Gay dance culture in London owes a lot to the work of Horse Meat Disco. Before their residency at Eagle, the gay scene in the capital was disparate and tribal, yet through the power of disco they unified and celebrated all that’s good about the diversity of London nightlife. What has made Horse Meat Disco so successful is their ability to transcend gender, sexuality, race and religion, and create a safe space for anyone to enjoy, whether it’s at their spiritual home in Vauxhall, their Rinse FM radio show or any other party they play around the world.
Taking inspiration from the NYC loft parties of the 70s, they’re keeping the idea alive that a residency can have a social significance that goes far beyond just being a regular late night dancing spot. In this Saturday Mass interview, we explored the founding principals of their party, the importance of space, how decor (and the occasional buffet) can add that special touch, and some seminal HMD records.
Horse Meat Disco play for Percolate alongside Crazy P, HNNY and Krywald & Farrer at Oval Space on 26th February.
First some ice-breakers – what do you think makes a good residency?
Consistency. I always remember Jim telling me “You’re only as good as the last party” so I think that’s a good philosophy to live by. Commitment and passion by everyone involved, from DJs to venue staff don’t go amiss, especially if like us you’ve been going for more than 12 years. People also have to love the venue and we’re lucky that people have such a soft spot for the Eagle.
As an extension, what do you think makes a good resident, and who have been some of your favourites over the years?
Passion and commitment once again, and of course good taste in music and the skills to rock the dancefloor whatever the situation.
How do you think the role and importance of the resident has changed since you first started?
It seems that sometimes the term resident has no meaning. My impression of it is that its a DJ who makes their home at one club in a given city but I think in a city like London that’s impossible these days. What is important, and is still the case, is that the role of a resident is to represent the club/party and to be inextricably linked with it.
Before starting Horse Meat Disco, did you hold any other residencies? If so, did the experience teach you any dos and don’ts that you took with you to HMD?
Jim and I only started DJing when we started the club however Luke Howard was a resident for years at Queer Nation which is possibly London’s longest running club night. Severino had held residencies in various places too. From the point of view of the dancer I think there are a few dos and don’ts for a resident DJ, and that’s to never rest on your laurels, not to slip into the trap of always playing the same set, nurture your love of music by not neglecting the importance of ‘digging’.
If you love dancing and have an open mind when it comes to music then everything falls into place.
What were the founding principals of the Horse Meat Disco parties when it first started – both on a musical level, the aesthetic and atmosphere of the party?
It was always intended to be the queer party for everyone and started as a reaction to what was lacking on the gay scene at the time. Gay clubs were pretty tribal affairs, and not just musically! Different tribes went to specific clubs and in my mind made for a boring party if everyone around you was just like you in a superficial sense. My fascination with the seminal NYC clubs of the late 70s and early 80s taught me that the most legendary parties are always those that can cut through on every level of society and attract people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Disco has always been a great musical leveller. Everyone loves it and those who say they don’t are just kidding themselves! Get a diverse crowd of people that transcends age, class, race, gender and sexuality who come together through a love of music is where the atmosphere comes from. It’s all about the party!
How involved were you in aspects of the party that went beyond your role as a DJ?
As one of the co-promoters initially my role as a DJ was secondary to everything else. We were lucky having such amazing residents in Severino and Luke Howard so myself and Jim could concentrate on everything else, like booking great DJs. Guest DJs in gay clubs at the time was a rarity. We realised pretty quickly that, in the case of straight DJs, they were excited to be able to play disco records to a gay crowd (it’s not rocket science really is it?!). What was significant is that when they went back home and talked about the party it really helped to spread the word in a way that was far more organic than having a slick marketing campaign. From decor to the occasional buffet, making people feel special and creating a welcoming space for everybody was my number one job… and i loved it!
The most legendary parties are always those that can cut through on every level of society and attract people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Disco has always been a great musical leveller.
Space is all-important for a good party. What made you choose Eagle as a spiritual home for HMD in London?
We first stared off in the first place we could find in Soho. We threw a few parties at Flip, a basement bar in Chinatown but we had to leave after management changed hands. Myself and Jim had always loved going to Dukes in Vauxhall on a Friday night, mainly for the meaty buffet they used to put on for their premier night ‘Chunkies’. At the time they had a massive dub soundsystem, carpeted dancefloor and flak wallpaper. We loved it, not least for the island bar which you can do laps around. It was at the time the architypal knackered pub. It seemed the perfect place when we were kicked out of Flip to start up Horse Meat Disco again. We chose New Year’s Day just to see how it would go and we were blown away by the response. Not only was it an instant success but everyone loved the venue. The management changed hands and after various inceptions it became Eagle London. So we’ve been extremely lucky that we’ve had the same venue for all this time, even if the name has changed a few times. We’ve also been extremely lucky to have such supporting club owners without whom we would have probably given up years ago as I can’t ever see HMD in London being anywhere else!
Did you get a chance to experience the space as dancers before starting your residency?
There wasn’t much dancing going on at Chunkies, but I did love the warm feeling I always got going there! It was probably the warm vol au vents that were part of the friday night spread! Its a shame we no longer have the ridiculous soundsystem that was there, I remember Maurice Fulton saying it was an almighty one. Sadly being a residential area and a building made mostly of wood we’ve had to modify the sound system. It didn’t take long for the party to grow, get louder and get on the nerves of the neighbours.
HMD at the Eagle are famed for their open door policy to dancers of all persuasions. Why was this sense of inclusiveness important to you?
As I said before, a diverse crowd makes the best crowd. Music is the leveller. Just be cool and bring all the great things you have to offer. We’re all humans!
Never rest on your laurels, not to slip into the trap of always playing the same set, nurture your love of music by not neglecting the importance of ‘digging’.
With four residents involved in HMD, how would you say you vary and compliment each other’s styles of DJing?
We definitely bring our own different sounds but they all compliment each other. Ultimately thats what has come to define the sound of Horse Meat Disco. Yes it’s disco but we’re not stuck in a specific definition of it. We mix it up but it has a retro vein running through it, although with new producers trying to emulate the sounds of the 70s and 80s there’s always more music made available to fit into what we do. If you love dancing and have an open mind when it comes to music then everything falls into place.
Are there certain records that are inextricably linked to your residency at Eagle? Do any standout musical memories jump out from sets gone by?
Most definitely. Sheryl Lee Ralph’s ‘In The Evening’ is one of those records that we’ve played since the beginning and is one that people always ask for. One of the most seminal moments of the club was the first NYD party we did when Luke played ‘Running Up That Hill’ by Kate Bush. The place went nuts and was the first moment I thought “people will love HMD”
You’ve played at Eagle for some years now, so there must be some nights where you feel like you knew nearly everyone in there. Does playing in a room with people who are essentially your friends affect the way you perform?
That used to be the case but after 12 years of a weekly party the crowd does change. It has to. Since we’ve been touring lots and the reputation has spread it means that there is always fresh blood coming to the club. It’s essential to its survival and for making it interesting and fun to be there every week. You never know who’s gonna walk through the doors! Saying that it’s always great too see regulars and the old guard popping in occasionally. Its always been a family affair and like families sometimes we become estranged but family is family!
From decor to the occasional buffet, making people feel special and creating a welcoming space for everybody was my number one job.
When you tour, how do audiences compare to Eagle?
The Eagle is unique! There really isn’t anywhere like it where we play, and that’s great! What is the case, is that wherever we play we attract that diverse crowd that has always characterised our parties at the Eagle.
You’ve also held club residencies at fabric and Tape Club, Berlin. How did those compare to The Eagle?
We have residences in Berlin and New York and they are both quite different affairs but the love of the music is there! London, Berlin and New York are very different cities with different gay scenes and the parties reflect that really well.
When you’ve been touring, who has been your favourite resident who have warmed up for you in the last year?
It’s always great when Daniel Wang warms it up for us, but in terms of residents I’m always happy for either Jim, Seve or Luke so get the party started!
Finally, what’s coming up on the horizon for you guys in 2016 that we should keep an eye out for?
A lot of travelling to the USA is on the cards, our weekly radio show on Rinse FM (Sundays 1-3pm) and some great festival appearances not least Glastonbury, the NYC Downlow and Love International in Croatia. Chances are we’re coming to a city near you in the next year so watch this space!