The Black Party :: Playing into the 21st Century
Every year after the President’s Day weekend, the Saint-at-Large (and before it, the Saint) gives the "gay equivalent" of the smoke appearing out of the roof from the Vatican to indicate a new pope has been anointed. The DJ roster for the Black Party is not only an even more closely guarded secret, but the deliberations leading up the selection is even more shrouded in secrecy.
Every year, "Saintologists" pick apart the DJ lineup with more analysis than any College of Cardinals watchers. The response to this year’s line-up, however, produced even more head scratching than usual.
Typical was this comment on a Facebook group of party veterans: "And the BP balcony DJs are chosen! Bringing the grand total to 9 DJs. I wonder if they will have a coat check DJ and bathroom DJ."
Remember, this is a party that for several of its 35 years had one - count ’em, one, DJ. Then there were two. Then for several years, three ¬¬- but nine? And none of them "Circuit DJs"?!?
It’s all part of a master plan by Stephen Pevner, the impresario behind the Black Party, to bring the gay club scene kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
"Circuit music is dead," Pevner said. "It doesn’t create excitement. These parties employ these names. Gay DJs are cheaper than mainstream ones. The promoters think that they need them."
Pevner has always been fascinated and motivated by Montreal’s massive October Black & Blue Festival and the city’s club scene in general. You can expect some U.S. clubs, despite a few DJ names like Victor Calderone, to still pretty much self-segregate by sexual orientation. Pevner and others (including, I confess, myself) see this as the last gasp of the post-Stonewall generation.
The Sounds of the Time
Today’s younger club-goers not only don’t mind dancing cheek-to-jowl gay-straight, male-female, they come out early, are accepted by their peers and see partying separately as antiquated as the Jim Crow South.
So if the U.S. club scene represents the past, Montreal points the way to the future. Events like Black & Blue and Divers/cite seamlessly blend gay and straight crowds and dance floor cultures, as do the clubs.
Another important factor for Pevner is that "Circuit music" - hands-in-the-air diva anthems leading into a HiNRG set and ending with the traditional morning music of EMO romantic longing at much slower BPMs - is not only tired, it’s not what most people (at least younger people) want to hear on the dance floor.
Let’s face it: EDM has become ubiquitous. Time was when I could discern the sexual identity of the driver of a passing car by the music blasting from his car stereo. Nowadays, it’s as difficult to use gaydar based on music as it is from body type, clothing or grooming. And Black & Blue has always had a long roster of DJs, with changeover every few hours.
"I’ve taken the lead," Pevner said, "that Black & Blue" - an AIDS fund-raiser that has long been roughly 50-50 gay-straight - "uses more progressive DJs so the crowd gets used to a freshness, a reawakening. When you had three DJs each playing six-hour sets, any difference was lost at the Black Party."
Taking You on the Journey...
There are other factors at work in Pevner’s determination to redirect the gay party ethos from the all-night "journey" to more bite-sized sets. "People’s attention spans are shorter these days," he said. And DJs are no longer mere "remixologists" whose main job consists in beat-mixing from one song to the next.
Any DJ who wants to establish a following had better be as hard at work in the studio as in the DJ booth. Sampling a song, weaving a few bars in and out of various sound effects, mash-ups and pre-produced mixes have become the norm. That means the DJ is working a lot harder.
"The intensity of their mixing is different," Pevner said. "You go to clubs in Europe" - especially Berlin, Pevner’s second home-away-from-home, "they all play three hours."
The roster of DJs spinning the Black Party is truly international - perhaps one of the most so of any party: Jason Kendig, the opener, is based in San Francisco; nd_baumecker, who gets the peak-hour spot, is from Berlin; Boris, who will transition into the morning, is a New Yorker; Tom Stephan, who will do the mid-morning set, works out of London; and Nita Aviance, mid-morning to 3 p.m., is another New Yorker.
In a gesture to traditionalists - this is the last Black Party at Roseland, after all - Robbie Leslie will close. Although he now lives in Ft. Lauderdale, Leslie cut his DJ teeth on Fire Island and in New York clubs of the 1980s, including the Saint. Leslie is definitely Old Skool, as is Sharon White, another Saint veteran, who will be spinning in the balcony from 10 a.m. until close.
Does this mean that this year’s Black Party is going to become as integrated as Montreal’s Stereo or Berlin’s Berghain? Not to worry: Although the Black Party for some years past has been welcoming to women and straight couples, they will most assuredly remain a tiny sector of the attendees.
Because some traditions are worth upholding.