“You know the only reason why I’m still alive is because I found life on the dancefloor. I found friends on the dancefloor, I found support on the dancefloor; I found love, unconditional, chosen family kind of love”. These words, spoken by the legendary Billy Porter, mark the beginning of Where Love Lives, a new documentary on dancefloor culture and expression brought to us by record label and nightlife phenomenon Glitterbox.
Filmed over 18 months, on location in New York City, Ibiza, Paris and London, Where Love Lives charts the story of the dancefloor’s enduring and unique status as a location for community, empowerment, and creativity, and the role it has thus played in both contemporary and historical LGBTQI+ culture.
Through interviews with industry fixtures, from Glitterbox alumni The Mx Fit, TeTe Bang and Lucy Fizz, to household names like Honey Dijon and Billy Porter and titans of clubland history Nicky Siano and Kathy Sledge, the film touches on deeply personal stories of mental health crises, fractured families and the aids epidemic, with the message that whilst “every individual has a different journey to the dancefloor,” that when they arrive, they find a sanctuary.
Where Love Lives frames club and party spaces as places of refuge: somewhere to recharge, to find solace, a sense of belonging and “unconditional love” from a family you choose for yourself, for those whose identities have been marginalised culturally and even within their own homes. The dance floor, we are told, is a place to affirm oneself and each other, so that we can continue to face those battles that exist outside the nightclub doors.
Set to an eclectic soundtrack and spliced with technicolour footage of revellers from the past five decades – illuminated in strobes, vogueing in ballrooms, and embracing under disco balls – as well as intimate looks into glittery “drag dens” dressing rooms and rehearsals, Where Love Lives is a heartfelt, optimistic film, guaranteed to get you in the mood for being back out on the tiles come the end of lockdown. Ahead of the film’s global launch, BRICKS meets some of the cast and crew about music and inclusivity, the past and the future, and what the dancefloor means to them.
If you want to get the full Glitterbox experience you can join the party earlier, as their channel hosts DJ sets from Melvo Baptiste, Jellybean Benitez, and Dimitri From Paris starting at 4pm, followed by the premiere, and closing with a two-hour after-party with sets from Natasha Diggs and Fat Tony.
A truly global and COVID-safe event, these names will be performing from destinations including Miami, Brazil and Paris, whilst London-based Melvo Baptiste and Fat Tony will be streamed from the capital’s most iconic music venue, the Royal Albert Hall.
The venue, which remains closed to the public, is transformed for one night only into a club stage bedecked with disco lights, mirror balls and a catwalk fit for Glitterbox’s troupe of club kids, drag queens and go-go dancers.Watch it all go down here!
Music is the love of Simon Dunmore’s life. From his early infatuation with 2tone and the New Romantics, the latter of which lead him to disco and soul, it seemed inevitable that he would work in the industry, which he began doing in the early 80’s – DJing, writing for music mags and putting on shows in West London. Simon was soon employed by major record labels and caught the eye of A&M, who, recognising his understanding of dance music, entrusted him with developing their dance imprint, where he became known for his taste-making ear for house music.
After gaining insight into the business, Simon launched his own label, Defected, in the late ’90s. He has since demonstrated time and again his skill for recognising talent, and for anticipating the ways in which the music industry will change. An early adopter of digital marketing, he has a keen sense of where to expand, where to promote, and that timing is everything; Glitterbox, for instance, Defected’s sister label and the brand behind Where Love Lives, launched in 2014 as an Ibiza club night, and has since expanded into a global phenomenon, touring clubs and festivals worldwide.
A possessor of that rare combination of business acumen, longevity, well-trained A&R ears, and passion, Simon is an industry heavyweight with no signs of slowing down. Instead he’s forever expanding his skillset and dipping his toes in all manner of new projects, as illustrated by his role within Where Love Lives as executive producer.
You seem to be a true connoisseur of dance music, and particularly of house – what’s your favourite (or favourite few) house track(s) of all time?
In the Q&A following the premier, you said something which thought was perfectly put – that sometimes ‘people on a dancefloor can be just as much of a star [and just as memorable] as the record’; what’s the most memorable person or thing you’ve ever seen on a dancefloor?
“I’ve played to dance floors pretty much everywhere, and one of the things that really strikes me is the connection between the DJ and somebody on the dancefloor. Sometimes it’s not quite going as you’d imagine you’d hope it would as a DJ: you’re searching for the right record, maybe the crowd isn’t responding as you’d expect and then you just catch the eye of someone that’s really in the zone, lost in [the] music.
They are either directly looking at you and connecting with you or […] just off in their own space; as a DJ that’s really powerful. If I can connect with the people who I can see I’m positively effecting, I think it just ups your confidence and allows you to express yourself as a DJ, which […] ends up connecting really well with a crowd. I’m always looking for that person on the dancefloor that can make me up my own game. It doesn’t have to be anyone that’s hugely extravagant, flamboyant or an amazing dancer, it can just be anyone. That’s what I mean when I say people can be stars on the dancefloor.”
If I can connect with the people who I can see I’m positively effecting, I think it just ups your confidence and allows you to express yourself as a DJ, which […] ends up connecting really well with a crowd.
As a seasoned forecaster of trends in clubbing culture, how do you envision the future of nightlife post-pandemic?
“I’m positive and optimistic that we will see a return to normality. Obviously dancefloors are mainly populated by the younger generation, I think that they are less susceptible to the virus and I think that they feel confident in that way. I think initially there will be precautions as you enter clubs […] but as the vaccination comes into play, I’m pretty certain that life will return to the way that it was pre-pandemic.”
What does the dancefloor mean to you?
“It means escapism, a place where you can express yourself, where you can meet like-minded people, where you can connect with strangers. It’s where you can forget about the troubles and stresses of everyday life. A connected dancefloor where everybody is at one with the music and the DJ is an environment which is pretty electric; it does so much good in terms of releasing tensions […] as well as it being something to look forward to and creating life-long memories with your friends, which I believe is even more powerful. The dancefloor means so many things to me.”
Lucy Fizz’s energy knows no bounds. As a Glitterbox brand ambassador and one of the most in-demand dancers on the club and party circuit, she has performed on stage with the likes of Peggy Gou and at Glastonbury festival, as well as appearing previously in the documentary Lucy: My Transgender Life, and a short film for the BBC in which she “used her own story to challenge society’s view of the LGBTQI+ community”.
Having been raised in the small northern town of Burnley, it was only when Lucy moved to London for university that she began to truly embrace her identity as a trans woman. After dropping out of her degree, realising she “needed time and space to explore my new identity,” she began to find herself in the queer nightclubs of East London, becoming part of a community that she describes as “a revelation.”
“I found my chosen family, people who accepted me in a way that I hadn’t experienced before,” she says; “being trans went from something that I had always been made to feel ashamed of to something that was celebrated and that I could feel proud to be”. Having been spotted dancing on the tables of Dalston Superstore, Lucy forged a relationship with queer collectiveSink the Pink, sparking her professional dancing career. The rest, as they say, is history!
In the film, your friend Glyn Fussell calls you a ‘disco conductor’, referring to your ability to get any kind and any size of crowd going – what track is guaranteed to get you moving, whether you’re onstage or off?
“On the first night of our Glitterbox Australia tour in Sydney, Simon Dunmore played the Dimitri from Paris remix of ‘Cosmic Girl’ by Jamirouqi, I hadn’t danced for a few weeks and I completely lost it. It’s become a bit of a theme song for me ever since. If I’m not already on stage, as soon as I hear those strings I’ll come running. It’s such a joyous track and absolutely perfect for wafting your arms around in the air like a disco conductor!”
In one scene, we see you preparing for a night at NYC’S House of Yes, where you anticipate scaling the walls in 6-inch platforms and dancing in a spinning cage; what’s the most show stopping stunt you’ve ever pulled during a performance?
“I have a bit of a reputation for crowd surfing. Given the right moment I absolutely love a good stage dive! I used to do a party at KOKO in Camden where they would launch me into the crowd in a giant inflatable zorb ball”.
In Where Love Lives, you come across as impossibly charismatic and charming, and yet you say that as a young person figuring out your gender identity, you were quiet and shy, and didn’t fit in. Do you think that you always had star quality, and just needed to find the right people to see it within you, or that your energy grew out of your journey toward self-acceptance?
“Thank you so much. I actually found filming the documentary quite nerve wracking, there’s definitely a lot of me struggling to get my words out that didn’t make it into the film.
I came out as trans twenty years ago and as a young person, people were always telling me how I should or shouldn’t be. Thankfully I found a space on the dancefloor, away from the expectations of the outside world where I felt like I could express myself freely […] When I’m up there on the podium the energy and passion I express comes from the joy of being able to celebrate my freedom. I think that’s what resonates with the audience and liberates them too. And so it becomes this kind of upward spiral of positive energy.”
Unfortunately,it feels like LGBTQ+ spaces have been under attack in recent years with a number of long-standing venues forced to close their doors. After the pandemic, your favourite queer spaces will need your support more than ever.
How do you envision the future of queer nightlife, and what role would you like to play within it?
“Queer nightlife has played such a vital role in my life, it’s where I found self-acceptance and my chosen family. Unfortunately, it feels like LGBTQ+ spaces have been under attack in recent years with a number of long-standing venues forced to close their doors. After the pandemic, your favourite queer spaces will need your support more than ever. I hope that we come out of the lockdown with a renewed passion and understanding for the importance of [these] venues so that we can help the scene bounce back to life.
It would be amazing to see the queer scene flourish in a post-pandemic world, with spaces becoming even more inclusive so that more people can experience those feelings of community and liberation I have been so fortunate to find.”
What does the dancefloor mean to you?
“The dance floor is the place I feel most free. A chance to step into a moment of suspended reality and celebrate life. An opportunity to connect with friends and express ourselves freely away from the constraints and expectations of the outside world. Dancing is like therapy and I find that I can take the happiness, liberation and confidence I feel on the dance floor with me into my everyday life”.
TeTe Bang is many things, including (but not limited to) a kitschy, queer, lesbian drag artist, a “semi-professional disco dancer”, and a true “ambassador of love & equality”. Star of Channel 4’s Drag SOS and lauded by Attitude Magazine as a ‘queer voice of the future’, TeTe is the first female-identifying drag queen to appear on mainstream TV, challenging the perimeters of drag and spreading equal parts light-hearted positivity andimportant political discourse through her platform. When she’s not gracing our screens, she’s likely onstage, as a regular fixture at some of Europe’s most infamous club nights, dancing, DJing and being a self-confessed “professional show-off”.
In Where Love Lives, TeTe details her experience of growing up whilst moving between places frequently, a transience that led her to realise very young that often, being “too visible” or “too loud” can hinder one’s chances of being accepted by those around you. Moving to London, for TeTe, saved her life – it was there she found her people, and was able to start “chipping away” at societal pressures and pain, to become the best “silly, funny, honest and raw” version of herself that she embodies today.
In Where Love Lives, you say that you’re passionate about the creation of things that bring joy to yourself and to others – what makes you most joyful?
“Colour, pattern, fashions, music, dance … seeing other people express themselves in an authentic way. There are so many things that bring me joy, I think it’s really important to acknowledge things that make you happy and joyful and actively surround yourself with those things.”
I think your desire for people who watch you perform will be inspired toward self-acceptance by seeing someone who is “authentically themselves and…free” is very beautiful. What does true self-acceptance look like for you?
“True self acceptance looks different to different people, and it’s important to accept that. Not everybody finds their power in dressing up and throwing themselves around on stage and that’s ok, for some people it’s about being an introvert who only wears black! But when someone is truly free and loves themselves you can see it reflected in their actions, they go through life with a level of comfortableness in themselves which is infectious, they are compassionate and acknowledge that everyone is on their own journey to self acceptance […] For some people it is much harder than it is for others, and we need to be considerate of that, but do our best to create a space and environment where they feel they are allowed to love themselves”.
Of all the performers that the documentary featured, you seem to be the most into the aesthetics of drag; what are you planning to wear on your very first night on the tiles post-lockdown?
“That’s a big question, I want to wear everything! I am known for constantly changing looks through the night at Glitterbox, because for me every outfit makes me feel differently, every time I dress in drag it reignites that feeling of self love, so I’m a big believer in outfit changes. Costume, makeup, wigs, drag is really just a medium for me, it’s like my version of painting a picture of building a sculpture and I indulge in the process. So I will probably have a pretty hard time deciding what to wear on my first night back on the dance floor”.
I think queer people have a very natural ability to create community wherever they are, as they often feel the need to find people with a shared experience. If more queer people were given more resources, support and platforms to create their own community spaces and [were] encouraged by their larger community and political forces, then we could make much more progress in terms of queer space and acceptance.
You also spoke about moving around a lot in your adolescence, and coming out in Cumbria where what little gay scene there was you didn’t fit into – do you think that in the future there will be more scope for LGBTQ+ nightlife outside of the capital, and if so how would it look to you in an ideal world?
“In my idealistic […] future, we wouldn’t necessarily need exclusively LGBTQ+ clubs because the wider world would be completely accepting and so intersectional that there would be zero prejudice.
Of course […] we have to be more realistic. I think queer people have a very natural ability to create community wherever they are, as they often feel the need to find people with a shared experience. If more queer people were given more resources, support and platforms to create their own community spaces and [were] encouraged by their larger community and political forces, then we could make much more progress in terms of queer space and acceptance. That doesn’t necessarily need to be nightlife spots: it can be community groups or youth centres, so people […] feel like they have safe spaces where they can go and talk about their identity and experiences.
The queer struggle should not be left solely on the shoulders of queer people to fight for; I believe straight people and cis gendered people have a huge responsability to use their privilege to give us a seat at the table, and maybe in return we will share our culture and create great parties for them…”
What does the dancefloor mean to you?
“The dance floor is a sanctuary […] it’s a space where I get to be surrounded by all of my favourite people and celebrate life. [It’s] a canvas, and I have thrown everything I have at it and in return, I feel it has liberated me and it has empowered me to share that feeling of freedom with others. I feel privileged to be able to lead people through a club night experience like Glitterbox and be able to see first hand how powerful the dance floor is at releasing people [from] their struggles and troubles and create a bond with them through music, dance and expression.”
Ruben Jean, who goes by the stage name ‘The Mx Fit’ (pronounced, ‘Miz Fit’), is the Martinique-born, London-based polymath taking the capital by storm. Now working as a stylist, model, activist, “gender-free drag” performer, and authority on all things club culture, The Mx Fit has always been immersed in their creativity, with their childhood passions for dance, art and fashion evolving into the talents they now yield, from “shaking nightclubs, cabarets and people’s minds with sexy, political and strong performances,” to appearing in i-D andmodelling for Vivienne Westwood.
Growing up in the French West Indies and Paris was not easy, however; as part of a family in the spotlight due to their sister’s successful sporting career, The Mx Fit felt the unbearable weight of the expectation that they would conform in both their career path and in their expression of gender and sexuality. Following a painful adolescence, blighted by mental health issues and behaviours they now “struggle to accept” they, like so many others, found their escape in London when they crossed the Channel at the age of 24.
Theirs is one of the most emotional and edifying stories within the documentary, as we watch them find ways to embrace themselves and to reconnect with their estranged family in their pursuit of fulfilment.
I’m intrigued by your description of drag’s power – of looking into the mirror to see “not who you used to be”- an experience that allows you to “feel things you didn’t think you were allowed to feel” before, because of gendered expectations. What are some of the things you’ve learnt about yourself through such a transformative process?
“The biggest thing I’ve learned was that I’m not just a man (plot twist). Drag gave me an excuse to tap into my feminine side and finally connect with the womxn who inspire me, until one day I no longer needed an excuse.
Drag also gave me confidence in what I was capable of doing, and body confidence too. The body I was teased for all those years was now my tool and my way to connect with people – so in order for others to love me I had to learn how to love myself first”.
You speak in the film about feeling that you were “too much” of things in the past – “too black,” or “too feminine” – particularly as a person whose cultural and religious background meant that there were expectations of you that were oppressive to your identity. What advice would you give for younger people in a similar position to your own, in terms of negotiating self-acceptance when you’re not always accepted by those around you?
“I would tell them to learn to not give a f**k! People will look but they are not worth your energy or time so pay them no mind! If you can, find yourself a safe space or look for someone you can talk to, or a group of persons. Knowledge is power and if you know that you’re not an isolated case or weird (like my family made me feel) you will experience inclusivity and visibility. You won’t need to fit, because you [will] have found a place where you rightfully belong. That will inspire you to keep going.
Read, watch documentaries and sharpen your mind. Social media can be a great tool to connect with people within our community. Also embrace who you are, regardless of your skin tone, size, body shape or the way you come across. And lastly, my door is always open for whoever wants to talk.”
The story is repeating itself, we gather, celebrate, connect on the dancefloor and then take the world by storm!
The Mx Fit
In the Q&A following Where Love Lives’ premiere, you mentioned that you felt a sense of ‘duty’ to help set up a space in Paris where young queer people, particularly from afro-Caribbean backgrounds, could come and be safe to express themselves – the kind of refuge which you found in London. In an ideal world, what would that look like?
“In Paris, you cannot walk in the street in drag or take the tube like we do in London. There is still this unsafe feel about leaving the house in drag […] so I want to create events for the Queer community where we can get loose, and [be] able to go out so often that we no longer need to second guess ourselves.
Alongside, I would love to create an afro Caribbean night for queer [people] in Paris, where we can embrace our culture fully and make space for black artists to shine, feel celebrated and [have] a feeling of belonging in a world where we still have to fight for the most basic rights that should have been given in the first place. And put a big spotlight on the art form of drag so the population can embrace it and get used to it! So, if anyone is up for the challenge… hit me up!”
What’s the first track you want to dance to when clubs reopen and you’re able to perform again?
“This is such a hard question, I would have to say ‘When Love Breaks Down’ by The Shapeshifters and Teni Tinks. I love me some Shapeshifters and Teni’s voice is unreal; her vocal range is giving me ‘Diva Realness’ – you know what I mean, those songs when you can put your finger on your temple and pretend that you’re singing your heart out”.
What does the dancefloor mean to you?
“A protest! Stonewall! Ballroom Culture! The story is repeating itself, we gather, celebrate, connect on the dancefloor and then take the world by storm! It also means a place where you can leave everything at the door, you don’t have to act straight and masc to pass, you don’t have to cover up. Wear makeup, show your skin, let your hair down and let us see you for who you really are. [The] dancefloor is a place where love gets to work its magic and connect people on a deeper level”.
The legendary Nicky Siano is a true pioneer of dance music. He got his first job DJing in 1971, and a year later, aged just 17, he became co-owner and DJ at The Gallery – since lauded as “the first disco” by dance music historian Tim Lawrence – which hosted countless legendary parties in its five-year run, including debut performances from the likes of Grace Jones.
It was there that Nicky honed his talents, developing techniques like beat matching, designing the ‘crossover’, and building the first-ever club bass horns. His talent for mixing crosses over from the stage to the recording studio, where he’s worked on numerous dance classics, starting in 1977 with the Kiss Me Again: and his skills in party production would inspire the founders of clubs such as Studio 54, where he was one of two original DJs. In more recent times, his party at Twelve West which ran from 1999 to 2002 earned him kudos from New York Magazine, The Village Voice, and Paper Magazine, to name a few.
An active member of the downtown scene for decades, Nicky has been present at many iconic and defining moments in New York, dance music and queer history, from the Stonewall Riots to Diana Ross’s rained out concert in Central Park, to the Act Up Aids protests. “For a few more years” Nicky intends to continue touring the world, as one of the only surviving DJs who started the dance music scene in NYC. Luckily for us, he’s willing to share all about it, in previously released works like Love is the Message, a film comprised of 16mm footage from The Gallery’s parties, and now in Where Love Lives, where he offers insights into the transgressive energy of dancefloors in the ’70s, where, after days spent protesting against the Vietnam war and for civil rights, everyone could gather to share and unify their power.
In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and in many parts of the UK, people are going guerrilla and opening some really interesting spaces. When you don’t have money, people think it’s impossible, but no, you can be creative with very little cash.
You must’ve seen so many incredible things at clubs and parties in your years as a DJ; what has been your most memorable/most important nightlife experience?
“So many experiences…the night Loleatta Holloway sang her entire first album at the Gallery, her dance music might be it”.
The footage of parties at The Gallery in the ’70s are fantastic, they look almost magical; does the future look as technicolour as the past for dance music?
“If a person like Myself, David Mancuso, or Steve Rubell comes along, who can see how to integrate the many aspects of a great club, then it will happen. It takes a person with vision and talent, and big clubs are often owned by big companies, they never have vision or talent of that kind. But in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and in many parts of the UK, people are going guerrilla and opening some really interesting spaces. When you don’t have money, people think it’s impossible, but no, you can be creative with very little cash.”
Do you have any current favourite tracks or producers we should be listening to?
What, in your opinion, is the greatest dance song of all time?
“‘Love Is The Message’ is where Earl Young invented ‘the disco beat’ and is the greatest, and most important dance song of all time.”
And, finally, what does the dancefloor mean to you?
“Freedom, happiness, love”.
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