Nivetha Tilakkumar, Communications and Engagement Officer at LEEDS 2023, writes about her experiences of club culture in the city and how these spaces helped her realise her place within queer and ethnic minority communities.
Club culture often has a bad rep. I understand why when most of my student years, clubbing was always a blur and all I have are hazy memories of various clubs in the city centre or warehouses on the outskirts of Leeds. But as the years went by, I entered certain spaces that made me feel that there was more to club culture than dressing up and drinking. It was in these spaces that I found a second home on the dancefloor.
It’s no secret that I moved to Leeds when I was 19 because I heard the nightlife in the city was where it’s at and so, I spent a lot of my time going to as many nights out as possible. But I’d always felt that the clubs I was going to did not accommodate people like me. It was in 2018 when I met other non-white creatives that I was opened to a world of alternative club culture or, rather, club subculture.
2018 was a big year for me. It was when I had begun to establish myself in creative scenes as a poet and a chef. It was the year that I stepped into my queer sexuality. It was the year that I surrounded myself with people that looked like me and could relate to my life which shaped my clubbing experiences.
I still remember the first time I went to Love Muscle, a queer inclusive party in Leeds, which is held at Wharf Chambers. I remember the process of dressing up and trying to dig out the most extravagantly queer outfit I could find in my wardrobe, the moment of walking onto the dancefloor and being asked to cover my phone camera to protect those around me, the pumping bassline that everyone moved their bodies to in perfect unison. I had never been to a party like this before and over the years, Love Muscle has only strived to become more inclusive to represent the people of colour (PoC) and trans people in our community.
This is nothing new to Leeds club culture either. Suzy Mason and Kas Shaw founded the night SpeedQueen in the early nineties which sought to break boundaries and enact radical change through the subversive, queer nature of the night. The legacy of these nights lives on and has influenced much of club subcultures that we see in Leeds today. Suzy is one of our commissioned artists and is currently working on documenting and archiving footage from these nights to give voice to the hidden stories of marginalised people who are so often left out in club documentation.
For the last few years, I have been drawn to the nights that provide a safer space for PoC and queer people. Race Zine, a collective for ethnic minorities founded in the North, was one of the first parties I went to which held such a special space for PoC. It took inspiration from Detroit and New York ballroom culture in the 70s and 80s to create a haven for people within the community to enjoy.
Race Zine was just one collective that hosted this space for the community. Notable nights in Leeds have been Flesh in Tension, with one of the founders being another LEEDS 2023 commissioned artist named Sayang, and RAT party – a collective that hosts parties for queer communities. RAT party especially holds a special place in my heart as it’s one that I have seen grow from its roots. They have worked with Sable Radio, Love Muscle and now have a bimonthly residency at Eiger Studios where their parties attract people who come together to dance with their communities.
Most recently, my favourite parties have been the Sable Radio outdoor parties because no matter what the weather, people will turn out to have a dance. It always feels like I’m going to a family member’s party when I go because it’s one of those spaces that is so welcoming and comforting even if you turn up on your own. There’s always a food stall, cheap drinks, and as ever the best music that will make you want to move. It offers an alternative to what people think clubbing is as usually the party’s over at 1am at which point, people move to another motive. But what it provides is a clubbing experience that is so wholesome, fun and energetic that I eagerly wait for the next time it comes round.
Sable Radio are also collaborating with Transform Festival to bring ‘A Soft Rapture’ on Friday 1st April to change the traditional club space into something other-worldly, alternative and inclusive. Bringing in some of their resident DJs like Marjai and Luscious, this party will be one that will have people rushing to the dancefloor.
I’ve found these queer and PoC club nights to be the places where I feel most at home. In the past I have been in queer spaces that don’t accept my brownness, or I’ve been in PoC spaces that reject my queerness but the nights I have discovered in my early twenties have made me realise that there is a space for people like me. They are intersectional club nights that encompass marginalised lives and hold a space for us to celebrate our interests, our culture and our identities. These club spaces provide a home for people who may have felt out of place in other mainstream clubbing environments.
People sometimes find it funny when I say that I’ve had a wholesome weekend clubbing but most of the time, it is wholesome. I get to go out at night with the people I’ve chosen as my second family, and I get to truly be myself with them. I go back to my first statement: club culture often has a bad rep. It’s not seen as ‘real’ culture because it’s not something so visual like art or theatre. But it is an experience and that’s the purpose of culture. Culture makes us feel and these club subcultures do just that. They are inspiring and bounding, euphoric and vibrant, alive and thriving for the communities that need them to feel free.