had been buried for a while. Dance music has completely affected the mainstream music to the point where every major star’s album is a dance album essentially, in one way or another, whether it’s trance, disco, or house.
So what’s it like to be gay in L.A.?
[Laughs] That is the hardest question I’ve ever been asked. It’s fun, for sure. It’s a bit divided—like I said, west versus east. Either you’re a west-side gay in WeHo, or not. I’ve always been on the east side, and I’m not even on that [west] radar. I’m not going to talk shit on it, but [the east] is much more mixed, much more fun and much more subversive. I mean, there’s cuntiness sometimes, but, especially since Grindr, everyone just mixes because people don’t really care anymore when it comes down to sex—a dick is a dick is a dick, I guess. It’s funny when you go to other “less metropolis” cities, you realize, “Woah, I really have it good in L.A.”