Why Gay Dancers Are Attending Rave Parties
Written by Scott Kearnan
Today, music and DJs appeal alike to gay and straight listeners. As young Americans come to accept gay men as part of the scene, more and more of us feel comfortable at raves. Is it the “death” of Circuit parties — or have they assimilated into the mainstream?
Peace, love, unity, and respect: together they form PLUR, an acronym that became the defining motto of the rave scene in the ‘90s. Sure, a lot has changed in the party world since the days when NYC club kids were rolling (often literally) out from under the shadows of the dance community and onto daytime talk shows. Even the word “rave” is used less often, as parties become bigger, more visible, and less underground.
Call them whatever you want: huge dance festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) are clearly the next evolutionary step in rave culture. So it makes sense that the same progressive, PLUR-style philosophy has turned them into non-gay-specific events that are beginning to attract more and more gay partiers among the colorful crowd.
“Real ravers are all about the peace and love thing. They’re like neon-colored hippies,” says David Bond, a gay Los Angeles college student and music writer for Soundbleed.com. The inclusive sense of community is a big part of why he’s partied at events like EDC and HARD, another huge, mixed electronic music fest where he remembers snapping photos of kissing gay couples (among other partiers) for the site. “It’s all about enjoying ourselves and being around people who love the same music. I wouldn’t say rave culture is outright embracing gays specifically, just everyone in general. It’s a lot different than going out to clubs in West Hollywood where it’s strictly gay men and women around. At a rave you deal with people of all walks, but it’s by no means uncomfortable to be out and proud.”
Parties like these have become so large they’re bound to represent different diversities. Take EDC, which launched in 1997 and has grown exponentially. The 2010 installment drew 185,000 attendees to Los Angeles, making it the largest electronic music festival outside Europe. Major DJs like Deadmau5, Armand Van Helden and Sasha took to the stage over two days and five different stages.
The sheer number of huge, mixed events is growing, too. Another hot ticket is Electric Zoo, a Labor Day weekend party that launched in 2009 and feels like an East Coast answer to EDC. This NYC massive is growing fast: it had around 26,000 attendees over the course of its inaugural weekend, but last year numbered nearly the same per day. In 2011, it will expand to three days.
Rave Promoters Now Court Gay Partiers
So expect that the gay crowd will continue to grow, too – and not just as some proportional accident. Refreshingly, many promoters of these events are actively inviting the gay community. “The dance music scene is first and foremost about people coming together to hear music that they love, and to dance to it. Acceptance and being yourself has been the cornerstone of dance music since its origin,” says Laura de Palma, cofounder of Made Event, which produces Zoo. She saw an organic growth in gay attendees between the first two years of the event, but with 2011, “We want to clearly get the word out in the gay community that Electric Zoo is the place to be on Labor Day Weekend!”
Why are these huge mixed events becoming more popular with gay partiers? The obvious answer is that the gay community has become more embraced by the larger culture in general over the years. We’re no longer in a position where we need to feel relegated only to No Straights Allowed-style Circuit parties. Now, if the music’s good and loud, we’ll go.
But look in the crowd at events like, say, EDC — where plenty of sweaty, half-naked torsos are covered in costumes, candy jewelry and glitter — and it’s obvious that the style of an old-school rave still shines through. So too, naturally, does that PLUR mentality that has always seemed to welcome gays to the proverbial party.
“For me, being at a rave was almost as comfortable as being at a gay club in terms of dancing or kissing another guy on the dance floor,” says Terry Estok. The gay Bostonian has been going to raves and parties like Electric Zoo, Ultra in Miami and Love Parade in San Francisco since his teens. He’s in his early 30s now, and finds that, “for the most part the PLUR manifesto still stands true today. People went to raves to get out of the norm, be different and be yourself. For me, being gay in the rave scene was never an issue, and I know plenty of other queer men and women that feel the same way.”
The scene looks just as mixed from the stage. DJs and performers we spoke to agree that massive, rave-style events are definitely drawing an increasing mix of gay and straight crowds. And again, they point to a mutual attraction to the music as the unifying force: “Maybe five or seven years ago, it was more separate. But as electronic music keeps slowly creeping into the mainstream, it brings more and more people together,” says JES (a/k/a Jes Brieden), a singer/songwriter who frequently collaborates with DJs like Tiësto and BT and regularly performs at huge global parties. But she’s also a popular Pride performer, and recently launched her “Awaken Campaign” to bring attention to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, among other organizations.
JES believes that there’s an inherent universality to the music that helps make these shows melting pots. “It’s a different kind of audience,” she says. “The crowds are all about peace, love, happiness and beats forever.” They seem even more mixed internationally than in the states, she adds.
Gay DJ/producer Hector Fonseca agrees. And he thinks that seeing the gay and straight crowds embrace enhances the overall experience and leads to more “sophisticated” parties. “The crowd is educated more than ever, I think, because they go to both straight and gay events and are able to mix with different scenes,” he says. He’s been seeing more diverse crowds at Winter Party and Matinee events, for example. “I could tell it was a mixed crowd united there for an overall, well-produced event,” he says. “There is definitely a new appreciation and excitement.”
Partying Responsibly — Or Not
That’s not to say it’s a total utopia. As huge, rave-style festivals grow in number, so do the requisite douchebags. (“As the events get bigger, there’s always the obnoxious few who drop the F-bomb,” observes Bond.) And though some ravers have added a second “R” to PLURR over the years (for “responsibility”), other ravers, like Estok, wonder if drugs aren’t becoming even more prevalent. In fact, a controversy erupted last year when a teenage girl died after overdosing on ecstasy at EDC. It led to a temporary ban on raves at the event’s longtime L.A. venue, and seems to have contributed to the EDC’s migration to Las Vegas. (The bad publicity seems to have made EDC press shy as well: No one responded to repeated attempts by noiZe for an interview.) Fonseca hopes that these big festivals will start to incorporate more gay DJs, artists — and social issues — to the mix.
Still, the crosscutting appeal of rave culture makes it an increasingly appealing choice for gay partiers. “These festivals have a huge potential to unite people from all backgrounds around the world,” says Fonseca. To unite, that is, in peace, love and respect. And, of course, the beat.
Electric DAISY 2011
Orlando May 27-28
Denver June 11
Dallas June 18
Las Vegas June 24-26
Puerto Rico August 27
Electric Zoo 2011
New York September 2-4
I recently moved from a relatively small city (Pittsburgh) to a pretty large city (San Francisco). I would say that I am pretty new to the dance party scene, only really getting into it over the last 8 months. However, I have made it a habit to go to not only gay dance parties and the gay scene but also the “Straight” raves and dance clubs. I loved reading this article because I wasn’t really aware of the issue. I think that says a lot, as a new generation of party goers I didn’t feel the stigma of going to a mixed crowd dance party with my partner. In fact, I would say that I preferred it. The crowd was more open and friendly than the gay parties I had been to, it didn’t have so much of the “meat market” feel that gay parties can produce and I have walked away from each one having had a great time. Maybe its the fact that they are mostly burning man camp parties but the diversity is just way more intriguing.
If I had one complaint, I wish that the straights could learn to dance a little better and some general dance floor etiquette would be nice.
By Joseph on 05-19-2011
I love my gay boyz and going out to some circuit parties, but EDC blew any gay party out of the water. EDC and Electric are far better when it comes to production and MUSIC. For some reason gay DJ’s are playing all the same crap and new talent needs to come in and replace such likes as Tony Moran, Brett Henrichson, Gay DJ’s will never work at such events as EDC or Ultra till they stop playing the vocal crap. Sorry but it seems like Circuit parties are the past and Big Music festivals are now taking over my spending.
By Brian on 05-20-2011
I think its great that gays and straights can now party happily together… it speaks waves about how far we’ve come as a wider society… (Europeans have been doing this for years - just go to any so-called ‘straight’ club in London, Berlin or Prague…)
But I don’t think gays-going-to-mixed-parties here is the end of the circuit party… there will always be something unique about a collective of men of the same sexuality…
However, I have to agree with Brian about the quality of of the production and most importantly the MUSIC at straight events… I’m bored of listening to the same mediocre remixes of top 40 pop starlets at gay circuit parties… And much prefer the original creative offerings put out at mixed house events… Gay party promoters and DJs need to step it up and lead the way once more!
By Handsprings on 09-20-2011
I couldn’t agree more with this article and the comments that followed. I too have pretty much abandoned the circuit for these bigger and better “straight” events - and I’m not alone. The staging and production is 10x more impressive, the people are more friendly (including a significant gay contingent), and the music far more modern and diverse. There’s such an amazing amount of great house music out there: trance, house, deep house, progressive, techno, tech house, D&B, etc., yet the circuit crowd is still stuck in the top 40/tribal rut, and unaware of the music outside their bubble. It’s amazing how many circuit boys are so passionate about dance music, yet know nothing about it, having never heard of Kaskade, Armin van Buuren, Above & Beyond, Markus Schulz, and other giants in the EDM world.
Brian is right - the gay DJs won’t get work at EDC and other big EDM festivals if they continue to play top 40 remixes. People go to these events to escape the overplayed crap, and to hear something new and refreshing.
By Paul on 11-09-2011
Ralphi is probably the only legendary DJ the gays have so it’s great that you guys have profiled him finally. I hate to be a school ma’am and correct you, but you’re a magazine devoted to the dance music scene so you should know this stuff: Ralphi was part of the Hot Mix Five, not the Hit Mix Five. Also trance started in Germany not Detroit. Techno started in Detroit.
By Paul on 12-07-2012