Conjuring Up The Club
How do we fill the space the dance floor left behind? Well, grab the glitter and turn up the bass.
Earlier this year, Michael and I went to Party/After-Party, a sound installation by the legendary Detroit-based techno maestro Carl Craig in the cavernous basement of Dia Beacon.
We had hiked nearby first and looked like it, all uncool-but-warm athleisure and sweat. We started to descend into the darkness, the familiar thumping of bass getting louder with every step. Immediately, embarrassingly, I burst into tears.
Plenty of hobbies have been lost to the pandemic: playing team sports, hosting dinner parties, going to the movies. But if I could do anything safely tomorrow, I’d be back in the club.
In another life, by which I mean up until early 2020, I went out to dance almost every weekend. There’s innate appeal in losing yourself on a dance floor, especially for a generation obsessed with disassociation. I don’t consider myself to be a good dancer, but it doesn’t matter. The steady beat of house and techno provides a framework for repetitive movement that leads to freedom, and a good setlist is more transportive than any substance. For me, it’s a space to play like we did as kids—engaging in imaginative, unserious action without overthinking (or even thinking much at all).
This concept of nightlife-as-play was the core of a recent conversation with my friend MI Leggett, an artist and fashion designer whose gender-free clothing line Official Rebrand is great for the club (and everywhere else). They took Michael and I out in Berlin the first night we met, and it’s been a foundational part of our friendship and individual creative processes ever since. We both keep lists of ideas sparked on the dance floor somewhere in our Notes apps, and have spent the past year searching for alternative trapdoors into that free-flowing headspace.
“Normally, my play time was going to a nightclub and dancing a lot—really playing on the dance floor, and letting myself be really silly in that space. It’s not my typical medium or platform, so it loosens up space for creativity,” says MI. “When you’re not asking ‘what do I have to be doing next,’ things can pop into your head.”
The music community’s transition into the digital space has been seriously impressive, and it’s still possible to find the transportive thrill of listening to a really good set. I’ve tuned into live streams on The Lot Radio and Twitch, traded gifs with friends in the Nowadays livestream chat, even “attended” a Minecraft music festival. But other sensations are harder to replicate. Especially for queer folks like myself and BIPOC, the club is an opportunity for self-determination and community, a space to try on identities and escape into fantasy. Zoom clubs like Club Quarantine harness computer cameras to mimic the experience, but at least for me, there’s no substitute for foggy physical spaces where you can bump into longtime friends and make new ones, bonding over proximity and glitter and the last set.
The rapidly increasing availability of vaccines makes me hopeful that we can return to outdoor dance floors this summer. But in the meantime, I’m still searching for ways to replicate the sensation of free-flowing play. So I reached out to some of my most dance floor-focused friends to chase down some jumping off points.
First, obviously: Music
You already know that I love a good playlist. But when I’m chasing the vibe of being along for someone else’s ride in a crowded room, I turn to full sets. Recordings of live shows are a fun way to reminisce about the communal experience: enthusiastic cheers, sweaty bodies, occasionally weird people lingering by the DJ. Boiler Room is a classic for a reason: Jytoy’s London set is everything I want for summer 2021, and The Black Madonna b2b Mike Servito never misses.
There are other ways to mimic the IRL experience. I Miss My Bar is a slightly depressing, very genius website that deals in ambience—specifically, the many sounds of a packed bar. Created by René Cárdenas and Oscar Romo, it plays the hits: “people talking” (note: en español), “bartender working,” “rain on window,” etc. Think of it like white noise for nostalgic extroverts, or maybe introverts who like to be alone in public. I dial up “serving drinks” and “full room” to set the mood before plugging into a music-focused newsletter.
One of my favorites is In Your Dirty Ears, an always-excellent weekly compilation of one-off tracks and extended mixes from Amelia Holt, Sara Casella, and my friend Yumiko Mannarelli. It evolved out of their group chat conversations around Bandcamp Fridays, a monthly event where Bandcamp waives their fees so artists/labels receive 100% of revenue (compared to ~82% of profits every other day, which is still infinitely better than Spotify/Apple Music). Each installment of In Your Dirty Ears is heavy on Bandcamp links, encouraging readers to buy the songs they like to put more money in the pockets of artists (not streaming services.) You can use Buy Music Club to turn Bandcamp tracks into playlists, which was created by incredible DJ/software engineer Avalon Emerson
“For me, the club is about the idea of reciprocity. You’re giving energy, the DJ gives amazing sound, the light person is setting the vibe—everyone is adding to collective energy,” says Yumiko. “Sharing and amplifying artists’ digital and physical releases, especially through Bandcamp and Twitch streams, is how that energy and reciprocity has transferred into this pandemic age.”
Here are some of Yumiko’s recommendations for plugging into the virtual community space:
Live at the Proxy (you can often catch Yumiko on this one!)
Compilations featuring a wide range of all-star musicians
Live at the Proxy: 23 tracks from an international lineup. (Feb 11, 2021)
World Wide Window: 56 tracks fundraising for the Red Cross. (April 8, 2020)
Haus of Altr: 24 tracks “marching towards a future of unabashed black electronic expression.” (September 4, 2020)
Physically Sick: 27 tracks from Discwoman and Allergy Season “raising money for Equality For Flatbush, an organization that has been fighting racist police abuse and gentrification since 2013.” (July 2, 2020)
Chroma: 19 tracks from WOC raising money for Equality for Flatbush, Undocu Workers Fund, The Movement for Black Lives Fund, and Black Trans Femmes in the Arts. (June 5, 2020)
Grief into Rage: a compilation for Beirut: 36 tracks raising money for the Lebanese Red Cross and the Beirut Musicians' Fund. (August 29, 2020)
Against Police Brutality: 11 tracks raising money for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and National Bail Out. (June 19, 2020)
Still turn a look
Who needs an excuse to get all dressed up? Not Mi-Anne Chan. Her makeup is a vision in Technicolor, and my personal motivation to reach for my glitter before heading to the grocery store.
“One of the things I really love about wearing the makeup during the pandemic is that I’m able to talk to strangers,” Mi-Anne says. “But wearing makeup and peacocking in your outfit is such a big part of the nightlife experience. If I'm going to House of Yes, I’m doing a crazy eye with glitter and rhinestones because I know I'm going to have a dope conversation about it when I go there. I think about those moments a lot. There’s a special feeling of solidarity when everyone around you is also wearing crazy makeup. You feel this energy that's vibrating through everyone.”
Most of the tripped-out looks studding my Instagram feed (and probably yours too) enlist water-activated, skin-friendly paint palettes like Claropsyche Sketch Paint (Mi-Anne’s go to) and Cakeliners. But my skill level is far from effortless, painterly territory, so I asked Mi-Anne for her simplest tips to go beyond the beige:
“The first colorful thing I ever did beyond a Naked Palette bronzed eye was a colorful under eye inspired by a look from Patrick Ta. Get a bunch of colorful pencils and liquid liners: Colourpop or NYX liquid brights are a good option, Kat von D makes brow pomades that I use as gel liners. Let’s say you’re doing a neutral cat eye on the top. All you do is swipe the colorful liner on the bottom and it'll have a lot of impact, but it won’t look like you did a pastel rainbow sunset eye.
Washes of pastel color with a lot of mascara is another way to go. I think a pastel purple or pink all over your lid with a little shimmer can almost veer into neutral territory.
Something important: Understand your eye and face shape! I used to try and copy something Katie Jane Hughes did and it wouldn’t look good on me because I was trying to copy it exactly. Understanding where my crease was and where I like color helped me figure out how to take inspiration from looks.
I usually plan my outfit and then the makeup look, so it’s not too much together. I really like a metallic blue smokey eye with a red lip, very similar to Rihanna’s Wild Thoughts look. And also I have a shag now, so I think it’ll really work with the look. I’ll probably wear that with this blue qipao halter top and cow print pants. But who can ever be sure?”
Get other activities into the mix
“I am reading up on blog posts and watching YouTube videos about the birth of the techno scene in Detroit. It helps me feel more connected to some of my fave deep cuts, and also knowledge is power,” says Sam Asher. We met at Resident Advisor’s first NYC 24/7 party, and she’s always the first person to text me about a just-announced show. Her recs include: the documentary High Tech Soul, a profile of Yvonne Turner, the Dummy guide to Detroit techno, and Mike Bredy’s TikTok guide to classic house dance steps.
In addition to making my way through all of the above, I’m channeling any energy I can into attending the amazing Hilary Cadigan’s weekly Zoom dance classes. The vibe is high energy but low stakes, which is exactly what I need right now. And in the meantime, I’ll keep searching for other ways to be playful too.
That’s all for this week. My brain is 50% summer daydreams right now, so I want to know: Are there any warm weather activities you’d like me to cover? Think: picnics, lawn games, beach days… Send me your thoughts 🌺