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Bring it like a superhero: London's vogue scene is rising

Ballroom culture is thriving in the UK capital

  • Words: Alex Macpherson | Images: David Morrison
  • 31 March 2016
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Their energy collided with that of, ironically, a straight white guy from Cardiff. Just as the internet had been the gateway to information and connections for Jay Jay, Harli Khan and divaD, it had also opened the musical floodgates for DJ/producer Rushmore. Already a fan of Baltimore club and UK funky, the first time he heard New York ballroom DJ and producer MikeQ's uncompromising, relentless take on house was a revelation. "My entry point was the raw energy to the music, but second to that was the dedication and skill of the dancers and another thing that resonated was that it's a culture in its own right," he explains. In 2012, he co-founded House of Trax, an East London night focusing on ballroom, Jersey club and footwork. He had no connection to any British voguers, but had been inspired by the 80s Detroit TV programme The New Dance Show and aimed to "cater for people who danced". MikeQ was booked for the launch and slowly but surely voguers found their way to it.

"I had just joined the House of Magnifique, so I was feeling super-hyped to carry and represent my house," remembers divaD. "There were no regular classes, there was no one to train with, so I was going out to as many nights as possible, usually on my own - the club floor was my classroom, playground and second home. And the first time I experienced a Trax night I was so happy and excited. Finally, I'd found a night that would play ballroom beats and old-skool house and a DJ that understood me and what I needed." After four years Rushmore and fellow HoT resident Fools called time on the party, but not before bringing vogue into London’s venerable Institute for Contemporary Arts, with a line-up headed by New York DJ Byrell the Great. “I love how ballroom culture is spreading across the world and giving gay kids a safe haven to be themselves in,” Byrell says. “I got to give mini history lessons and so many people thanked me for giving them a taste of the NYC scene.”

As well as thriving scenes in major European cities, there’s also been recent interest from the mainstream: slang that originated in ballroom culture - working, reading, slaying, dragging, throwing shade - is the default language of pop fandom in the 2010s, with megastars from Britney to Beyoncé weaving it into their biggest singles. FKA Twigs is a keen fan, reliably incorporating vogue moves into videos such as ‘Glass & Patron’ and new single ‘Good To Love’. And there’s an inextricable link to high-end fashion that feels more than a little ironic, given that the original scene’s adoration of that aesthetic was from the vantage point of people shut out by it. Indeed, in February 2013 Dazed & Confused funded a Fashion Week event billed as a vogue ball DJed by the House of Trax team and MikeQ. It wasn’t a full ball, but it wound up bringing together some of the key players in the scene that would develop. D’relle Khan remembers spontaneously taking over MC duties at it: “The mic was put into my hand, I just got carried away and next thing I knew I was talking to will.i.am and Rita Ora,” he laughs. “I don't think [Dazed] knew how big the ball was going to be. They said, hopefully 20-30 people and we had well over 300. We went well past the time we were supposed to be staying in the venue.”

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