In the last couple of years melbourne and sydney have seen the closure of many of their queer nightclubs, including clubs Mercat Basement, which closed in 2017 (Webb 2016), and Hugs & Kisses and Lounge, which closed just this year (Buckley 2019). Developers and hospitality groups are buying up these venues with 24-hour licences (Buckley 2018; 2019). As a result of changing policy and laws, such as the removal of liquor and sounds licenses that stop venues being able to stay open, sell alcohol, and play music late at night, it has become more difficult to open new queer nightclubbing spaces. According to the owner of Hugs & Kisses, Hugo Atkins, ‘It seems like it’s getting harder and harder for these sorts of things to exist … thinking about what certain scenes and cultures are going to do and not having a place to express themselves is quite sad for a city like Melbourne.’ (Buckley 2019).
What are these scenes and why are they important?
These scenes are communities of practice, and spaces for collective effervescence, but more importantly spaces for marginalised people, especially queer and gender diverse people and people of colour, to come together and find safe spaces to create community. Yes, nightclubs are known for being spaces of risky behaviour, such as sex and drug taking. But, I think, more importantly, they are also spaces of free form dancing where you are ‘forced to occupy your body—to take up space, and to navigate other bodies’, says DJ Sezzo (Bugg 2018). Clubbing culture offers both something fundamental to being human—dancing and moving to a rhythm (LaMothe 2019) and something radical in that it is ‘process of shaping an encounter through the collective inscription of individual subjectivity’ (Bugg 2018). This second point means that it is a radical space where expression of difference is fundamental to constructing community (Bugg 2018).
These clubs are also liminal spaces of queer expression (Olds & DJ Sezzo 2018). Prominent melbourne DJ and clup theoriest, DJ Sezzo, believes that beyond self-expression, these places are places of community and resistance (Thompson 2018). Resistance to the dominant hetero-normative culture. Resistance to the dominant white colonial structure. Resistance in the form of bringing marginalised people together and creating a space where they can ‘experience each other in a joyful way’, says DJ Sezzo (Thompson 2018). Resistance by queering the city. And resistance, I would argue, in contributing to creating activist communities that extend beyond the club, communities that challenge the State, communities that, as I myself have experienced, go out and support Indigenous lead protests such as the protection of the Djab Wurrung trees.
DJ Brooke Powers long time resident of the club Hugs & Kisses reflects saying, ‘We knew it was our space and we could be whoever we wanted to be.’ (Buckley 2019). What happens when these spaces are shut down? It is yet to be seen in melbourne what the community response will be.
NB: I have purposefully not capitalised ‘melbourne’ and ‘sydney’ in order to deligitimise these names of colonisers on land that always was and always will be Aboriginal land.
Buckley, N 2018, ‘Longstanding Nightclub Lounge Forced to Close After 29 Years’, Broadsheet, 13 December, <https://www.broadsheet.com.au/melbourne/entertainment/article/longstanding-nightclub-lounge-forced-close-after-29-years>.
Buckley, N 2019, ‘Gallery: Eight Years of Melbourne’s Wildly Romantic Nightclub Hugs & Kisses’, Broadsheet, 17 January, <https://www.broadsheet.com.au/melbourne/entertainment/gallery/gallery-eight-years-melbournes-wildly-romantic-nightclub-hugs-kisses?fbclid=IwAR1W4yTJMt3LCxoVg-li2q5W0ofjFhNYaVViPXu4vCh5XbC84gBDL9FH91w>.
Bugg, E 2018, ‘PRECOG Review: Co-opting The Tote for the futures of tomorrow’, Difficult Fun, May 20, <https://difficultfun.com/2018/05/20/live-review-precog-next-wave-x-liquid-architecture/>.
LaMothe, K 2019, ‘The dancing species: how moving together in time helps make us human’, Aeon, 4 June, <https://aeon.co/ideas/the-dancing-species-how-moving-together-in-time-helps-make-us-human?fbclid=IwAR03zVvA1pbMN9RhO9UoX351mEzQd1-rO3yEqxEsNRF5RXP3KB7FbTxDZes>.
Olds, S & DJ Sezzo 2018, ‘Club Theory: two recombinant texts on the impossible space between theory + experience by Sally Olds & DJ Sezzo’, AQNB, 3 May, <https://www.aqnb.com/2018/05/03/club-theory-two-recombinant-texts-on-the-impossible-space-between-theory-experience-by-sally-olds-dj-sezzo/>.
Thompson, C 2018, ‘This DJ Is Breaking Through The White-Male-Dominated Nightlife Scene’, Whimn, 12 December, <https://www.whimn.com.au/play/unwind/this-dj-is-breaking-through-the-whitemaledominated-nightlife-scene/news-story/0d151955e176e64a5059d2102cfde55b>.
Webb, A 2016, ‘Melbourne’s Mercat Basement to close in February’, Resident Advisor, 28 September, <https://www.residentadvisor.net/news/36604?fbclid=IwAR1JPe7fYjLwc1dSFLXbfly1n03sHRzUnd5LhvqQaP5YaWzV10l4o1bl3Yo>.