Earlier in the year, the founder of the much celebrated and now retired Bloc festival, George Hull, controversially attacked the current state of dance music in the UK, singling out boring hipsters and labelling safe spaces as depressing. Hull is of course wrong, but his accusations might hold the key to understanding exactly why it’s possible to have so much fun at Love Muscle.
The safe space of Wharf Chambers was vital in creating the uninhibited hedonism, contagious smiling, relentless dancing and even crowd surfing that, along with the undeniable charm of the music, add up to one of the best, if not the best party atmosphere in Leeds. I asked the founders of Love Muscle, Michael, Lucy and Tom, about the parties that influenced them:
Michael: Back to Basics saved my life. House music as I understood house music was very different to what they played at Basics, the first time I went to Basics I was gobsmacked at how good it was. I didn’t know what it was that I was listening to but it was really really good and I think that place just allowed me to, you know, it was very dark, no one really cared about what anybody did because everyone was up to something naughty because it was that dark and everyone was a bit of a mess. So I just kind of found myself there and I found my friends there as well.
Lucy: For me it was SpeedQueen, who I started to DJ for. I didn’t find friends at university but I found them through clubbing. Kas, one of the promoters of SpeedQueen said: ‘You’ve got 6 hours on a Saturday night to make it the best party that you can because everybody’s had a shit week, they’re coming with loads of stuff and things, you don’t know what’s been going on in the background and it’s up to us to make people forget that for 6 hours and send them home with a smile on their face.’ That’s something I try to adhere to whenever I’m djing or being involved in Love Muscle.
Saturday was an astonishing success. Undeniably pumping, Shaun J. Wright’s performance drew on his Chicago heritage. Love Muscle’s residents rounded out an outstanding musical programme, keeping everyone on the dance floor until the lights came on and the decorations fell down. There was a perceptible air of significance to the party and a noticeably richer and more meaningful relationship between crowd and DJ. I asked where this sense of importance came from.
Michael: Growing up in Leeds and maybe to a certain extent coming out or becoming really comfortable with my sexuality. Although I had Basics it wasn’t quite what I wanted, it wasn’t quite what I needed. I needed a good gay space that didn’t exist. I had to sacrifice my musical integrity if I wanted to have a good night out. I wanted to give that back to the city or at least give kids that were coming to the city something that I didn’t have.
It was obvious from the event that its organisers have a different understanding of what clubbing is supposed to be for. The focus of Love Muscle seems to be for everyone just to have the best possible time.
Lucy: There are people who treat clubbing as a business and there are people who arrive at clubs as a customer and that’s fine. I realised a while ago that that’s not the type of place that I want to play at. What I like about clubbing is the community around it, the collaborative effect that you get when you’ve got a real relationship with the crowd.
I asked if Love Muscle is set apart from other events by its focus on the relationship between the DJ and the crowd.
Lucy: One thing I think is perfect about Wharf Chambers is that the decks are on the dance floor, and that should never, ever, ever change.
Tom: I really hate raised DJ booths. You shouldn’t idolise DJs. They’re meant to be your friends, they’re meant to be your equal. The whole focus of clubbing is meant to be about equality, and as soon as you start venerating a DJ like that, you’re starting to create barriers.
I wanted to find out exactly why spaces like Love Muscle continue to be vital to the gay community.
Tom: It’s critically important at this juncture in gay life in Britain to have these spaces. There are so many young gay men that feel very alienated because we’re victims of neoliberalism. In the 80s when you had the aids crisis and such rife homophobia, gay people came together to create spaces to feel free and dance and meet people. Now, in the 90s and 2000s, things have been liberalised, which is wonderful, people can feel more comfortable with their sexuality. But actually, for a lot of young gay men it has isolated them. It creates a stereotyped image of homosexuality; it makes you become a person that you don’t necessarily want to be. My life is music, I spend every day listening to it and looking for it. I want to have a space where I can do that which is also gay. There are lots of problems for young gay men, be it depression, suicide, drug use, these are things that I would hope Love Muscle would try remedy.
Lucy: Honestly there is absolutely nothing more important than providing that space. Even if people don’t turn up, just knowing it’s there can sometimes be enough.
Michael: I think that even if you aren’t really, really into music and you listen to loads of great records, it gives you, as a gay man or woman, an identity different to what the current gay scene does, which seems at the moment to have a focus on who you can sleep with and what drugs you can take. That’s a massive problem at the moment. It’s a lack of belonging, driven by liberalism, by the idea that everybody’s equal but you’re not really, and then there’s no space for you because you can go out to any bar you want to, and then what do you feel a part of? How do you identify as a gay person? How do you feel like you belong to something?
Tom: What’s really sad to see, and I’ve kind of encountered it before, is young gay men, or bisexual men, or just people who don’t identify as straight, closeting themselves because they don’t feel like there’s anything out there for them. We have a lot of openly gay men who come who are really comfortable with their sexuality. I want people to come down who are not too sure, and for them to feel comfortable and know that they have a space like that because for me, the thing that made me feel most comfortable was meeting other gay men who were like me.
A Leeds burger vendor’s recent objection to love muscle’s poster – that it was too risqué – was an uncomfortable reminder of the prejudices facing the LGBT community and of that the work still to be done. With that in mind I asked where they’d like to take the night from here.
Michael: I do ultimately want it to be a party for gay people. I want them, when they walk into the room, to feel like it’s something for them. I want to encourage more girls to come down, I want it to be a more inclusive lesbian and gay night and we’re going to try and do that through the bookings we’ve got coming up. I want gay women as well as gay men to understand that there are other people out there in the world doing good things, being successful. You can do what you want, you can be involved in electronic music, you can be an artist.
Tom: I’d like for us to hammer home the idea that it’s an atmosphere for people to feel comfortable in. I’d like to extend it beyond just music and talk to local charities about how we can help the people that are going there, even if it’s just talking to people, I would like something like that. I’ve spoken with MESMAC too about what we can do about the current rise in HIV. I would like to see us act on things that are affecting the gay community, especially among young people in Britain.
The next Love Muscle will take place on the 19th of November at Wharf Chambers.