I've had a very long CVNT interview/discussion with John Power of Body Work records, published by Ransom Note. Here's some extracts, you can read the whole thing here.
J: Can you just quickly explain what a ‘House’ is?
The traditional definition of a ‘House’ is that it’s a gay street gang
and instead of fighting these gangs would have dance-offs. The concept
is taken from fashion houses and so a lot of original big American
Houses are named after famous fashion brands or things that relate to
I’ve seen at gigs I’ve been doing
recently, especially in [Mainland] Europe there are some amazing Houses
emerging but I don’t feel like there’s the same culture of dance here in
the UK that you get in Europe
Still I think
that the scene is growing here and there are some wicked dancers in the
UK but we need more balls and more places for these dancers to show up.
You see that’s how other people get into it, they go to a club and see
someone Voguing and think ‘”that looks amazing”. I think there’s just
not enough of that happening in the UK yet.
Is there a kind of a clash, a dilemma within the scene, where on the
one hand you want to grow and encourage new people to get involved but
at the same time still protect itself and provide a safe space?
I think it is changing and the scene is becoming a more open place
where anyone can get involved, anyone can join in. Obviously Voguing is
traditionally a black, gay art form, and certainly there were a lot of
Trans people, a lot of Transgender women involved when it started, but
today you’ll find a lot of biological women and straight women involved
in the scene. In fact I think it’s just becoming a lot more of a female
At the same time though I guess it
depends who you speak to and there are some people on the scene who are
very protective of what it is, and for good reason. They’ve seen it
being exploited before; they’ve seen it move so far away from its roots
that they feel that it is not the same thing anymore.
there is a certain element of protectionism and exclusivity within the
scene, which I think is understandable, but for the most part it’s
moving towards being more accessible and now you’re seeing countries
that don’t have much or really any relation to New York’s black and gay
scenes turning out amazing dancers.
scene must be moving ahead and I think that’s a positive and healthy
thing as long as people remember and respect the roots from where it all
came from, why they’re doing it and who the original legends were. In
the end you can’t stop it, it’s all progress.
J: You talk about Ballroom’s roots, now obviously over the
past few years and right now house music as a whole has never been
bigger but it also feels like it’s never been further away from, or more
really in denial of, its own black and gay origins. You can quite
easily argue, and many do, that EDM has been a whitewash but even then
it feels like dance music’s black roots are still more recognised than
its gay roots…
N: Yes I think that is a
thing and I definitely feel that there is still a bit of a sniffiness
around Ballroom Culture, especially trying to get people that are into
more traditional House Music to engage with Ballroom. Now there could be
many reasons for that but from my point of view I feel that sexuality
has a lot to do with it.
J: I feel like
we’ve seen over the past few years not just an editing of House music’s
history to maybe remove some of the more overtly gay aspects of it but a
kind of bowdlerizing of the music too. Something like the ’Nu-Disco’
revival was very much driven at the start by some great gay clubs, Horse
Meat Disco, places like that, and I feel that it was very much co-opted
by straight, white, bearded guys (like myself but without the beard),
who kind of took over in some respects and certainly when it came to the
flood of re-edits that appeared from the early 2000s onwards it felt
like a lot of them were taking out anything that was ‘too gay’ from a
track. Actually I’m sure years ago I read something by Daniel Wang
complaining about that in a much more considered way…
you end up with a situation were you have this music that becomes
stripped of so much of what originally made it what it was and you end
up with well, kind of ‘Cosmic Disco’, which is great, I love so much of
that music but you can’t help but sometimes feel it’s in denial of its
roots when it presents this kind of sterile spacey music that isn’t too
raunchy, is quite safe really.
N: I agree
completely about the disco thing, it’s like a lot of those disco edits.
Even going back to when a lot of that first started in the mid/late
nineties, there was a lot of stripping out the campness, stripping out
the glittery over the top moments that defined those records as being
gay, just taking them back down to being about the groove.
at the start was cool but I definitely felt like it reached a point
where you could go to a club playing Nu-Disco and it’s just a lot of
middle class, middle aged, white people politely nodding their heads and
you feel like this isn’t how this music was supposed to be consumed. I
think that’s why it’s a brilliant thing when you go to a club like Horse
Meat Disco and it brings a lot of those records to life, you’re
actually hearing these records in the kind of environment they were
meant to be played in, loads of screaming queens, loads of trans people
and just a really mixed crowd where the atmosphere’s really good.
think there’s a definite seriousness about the way that a lot of people
approach dance music in general nowadays, which is kind of nerdy and
detached from the actual purpose of it, which is to make people dance,
and dancing is of course for want of a better phrase, it’s a sex
substitute. That’s what that rhythm is, ultimately a lot of it is just
about simulating sex without getting naked as such.
I think there’s an element of white dance culture at the moment that
has been de-sexed, and I think Ballroom is still very much coming from
that Black, Gay place and possesses an overt sexuality. So I think there
might be a reluctance to get too involved with it as the reality of the
‘black/gay clubbing experience’ is very different to the reality of a
lot of middle class, middle aged, white people nodding along to
Fleetwood Mac b-sides and the like.