For the more discerning club goer, the Leeds gay scene is a bit of an insult. The selection ranges from Queens Court to Mission, and not much further. It is suffering from a serious bout of stagnation, as well as emitting an overwhelming whiff of cheese. People like DJ Michael Upson Back to Basics associate and former organiser of Leeds’ A Rave Called Sharon, are fed up. But he’s out to change the gay clubbing landscape in Leeds by starting his own night: Love Muscle. After three parties of growing success, one of which featured Bristol-via-Chicago DJ and producer Lil’ Mark, and another Cosmic Slop’s Michael Greenwell, the public are starting to cotton on to his more refined style of LGBTQ* fun. Max Waters spoke to him about it
What direction do you hope to take Love Muscle?
The main issue is drawing people in. There are two main ways to do this, the most obvious being booking someone big. It’s a pretty safe bet to draw a big crowd but it costs a lot and it’s not sustainable, also it doesn’t allow a community to grow. All you’ll get is people coming along once to see that DJ, rather than come down every time because Love Muscle is on.
So, the eventual aim is to create a community?
Definitely, I want to create a safe physical space for LGBTQ* people to meet each other, but with backdrop of a quality soundtrack. If nightclubs are a place to meet people, it’s hard to do that with a straight crowd. I see it all the time, LGBTQ* kids out with their straight friends because there’s not a place for them to meet like-minded people. In Leeds if you’re gay and you like good music there’s very few nights you can go to, which can be very isolating.
What sets Love Muscle apart from, say, the nights that already exist in gay clubs?
A lot of gay clubs nowadays have strayed from being a safe place for gay youth, they’ve become more of a popular destination for hen parties which has led to a lack of cohesion within the gay community. Club owners have capitalised on this and only play music that appeals to the lowest common denominator because they know it’s not just a gay crowd coming through the door. Ironically, the scene has been diluted by liberalism.
There’s no longer a space in Leeds where LGBTQ* youth can come together to listen to music that they enjoy, and simply be themselves. And outside of London, and Manchester there really isn’t anywhere in the UK for LGBTQ* people to do this. Love Muscle is not about turning a profit, it’s about creating a space for people to come together and feel like they belong.
Regarding things like hen parties, places in Berlin (famously Berghain and Tom’s Bar) have strict door policies that we’re also starting to see creep into the UK. Do you think these help or hinder the cohesion of the community?
I think these places get a bit of a bad reputation. The door policy of Berghain is designed to create a safe LGBTQ* space, and has almost become a victim of its own success. Now it’s become an immensely popular club with both straight and LGBTQ* communities, it’s just increasingly difficult to maintain that safety and atmosphere that it once enjoyed. I think the restrictive door policy just reflects their commitment to their community, even though there are obviously huge downsides – you don’t want to book a holiday to Berlin, hoping to go to Berghain, only to find yourself turned away at the door. Not only does it add a sour taste to your holiday; it also can eat away at someone’s confidence. Whilst it would be incredible if Love Muscle became even half as popular as Berghain, I wouldn’t want it to get to that state.
The problem of confidence can be a big issue in the LGBTQ* community, are you hoping to try to help this?
Love Muscle is all about creating self-worth in the LGBTQ* community, something that I think is missing now. For me, ‘Back to Basics’ saved my life, in fact it was the reason I decided to move to Leeds. I hated school, and in my first year I just didn’t click with most of the people I met in halls. I met my best friends at ‘Basics’, and I hope Love Muscle can do the same for others. With this sort of thing, it takes someone to stick his or her head above the parapet. Nightlife scenes have always revolved around individuals, they don’t “just happen” If you don’t do something yourself, it’s not going to. Dave Beer is testament to that. Leeds wouldn’t have the incredibly vibrant music culture it has today without him.
What is your background in music?
I started playing records when I was about 16, when I got my first set of decks. It was really a way of escaping my school-life. The best advice I can really give anyone wanting to get into it is just to do it. It’s hardly ground-breaking stuff but practise really does make perfect. I just kept mixing badly until I got better and then eventually got good. Music and clubbing has always been very personal for me, it’s always been a way of meeting like-minded people – I decided to come to Leeds because of ‘Back to Basics’ and it really shaped my musical taste. What I understood House music to be before I came to Leeds isn’t what I understand it to be now. I also set up the DJ society, BPM, to try to meet people similar to myself; I’m actually really proud of what it has become, so many different good things have come from it, and so many people have gone on to be intimately involved with the music scene in Leeds, and other cities.
I read recently that clubbing is disappearing in the UK, and lots of different things have been blamed for it. What’s your take on it?
Primarily it’s high rent prices that are responsible for big clubs closing down. The activities put on in nightclubs don’t provide enough money to pay the rent for the often-large physical space that they take up. Its far easier for landlords to make the money they need by chopping it up into flats than worrying about whether club promoters have done a good job to pull a crowd on a Saturday night. Plus the councils need the money because their budgets have been cut and 40 flats pay far more council tax than one commercial space so they’re more than happy to dish out noise abatement orders. I believe that good nightlife still exists in abundance, though just in lots of different microcosms. It’s a lot easier for small groups of people to come together with the invention of social media and create mini scenes of their own without the budgets of massive night clubs. Everyone is still going out, they’re just in different spaces. Love Muscle is similar, I know there are lots of people who want this sort of thing in Leeds, they just need to be told it physically exists. Otherwise people revert to virtual spaces, like Grindr. People clearly want to come together, that’s why these apps exist but I really do think they encourage risky sexual behaviour in some people. I just hope that Love Muscle can be this physical space that promotes a far more positive and rewarding way of meeting people.
Finally, what do you think of LGBTQ* culture in the mainstream?
There just needs to be more positive gay role models, and outside of the entertainment industry. The world needs more Tom Daley’s and Casey Stoney’s. LGBTQ* people of great-note outside of the TV/Film shy away from being visible because of institutionally homophobic and racist organisations like the FA. Football for example is the moral compass for so many around the world because it’s such a huge part of their life. These sporting associations could do so much more to support their players but they don’t; for example, Thomas Hitzlberger only came out as gay after he retired (FACT: his beard wife taught me German.) It’s not just in the UK though, in the US Michael Sam was tipped to be the next big thing in the NFL, but his sexuality put a lot of teams off signing him. We are seeing a lot of positive laws come about, but there are still severe problems in culture. LGBTQ* youth who don’t fit that stereotype presented in the media of the butch lesbian or fem gay man still don’t feel like they fit into society and end up being the most susceptible to mental health issues.
What does Love Muscle sound like?
I like to think it’s the Chicagoan definition of house music – which was simply just “music you heard at the warehouse”. So really it’s anything from techno to disco to soul & funk old and new.
I’m a sucker for a hi-nrg disco record and one that I think perfectly encapsulates that tempo and rhythm is The Break by Kat Mandu. Nothing beats a sweaty room full of people bouncing along to it. It was a huge record for a long time in it’s day and as with all Kat Mandu records the album artwork is OVAH.
I really seem to get hooked on songs that mimic my own life and feelings, as I think most people do. Being able to relate to a song really makes it come alive so I rarely play a vocal that I can’t find some personal feeling in. This record is really one of those and it’s Danny T’s mid-90’s sound at its best. It’s also just had a re-release on the new Glitterbox compilation. It’s a subtle twist on a bill withers song and given a female vocal takes on a whole new homo-erotic twist. It’s class.
Hearing Rødhad play this in Berghain was one of my finest dancefloor moments and in homage to the church we try to bang it out a bit towards the end of the night. This record just sounds like the inside of Berghain to me – the chimes seem to bounce around of that high ceiling whilst the thundering bass punches out from the imaginary function 1 in my head.
Love Muscle’s next night will be at Wharf Chambers on 19th March with special guest, Gideon from NYC Downlow.
Max Waters & Oli Walkden
(Photo credits: Michael Upson)