"In-your-face party": Why Adonis is doing the queer underground proud - Scene reports - Mixmag
Scene reports

"In-your-face party": Why Adonis is doing the queer underground proud

London’s Adonis is the standard-bearer for the queer underground clubbing renaissance

  • Words: Tracy Kawalik | Photography: Aneta Pruszynska
  • 9 January 2020

Blood red lasers cut lines across a sea of sweat-soaked bodies that jack and undulate in a thick, humid haze. Front and centre, Adonis resident Hannah Holland tears into her 1:AM set with Fold’s feverish track ‘Bend Sinister’ while dancers climb and claw at the cage that surrounds the DJ booth. The room is at boiling point, but Adonis’s second birthday is just getting started.

A converted mechanic’s workshop in the depths of London’s down-at-heel Tottenham might seem like an unlikely birthplace for a queer underground clubbing renaissance, but from the moment Adonis kicked open the doors of The Cause in 2017, it was clear that something very special was bubbling. Unapologetically dark, debauched and banging, Adonis is breathing life into the new-gen underground club scene for a multitude of reasons. At a time where many London clubs feel either over-policed or strangely segregated and the soundtrack of queer dancefloors for so long has been industrial-scale cheese, what Adonis offers up is the antidote.

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With a pummeling and progressive sonic aesthetic fuelled by DJ and creator Shay Malt, past events have included under-the-radar sets from lauded selectors Daniel Avery and Saoirse as well as Berghain/Panorama Bar veterans Roi Perez and Tama Sumo. Combine that with Gideön (NYC Downlow, Block9 founder and DJ), who also acts as co-curator and Adonis’s in-house queer music pioneer, and it’s no surprise it’s getting so much hype.

Shay puts inclusivity and a desire to throw unpretentious off-grid parties at the forefront. “I’ve been to clubs where you feel on edge before you’ve even got in; I wasn’t going to let that happen at Adonis,” he explains. “Adonis is a queer, in-your-face party. People don’t come to be seen. They come to live their best lives and dance like they don’t give a fuck.”

The Cause and adjoining space Grow are united by a sexually charged, lawless hedonism. Physics teachers bump hips with off-duty drag queens and models straight from Fashion Week, while sweat-drenched bodies writhe from the toilet cubicles to the heaving dancefloors. In the smoking area art students in shopping carts and a topless woman dressed only in fishnets mingle with muscle-bound bears en route to the notorious dark room. Harnessed bodies and hunks in leather chaps and cowboy hats pass poppers beneath dangling foliage in a glassed conservatory like a homoerotic Eden.

“Playing a set here is wild. There’s an electricity you just don’t get with other crowds, a fabulous chaos that allows people to let go. When people enjoy your tracks with that kind of energy, it’s fucking amazing. It’s like a drug for me. It’s why I make music,“ says Holland after dropping her exclusive remix of ‘Unforgettable Runway’ for East London duo Super Drama, due out in 2020.

Hot off the back of IDA and Wilson Phoenix’s blistering, four-hour b2b, fellow Adonis resident Grace Sands flexes musical dexterity in the second room. Invisible behind maniacal lasers, Sands chops up garage, deep houseand Madonna edits before following Holland’s lead and testing out acid lick ‘Tellt’ (the first release on Sands’ own label TruVanity.) As a lacerating sample from TS Madison’s legendary diss of Caitlyn Jenner at Trump’s inauguration builds to a climax, the room explodes.

“People are so up for it!” says Gideön as he steps into the booth to follow Berlin DJ Omer’s set. “It’s fucking great to play for a queer London crowd who are musically sophisticated. I make specific edits because I know the Adonis crew will go wild and you won’t have basic queens come up and ask you to play fucking Beyoncé remixes. My newest tracks are really homoerotic, so it’s a buzz to see them go off.”

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Club kids by nature, musical taste-makers by craft, Sands, Holland, Gideön and Shay aren’t new to this. Each has put in decade-long stints in London’s club scene, from the birth of straight DIY raves and warehouse parties to battling through the AIDS epidemic, gentrification, multiple venue closures, and the invention of Grindr to becoming the driving forces that have reignited the underground queer club scene on a multitude of platforms.

A firm fixture from Adonis’s earliest days, Hannah waxes lyrical: “Things dip and change through the years; I came at a time when there was fuck all in Shoreditch all the way through to Hackney’s heyday and the knock-on effect of Berlin and New York scenes, where near enough every club going felt like a copycat. What Adonis does differently is that everyone, from the door to the decks is a unique character with no pretences. Hats off to Shay for grafting and making it jump every month. [Sometimes] the stars align in club culture and this is that moment. It’s the right minds behind it, the right minds inside it and the right minds playing the music.”

As the clock strikes 4:AM and Gideön delivers a sleazy acid house sermon, Sands is in reflective mood outside. “House music came from black and Latino gays in Chicago; [it was] about finding a safe space to party and celebrate that. When house came to the UK, we made it famous around the world. Straight, gay, it didn’t matter, it wasn’t about that. As much as I’d like to lament about clubs like The End, Trade and Turnmills closing, or laugh when I hear TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ played at 135BPM at commercial gay nights like Popcorn, you have to celebrate. Looking around tonight at Adonis, we’re all still here for that same message. It’s about coming together for the music, on a dancefloor where you can be yourself.”

Shay adds, “There are only so many times you can go to a gay club and hear an Adele megamix played relentlessly before you’re going to start searching for an alternative. It’s shady to say, but that’s probably why so many closed down. People like me started searching for a new Block9 or Holland’s Batty Bass... something that was progressive.”

Having locked down collaborations with Flash at Pikes Ibiza and festival slots like Maceo’s bar for Block9 at Glastonbury it’s hard to believe Shay started Adonis only two years ago. “No-one throws a party to start a business. I did it because I loved the music and luckily my mates were fab DJs,” he says. “I could have never expected it to become this mad monster where we’re flying acts in and getting approached to book others from all over the world.”

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Popularity, of course, brings its own conundrums. “I never wanted to have a guy at the door like Berghain who turns people away. But I also don’t want to lose the core demographic that made us who we are. I’m not putting someone on the door in a wanky way that’s about your look, but to ensure that the vibe you come in with is one that maintains ours. [Before these measures] there was one party where I looked around and I was like, “Who the fuck are all these people?!”

Gearing up for a 'Stop Brexit’ soundsystem protest, Gideön doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind. “It’s fucking amazing to be part of something that is so on fire right now. With everything that’s happening with Brexit, any sort of flag-waving nationalism makes you wanna be sick. But one thing I can say is that I do feel proud to be British and part of something as important musically as Adonis.”

Kerbside, as the sun goes up, Grace Sands has the last word. “The world’s gone mad! I think people subconsciously look around at everything and make the decision, “Fuck this, I’m gonna start having a good time.”

Tracy Kawalik is a freelance music and culture writer, follow her on Twitter

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