With nationwide marriage equality finally in the bag, America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer movement continues to push our country to change for the better and make history. A part of history that the LGBTQ community should be especially proud of is how gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender folks, and queers essentially formulated dance music and helped popularize the genre from its inception in the U.S. and around the world. It’s time to explore the meaningful origins and history of the music that we’ve come to love and enjoy so profoundly today.
House music and dance club culture has undeniable roots in the LGBTQ community starting from the 1970s. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities have had a huge influence in the development of dance music’s sound, atmosphere, and culture, which must be acknowledged by those of us that take part in it and wholly embrace it today. We must understand the intentions of the originators of the genre and give credit where credit is due which will allow us to clearly see why homophobia, racism, and hate have no place in the dance music community.
The origins of dance music can be traced all the way back to the 70s when disco was emerging as a sound. A well-known gentleman named David Mancuso regularly played records for his friends at his house in the Lower East Side of New York City and this evolved into the legendary invitation-only underground dance parties at The Loft. These private loft parties acted as a hub and safe space for many gays and people of alternative gender-expressions in New York City at the time. These immensely popular private parties became the blueprint for legendary discotheques and DJ culture, such as the Paradise Garage with resident DJ Larry Levan and Studio 54 with resident DJ Nicky Siano. Other influences to dance music included the illustrious drag balls in which cross-dressing and transgender people, many of whom were racial minorities, revolutionized dance music through vogueing and high intensity dance and performance tracks.
Through the creation of underground spaces and events in which racial minorities, gays, and transgender individuals wouldn’t be harassed, the LGBTQ community and their DJs established the precedence of what dance music would later become.
In the late 1970s, Frankie Knuckles, “The Godfather of House Music” who used to play in the gay Continental Baths with Larry Levan, relocated to Chicago to become the resident DJ at The Warehouse. From there Knuckles and his contemporaries developed Chicago House, an innovative mix of disco, soul, electro-pop, hip-hop and other styles, that was primarily created and played for black and LGBTQ audiences. Chicago House became incredibly popular throughout the 1980s and its DJs were invited to play shows and popularize the genre in Europe, where derivative styles such as Acid House in the U.K. took root.
As house music spread internationally throughout both sides of the Atlantic, raves and electronic dance music became more mainstream and started attracting more straight, white, and middle class audiences. Today we can see that house and electronic dance music has become exponentially bigger than the underground parties from which it gained its roots, and its popularity is no longer limited to LGBTQ communities.
The aforementioned history is a summarization of Luis Manuel-Garcia’s amazing, comprehensive research into “An Alternate History of Sexuality in Club Culture,” the article which you can read in its entirety here (http://www.residentadvisor.net/feature.aspx?1927). Of course this LGBTQ history is not the exhaustive, comprehensive back story to dance music but it is obviously crucial to acknowledge.
Gay, lesbian, transgender, drag queens, and queer people organized raves, balls, and dance parties as places where they could celebrate their identities and gain recognition, away from the rejection and scorn they received in day-to-day life from mainstream society. The dance music scene was created in order to provide a space in which individuals who were “different” could be themselves, have fun, and be part of an accepting community. The uplifting, euphoric beats and melodies of the music itself, which we revel in, originated from the desire to escape the struggles people faced in real life and such music transformed into a meaningful outlet for marginalized individuals. House and electronic dance music continues to serve this function for numerous people today. It would be profoundly wrong to deny recognition of the influence these cultures have had because it is thanks to these innovative pioneers that we are able to enjoy what dance music is today.
The reason Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect has always been a mantra of dance music is because these spaces were radical, sacred places where many individuals sought safety, acceptance, and community in a world that was often hostile and intolerant to their identities. Every time you say a homophobic slur or reject the company of gay people at an event, this intolerance goes against everything that dance music stands for and was founded upon, and it has no place in the dance music community or anywhere else for that matter. Respect of different identities needs to extend not only to LGBTQ individuals but to all minorities of difference races and cultures.
Don’t yell things like “Fag!” or “Dude that’s so gay!” regardless of whether you’re accepting of gay people or not, because those are the types of things that create a hostile and uncomfortable environment for non-straight people to be in. Don’t wear a headdress or a bindi or anything else that may possibly offend ethnic and indigenous cultures, and don’t use racial or misogynistic slurs. If we truly want to uphold the values of peace, love, unity, and respect we need to think about people other than ourselves and consider how our intentions and actions may harm anyone we come into contact with throughout our lives.
Every time you go to a festival or a dance music event, you have to go with an open mind and readiness to see and accept all kinds of people of different sexualities, genders, and cultures that you’ve never interacted with before. Creating an environment in which anyone can feel safe to be and express who they are freely is what the original dance music scene was about and it’s up to us to promote and expand this mission in the current dance music community and all other spaces in our lives.
Countless people already find happiness and solace at raves and music festivals due to the kindness and kinship that the electronic dance music community fosters. Let us remember the valuable influences, past and present, which allow us to enjoy and live this musical genre and let’s continue to create a world in which anyone and everyone can be happy, accepted and most importantly, themselves.