In spite of the LGBTQ community’s vital importance to the development of club culture, there is quite a rigid distinction between what is a straight club and what is a gay club. Wire is, admittedly, in the “straight” camp. But that’s not to say that it’s not had moments where it has belied this title. Prosumer, Tama Sumo, Virginia and more have all worked the place up into a sweat, leading to semi-nudity around the booth and people moving with an expression that is rarely seen in Wire. So the potential is there for the club to drop its “straight” facade. And Jordan Small of BE LGBTQ: R’n’B With Edges is hoping to realise it. We chatted to him about his first event here (and the first LGBTQ event here in living memory) which is happening on 1st September 2017.
It was Leeds Pride the other day. Did you have a good one? Does Leeds put on a good show?
“Yes I had an amazing time, this was Leeds biggest and most attended Pride to date. Although money isn’t everything the funding from public and private companies really gave the mass party a backbone of support. Through my work with Leeds City Council I launched an event called Be Outspoken which took place in the lead up to Pride and dealt with giving the BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethic) LGBTQ Community a space to say what gives them Pride and discuss any issues that may affect this because we don’t live in a perfect world. On the Sunday I was on the council’s open top bus with the Lord Mayor and it was wonderful to see the diversity of ethnicities and parents bringing their children to celebrate the LGBTQ community being able to be themselves. Around the world there are countries where it is still illegal to be gay, gay marriage still isn’t legal in Northern Ireland and Trans rights still need progressing so we have a way to go before we can even contemplate taking our freedoms and the Pride celebrations for granted.”
What is it like to be queer in Leeds in general? What was it like growing up here? Did you face any difficulties?
“Side note – I’d rather use gay to describe myself. On the whole in Leeds I haven’t had any major incidents of abuse. There’s been the odd negative or ignorant comment here and there which I can count on two hands to which I’ve either ignored or tackled that person’s homophobia so that they understand what they’ve just said is wrong. Coming from a Jamaican family has been a balance of acceptance and a lack of understanding in what being gay actually means. I’m sure a lot of families are the same. At times my parents can’t fully comprehend why I’m gay yet they’re open to understanding and love me as their son. Like life in general, It’s a work in progress.”
What is mainstream gay clubbing like in Leeds? Is your club night a reaction against the mainstream here?
“Going out in Leeds has made me make one of two choices: either go to more straight clubs/bars with my straight friends and listen to R’n’B, House, Rap etc that really connects with my heart. Or go out with my LGBTQ friends to clubs and bars that allow me to be myself more yet play more chart friendly music that doesn’t dig a little bit deeper. So yes my club night is a way of bridging the gap or at least trying to. I just got so tired of having to choose and I don’t see why anyone who is LGBTQ like me should have to choose either.”
You can occasionally be seen playing tunes in the bar at Wharf Chambers during Love Muscle. What has the arrival of Love Muscle done for the scene?
“Michael and the team at Love Muscle are outstanding! I got involved with the collective via the Leeds Queer Film Festival when I DJ’d for them earlier in the year and Michael asked me to DJ Love Muscle after I did my set which ranged from Rupaul to Nas, Mykki Blanco to Fleetwood Mac and of course Beyoncé. Being at Love Muscle feels like you’re at a club in Shoreditch, London. It just feels so unique to Leeds. The music is House, Disco and so much more and the people are so diverse, laidback and positive. There isn’t another night on the scene that is even remotely similar to Love Muscle which shows how original it is but it’s also a shame that the scene doesn’t take more chances on the whole.”
The historic relationship between the LGBT community and clubbing has been well documented. But I wonder why the relationship is so intimate between the two? Why does the gay community constitute and as well as require club culture?
“Club culture has been intertwined with gay culture from the 60s/70 and even before that because clubs allowed our community to have freedom of expression in a way that they couldn’t in public. Homosexuality was only partially decriminalised in 1967 and for years afterwards men were still being locked up for public displays of affection. From London to Paris to New York, club culture became a home from home, a safe space for affection and understanding from peers. The clubs were also a key media source of uncovering major new music and art forms due to the community being more open minded than the mainstream.”
Disco and house are, essentially, queer genres of music. Where does your R’n’B sound fit in? Do you think it takes on a queer identity?
“My goodness R’n’B is a starter, main course and dessert of love and loss of love that in itself puts it at the heart of queer music. Disco and House are heavily influenced by the power house vocals of gospel music which brings us back to R’n’B such as Aretha, Gladys, Chaka, Whitney, Marvin, Otis, Michael, Prince, Maxwell, Erykah, Usher, Destiny Child, Beyoncé and I could go on! Irrespective of sexuality most people have had a hair brush moment when an R’n’B song describes what they’re going through at that moment in time within 4 minutes accompanied by an epic beat.”
How do you feel about using Wire, a “straight” club that some people may be afraid to frequent? Why did you choose it? And how are you going to make it your own on the night?
“Yes Wire could be defined as a straight venue and that’s only because there hasn’t been that appeal or pull for the LGBTQ community to attend en masse. I choose Wire because it’s about the best music from the underground scene. It isn’t about focussing on the middle, although that can be fun at times. I think the LGBTQ community is always on the zeitgeist of what’s happening next because we are so creative and forward thinking and Wire’s music policy works within this same ethos. I’d add, I know It can be difficult trying something new but do not be reluctant to attend R’n’B With Edges at Wire. Myself and the Wire team want you to love music as much as we do. We want you come with your boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other or friends and dress and dance exactly in whatever way you feel without feeling that you’re being judged or having to change your behaviour to fit in.”
What other events and projects are you involved in?
“As mentioned I also created and managed Be Outspoken an Official Leeds Pride event which was very successful in addition to DJing the bar at Love Muscle which I love and get so much love from the crowd for. Previously R’n’B With Edges has been successfully held at Queens Court and for Leeds Pride in 2016 I did a one off pop up special of the night at Mission which also went wonderfully where along with our R’n’B we served food by Reds Barbecue and Bar Soba to LGBT clubbers wanting something a bit different. For the future I’d love to continue to grow R’n’B With Edges and Be Outspoken under the BELGBTQ brand.”
How have punters responded to your events? What positive impact has it had?
Generally punters have said they “think the night is superb and why has this only just been thought of now?” They also think it’s “great just for being a bit different.” People within the community have also said how much they adore R’n’B and have always wanted a night like this that doesn’t conform to any potential negativities. Yes we can love pop, drag and karaoke but there is always room for more diversity.
Do you think something needs to be done about the number of LGBTQ DJs on the circuit?
“100% the situation needs improving. When I’m talking to people about the night I always say if you have an idea for a club night as an LGBTQ person please give it a go, we need you. We need people in my community to take that freedom of expression ethos and to take a chance. I hope that more LGBTQ DJ’s gain the confidence to just launch nights. Yes it can be scary when you’re trying something new but we’re only here once (that we know of) so go for it!”
Like the BE LGBTQ page, click here.