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Wild nights

For better or worse, gay life is ditching the bars
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  August 31, 2009

I don't need to break this news to you returning LGTBTQ-folk (from here on referred to as "gayses" for the sake of my copy editors), but for those of you just joining us in Boston, a bitter little amuse bouche to start off this otherwise super-tasty survey of our current gay-nightlife situation: our gay bars kind of suck.

That's not even a "someone had to say it" kind of comment. I hear it more often than I hear "Believe." Around here, that's saying a lot — and therein lies a big part of the problem. I once took a visiting friend out to see the bears at the Alley and had to give him a pathetic "don't look at me" look when an endless trance remix of "Enter Sandman" came on and stayed on. For me — as I'm sure for any gayses who only have their tolerance tested when awful records come on — I came to the city for a shame-free existence; this is deeply betrayed every time I hear Stevie Nicks's shawl getting caught and torn up in the gears of hi-energy house music.

Local queer DJ, deep-disco enthusiast, impresario, and chatterbox (at my prompting) Joseph Colbourne was presented with a similar rant last week over the phone, and responded with the kind of unwavering forward thinking that has recently re-energized local homosocializing: "There's an obvious divide in Boston," he says. "There are people who want to keep it safe, mainstream, and accessible, and there's another population that wants to create the culture all over again, from the ground up."

Girl ain't lying. In fact, that growing latter faction he speaks of is responsible for a serious boom in a wide variety of all-inclusive dance parties and club nights for gayses who, really, just want to go out, bump into each other, bat lashes, and hear some decent music for once. It's turned into something of a renaissance; thing is, none of it is happening in the gay bars.

"Twenty, 25 years ago, when people went to the bars and the clubs, it was about the music," Colbourne says, quick to patch an obvious hole in his claim, "I'm not saying there wasn't sex and drugs happening, but musical culture and gay culture were a lot more intertwined. I don't feel like that's been the case for at least 15 years. Some of the DJs in mainstream clubs don't even know what they're playing."

Colbourne — archival boogie's fiercest local advocate — has recently manned the decks for new parties like CONTACT (first Tuesdays at ZuZu) and GROUP HUG (last Sundays at Enormous Room) and, on September 30, will spin the inaugural installment of THEREALSIDE at the Milky Way. While he takes a firm, curatorial approach to his playlists (usually a mix of forgotten disco, early house, and a couple decades worth of rare R&B), and though he's not likely to honor requests (keep that Mariah kick you're on to yourself), Colbourne prides himself in dropping the oft-hazardous niche-iness of his tastes in favor of a more party-pampering M.O.

"The more I do this, the more I wanted to understand what gays in the city want to hear," says Colbourne. To this end, he's embarked on research junkets through Boston's more macro gay nights (like HOT MESS SUNDAYS at Underbar, GLAMOROUS THURSDAYS at Estate, and EPIC SATURDAYS at the Roxy), watched the floor carefully at his own throwdowns, and developed a dance-floor sensibility that deftly dovetails, say, Roy Ayers with Donna Summer. "You have to be able to relate to your audience."

Under this mantra, Colbourne and other go-getter DJs and promoters like him are taking up a mission that has been long neglected by our bars: that of creating and renewing queer culture rather than just recycling and rehashing it — and if Boston's gay establishments are resistant to re-assess their relationship to a new generation of gayses, curious "straight" venues are happily getting in on the action. (Let's just call it recruiting.)

In Cambridge, Zuzu (the lounge outpost of the Middle East in Central Square) has teamed with Queer Collab Boston — a collective helmed by Truth Serum's Aliza Shapiro, and DJs D'hana (resident of the long-standing Midway queer/trans bash THE NEIGHBORHOOD), Lone Wolf (formerly of WMBR's Todo Mundo), and Rizzla (of the Milky Way's KIKI night) — to launch a series of regular queer Tuesdays. On September 8, D'hana and Rizzla host NU LIFE; September 15 finds another installment of TUSH — a mix of DJs and live acts; and the last Tuesday of every month is reliably FRUITCAKE, an uber-chummy dance party thrown by DJs Caitlin and Annie.

The night formerly known as REVIVAL at the nearby Middlesex will re-debut as TRADE — another dope D'hana-and-Rizzla affair. Final Sundays at the Enormous Room find GROUP HUG hogging the whole day, as the weekend's only "afternoon tea dance for rad gays" (DJ'd — full disclosure — by yours truly and Nathanael Bluhm of local disco-pop juggernaut Mystery Roar).

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Related: Fall Circuitry, Disco lives!, Boston's Best City Life 2009, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Entertainment, Nightlife, Donna Summer,  More more >
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